HOUSTON -- Astros shortstop Carlos Correa saw a familiar smile Thursday morning and then couldn't help but grin himself. The young face of Angel Rodriguez peeked from under an Astros cap, and Correa recognized him right away.
It was just two years earlier Correa had visited Rodriguez at a children's hospital in their native Puerto Rico, and they struck up a friendship. Correa, who was visiting a Sunshine Kids party at Texas Children's Hospital on Thursday with teammates Alex Bregman and Jake Marisnick as part of the Astros Caravan, had no idea Rodriguez was in Houston to seek further treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
A friendship was quickly renewed.
"This is unbelievable," Correa said. "This is one of the greatest feelings ever. I love to do this kind of stuff. I saw this kid a couple of years back in Puerto Rico when I was there, and now I see him again and he's doing better. He's going to get treatment tomorrow in Seattle, and we wish the best for him and his family and always keeping them in our prayers."
Correa was so taken by Rodriguez when he first met him that he sent him a signed baseball bat and other memorabilia earlier this year. On Thursday, Correa urged the 14-year-old to rise out of his wheelchair and pose for a picture with him and his mother, Denise Cain.
"Like nothing else in the world," Rodriguez said of his friendship with Correa. "Like a baby seeing rain for the first time. It was like, 'Oh.' He gave me a ball, a cap, bobblehead with his stats. It was an amazing experience."
Cain wiped away tears while talking about the effect Correa has had in her son's life.
"He's amazing," she said. "He's an amazing guy. His heart is bigger than he is. He's very special. He's Puerto Rican. That's why I love him so much."
Correa, Bregman and Marisnick spent time with several children at Texas Children's Hospital, before moving down the street to The Methodist Hospital, where they visited cancer patients and greeted new parents and their babies in the maternity ward.
"When they told me it was at Texas Children's Hospital, hands down I'm going for sure," Correa said. "You get to spend time with the kids and bring a little bit of joy to their lives, and it's a great feeling. I'd rather do stuff like this than hit a home run out there. I'm not making people's lives better; I'm making people's lives happier. Every time I can do something like this, I'll be happy to do that stuff."
Bregman said he feels a responsibility to give back to the community.
"As soon as they ask you to do something like this, you jump right on it," he said. "I think we have a duty when we have this platform to use it the right way, and to come out and spend time with kids and help those in need, and that's what we're doing today."
Marisnick wasn't sure who got more out of the visits: the players or the kids.
"It's good for us to come in and talk to them and get to know some of them; same for them," he said. "I know some of them watch us on TV or whatever, and for them to connect with us and us connect with them, it's good for both sides."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.