HOUSTON -- A little more than four years ago, an 18-year-old Max Stassi thought about the toll the economic downturn was taking on his modest community in Yuba City, Calif., and decided he wanted to help.
Stassi partnered with local charities and created Homers for the Hungry, an event that required little more than his baseball skills and a generous audience with a willingness to donate.
"The economy was hit pretty bad," Stassi said. "There were a lot of homeless people, and people losing their jobs in my area. I thought, what I could do to help out?"
It started modestly, but after five years, Homers for the Hungry has raised approximately $75,000, all benefitting 12 local food banks and Hands of Hope, a charity that offers support to homeless children and their families. The most recent event, which took place around Thanksgiving, raised upward of $30,000.
Not bad for a city with a population of 65,000.
"It's a small town," Stassi said. "I grew up here my whole life. Everybody follows baseball. Local athletes get a lot of support from this community."
The premise of the charity was simple -- Stassi and his brother, Brock, a player in the Phillies' system, staged a home run derby of sorts, seeing how many they could launch over 30 minutes. The batting practice pitcher? Their dad, Jim, who was a Minor League catcher in the 1980s, and made it as high as Triple-A in the Giants' organization.
This derby was designed to raise a ton of money from the start, given the circumstances. Picture this: two professional ballplayers, using aluminum bats, swinging for the fences … at a high school baseball field. In other words, those who pledged to donate knew they would end up writing healthy-sized checks. And they did, even those who chose to donate a flat rate. Between the two Stassi brothers, nearly 100 homers were hit: 48 for Max, 50 for Brock.
"I wish I could do that during season," Max Stassi joked.
The brothers took three rounds of BP over five-minute increments.
"We were talking a lot of smack -- I'm super competitive with him," Max said. "We were using metal bats too, so we were launching some balls."
In the middle of the derby, they stopped to hold a raffle, which consisted of dozens of signed items from professional athletes from all sports. Like the derby itself, the raffle has grown since the first year. Contacts in baseball, agents, people who know people who know people all helped compile a list of goodies from A-listers from all over.
"It takes a teamwork of people, and knowing guys in game. too," Stassi said.
While he's not yet a familiar name to Astros fans, the 22-year-old Stassi, who was part of the trade that sent Jed Lowrie to the A's, has moved up the organization catching depth chart despite a bizarre and unfortunate beginning to his Major League career in 2013.
Stassi made his Major League debut on Aug. 20, called up to serve as Jason Castro's backup after Carlos Corporan was lost to the disabled list. He logged two hits in his debut, but in his second game, he was hit in the face by a 96-mph fastball from Rangers pitcher Tanner Scheppers. Diagnosed with a concussion, Stassi was sidelined for a month.
He's been working out regularly at Elite Fitness in Yuba City and said he has no lingering issues from the concussion. He looks forward to business as usual when Spring Training begins in February.
"I'm trying to put those injuries behind me and just look forward," Stassi said. "I'm going in there 100 percent and ready to compete for a job."