Community service a priority for Astros

Service a priority for Astros

HOUSTON -- Whether they're here for three weeks or 15 years, those who have worn a Houston Astros uniform since Drayton McLane bought the team in 1992 know the drill.

McLane expects two things from his players: strive for a championship on the field, and make a positive difference in the community.

"All of the programs that we work on all year round, the players understand what that means," said Shawn Bertani, director of community affairs. "It's not just lip service. Everything we do, it's with that in mind."

As the 2008 calendar year inches toward completion, it's time to take a look back at the charitable efforts put forth by the Astros players, coaches and front office. The Astros participated in nearly 40 different activities, including caravan stops, hospital visits, school assemblies, blood drives and "Go Green" initiatives.

The community efforts aren't limited to Houston, either. The Astros have a presence at their Spring Training home in Kissimmee, Fla., where last March they celebrated the 11th anniversary of "Read Across America." A program of the National Education Association, Read Across America is a reading motivation program for kids. The nationwide reading celebration takes place each year on or near March 2, the birthday of Dr. Seuss. Nearly 150 children of Narcoossee Community School were read to by the players and broadcasters at the Osceola County Stadium.

Once the team returned to Houston to begin the regular season, they had a full slate of community projects waiting for them. Last April, Brad Ausmus, Mark Loretta, McLane, general manager Ed Wade, and club president Pam Gardner joined Astros volunteers as they participated in a city block cleanup and planting of 23 trees at the Union Station Trail just a few blocks from Minute Maid Park.

The Astros' commitment to the Adopt-A-Block program includes regular visits to the site throughout the year to pick up litter while also continuing to plant additional trees. The Play Green campaign continued on Earth Day, April 22, at the Astros vs. Padres home game. All players wore green Astros caps in an effort to raise awareness about the environment and the importance of recycling.

In May, the Astros held their sixth annual Astros in Action Foundation Race for the Pennant. The 2,700 participants in this year's 5K Run/Walk and Junction Jack's Kids' Fun Run marked an increase of approximately 1,000 more people than took part in the 2007 event. With the help of presenting sponsors The Methodist Hospital and the JLH Foundation, and in partnership with Academy Sports + Outdoors and the Chevron Houston Marathon, $94,000 was raised to benefit the Astros in Action Foundation.

Miguel Tejada highlighted the summer's community activities when he hosted over 300 Houston area youth in three consecutive days of baseball clinics. Children from local Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Houston received instruction on baseball fundamentals from former player Mike Harris and personal tips from Tejada.

At the conclusion of the clinic, Tejada spoke to the children about the drive to succeed in baseball and life, answered questions and signed autographs. Reflecting on the experience Tejada said, "I love being at the ballpark, and I love playing the game. It is important that I pass that passion on to young ball players. Hopefully, through events like these clinics, I can encourage kids to work hard and believe in themselves, whether they want to play baseball or do something else with their lives."

In an ongoing effort to Play Green™, ambassadors Loretta and Ausmus were joined by Carlos Lee for the Home Runs for Trees tree planting on July 30. The Astros, HLS Enterprises, Keep Houston Beautiful and Tree Town USA planted trees around the City of Houston each month for each Astros home run hit at Minute Maid Park during that month.

The Astros showed their support for education through their work with Grand Slam For Youth Baseball Scholarships, which were available to graduating high school seniors. On Aug. 3, 20 area youth embarking on their college careers were honored in a pre-game field ceremony by the Astros and Minute Maid for their academic achievements and participation in youth baseball and softball. Each student was awarded a $2,500 scholarship. Since its inception four years ago, the GSFYB Scholarship program has granted $111,500.

The Astros were directly affected by Hurricane Ike, and they showed their support with a handsome donation in the sum of $1 million to help the relief efforts. The funds represented a combined donation between McLane, the Astros in Action Foundation, and Astros players and staff. The donation was made to benefit the Gulf Coast Ike Relief Fund through the Greater Houston Community Foundation.

In addition to the $1 million donation, the Astros implemented a number of initiatives during the last homestand of the season to help raise additional funds for the effort. Over the course of just one week, and with the help of Astros fans and the Houston community, over $44,000 was raised through a cash collection drive, mystery autographed ball fundraiser, silent auction and live auction of the players' game-used, autographed jerseys. The team also hosted a blood drive with The Methodist Hospital and collected food for the Houston Food Bank.

"The Astros felt it was of the utmost importance to do whatever we could to help the region because so many of our fans were directly impacted by Ike," Bertani said. "It wasn't just about us writing a check. It was about coming together as a community."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.