HOUSTON -- The Astros and the city of Houston are collaborating with Houston-based corporations on a plan to build or refurbish youth baseball and softball fields in disadvantaged neighborhoods throughout the city.
Astros owner Jim Crane personally developed the plan with Houston mayor Annise Parker. Parker has offered the club and its corporate partners many viable options of parks that need refurbishment. Over the last few months, Crane, Parker and Houston Parks and Recreation director Joe Turner have visited these neighborhoods and parks to select the best options to have the most lasting impact on youth baseball and softball.
To recognize the partners participating in the Community Leaders program, the Astros have begun building a large structure on the left field light tower at Minute Maid Park that is scheduled to be completed by July 20. The pennants currently located on the left field wall will be moved to another location inside the ballpark.
"We decided to try this when we took over, and it's been a lot of work," said Crane, who personally called CEOs. "The response has been good. I knew a lot of these companies hadn't been involved in the community, and it would be great for them to promote their company and also do some good for the community and help the city and help the kids. We're very proud of what they've been able to do."
The companies that have currently committed to this program are National Oilwell Varco, Halliburton, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, Calpine Corporation, Champion Energy Services, Schlumberger and Nabors Industries. The Astros plan to have 12 corporate partners in the Community Leaders program, which will ultimately contribute $18 million to the City of Houston over the next five years.
The Community Leaders program has offered corporations the opportunity to partner with the Astros and the Astros In Action Foundation to become part of a team that will improve these neighborhoods through the game of baseball.
"The Astros' Community Leaders program is providing a tremendous service to Houston's young people at no cost to our taxpayers," Parker said in a statement released by the team. "As a former softball player, I know this program will be successful in encouraging young people to play, and I applaud the Astros and the corporations participating in this program for their community spirit and generosity. We are proud to partner with the Houston Astros to help some of our parks in disadvantaged neighborhoods."
Community Leaders is a five-year program, which matches the corporation's employees along with wounded veterans as volunteers in the build, refurbishment, and guest services that go along with the plan. Their employees will also volunteer as coaches or mentors at the park, some of which will also be providing wellness and education programs for their patrons.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig supports the program.
"I applaud Jim Crane and the Astros for partnering with so many fine local organizations and impacting the future of youth baseball in Houston," he said in the team's statement. "The Astros' efforts will help us reach our next generation of leaders, players, coaches and fans. Major League Baseball is a social institution, and I am delighted that the Astros' new Community Leaders program will help us meet our important social responsibilities in the communities of Houston."
The Astros will break ground on the project this summer and will complete construction of the fields at the start of the 2013 baseball season.
Brian McTaggart is reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.