HOUSTON -- The Houston Astros organization put smiles on the faces of local youth baseball players on Saturday. The Astros Foundation, together with community leaders, re-opened six revitalized baseball and softball fields to much fanfare.
In addition to the smiles, community spirit was rampant at Diez Park of the East End Little League neighborhood and for South Central Sports Youth Baseball League patrons at Sunnyside Park.
"We want all kids to get involved in baseball, because a long time ago when I played, baseball was the No. 1 sport," said Jimmy Wynn, whose No. 24 is retired by the organization. "Right now soccer has taken over and kids want to play basketball and football.
"So this is one of the first stepping stones that we can do to encourage the kids to play baseball."
Wynn and fellow former Astros greats Jose Cruz and Bob Watson, along with Astros president/CEO George Postolos, joined community leaders and representatives from Halliburton and Schlumberger in making a commitment to youth baseball in disadvantaged areas.
At Diez Park, 30 youth baseball and softball teams lined the field for the re-opening of four fields. The Astros Foundation, in partnership with the Halliburton Foundation, will invest $1.5 million in the four fields and youth programs there over the next five years.
"The Halliburton Charitable Foundation is honored to support the future of Houston through the Community Leaders program," said Beverely Blohm Stafford, Director of Corporate Affairs for Halliburton. " We know that kids will not only enjoy baseball and softball on these fields, but will also be learning important life skills, which makes this program a win for everyone."
"To look around now and see all the young kids out there with their baseball uniforms on with the different teams is great," said Wynn. "We definitely want the kids to get back involved in baseball, get away from the TVs, and we're here to teach them baseball."
The Astros Foundation will invest another $1.5 million in partnership with Schlumberger at two fields at Sunnyside Park. In total, the Astros Foundation will work with 12 different companies and invest $18 million over the next five years in youth baseball for at-risk youth in Houston.
"Schlumberger is very excited to be a Community partner in this program, " said Paula Harris, company Director of Community Affairs. "Our community outreach and engagement is heavily focused on youth and health. This program allows us to continue to invest in the communities in which we live and work. This will be a long and productive partnership with South Central Little League and with the Houston Astros."
"As far as we're concerned, baseball still is a unique sport," said Postolos. "Look at all the kids that are out here today having a great time and playing their sport. They have 30 teams out there, and it's just really good stuff for us."
The refurbished fields have a new irrigation system. The city-owned fields also have new grass and dirt.
"I wish I had a little ballpark like this when I was playing [as a youth]," said Cruz. "This is great. The community is going to be happy, and we want the community to be involved."
With the irrigation, the outfield at Diez Park will no longer also be used as a bird bath. Other changes include improvements to the pitching mound and scoreboard.
"The kids are beyond excited," said Shorty Sanchez, president of East End Little League. "I'm so appreciative of the Astros to pick us as the first park done."
The fields also have new safety features and the players will get new equipment. The Astros will maintain the fields.
"I know these kids couldn't be any more excited about it," said Postolos. "Hundreds of kids are going to benefit from that.
"We're also going to get them to Minute Maid Park on Opening Day. And we're going to work with them throughout the year. We're making a big, long-term commitment at the direction and leadership of [Astros owner] Jim Crane."
Major League Baseball is hopeful of getting inner-city youth more interested in baseball.
"I was glad to see the Astros, a local team, come out and donate the time and money, and give us a chance to show that there is baseball in the inner city, and it's alive and well," said Cravon Rogers, president of South Central Sports Youth Baseball League. "They feel it's important, and I appreciate that.
"We've already had 10 parents come up and ask me if their kids could play. It definitely has attracted attention, and we want as many kids out here as we can possibly get."
Watson, who scored the one millionth run in MLB history while playing for the Astros, thinks the refurbished fields are great for the community and the players, who range in age from 4 to 18.
"Part of the responsibility of a Major League club, whether it's Houston or New York, is to provide a place for their future fans," said Watson, who does special assignments for MLB. "More than that, it's a place where kids can learn the lessons of life. And baseball is definitely a way to learn the lessons of life.
"I've been around the world, and this is not what you see for kids to play on. These kids here [at Sunnyside Park] have to be really proud of the facility."
Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.