Astros gather to erase homelessness

Astros gather to erase homelessness

HOUSTON -- Astros icon Jeff Bagwell couldn't help but notice a large group of people lined up to get supplies outside a homeless shelter next to Minute Maid Park as he made his way to the ballpark on Saturday morning for a charity event.

"You don't have to take but two seconds and drive around Minute Maid Park and figure out what's going on around here," Bagwell said.

That's why Bagwell and current Astros sluggers Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence, as well as new manager Brad Mills, were eager to participate on Saturday in an event designed to help 20 families who are transitioning from homelessness to self-sufficiency with the assistance of local agencies.

The event, called "Take A Minute," marked the beginning of national Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. The families were treated to a Thanksgiving meal, a tour of the ballpark, a meet-and-greet with the players and Mills and had a chance to run the bases.

"It's pretty inspirational to see these families," Pence said. "They're happy and they're working hard and converting from homeless to getting back on their feet. That's what I think the program is about. It's about helping those families find homes, and I think the biggest thing is the awareness and to understand the average homeless family is a female with two kids under the age of six.

"That's kind of heart-wrenching, and it's good to be here and see them working to get things together."

Pence was the favorite of 9-year-old Kevin Cooks, whose mother and siblings took part in the event. Cooks and the other participants got a chance to get autographs from the players and pose for pictures.

"When I watch the games, it seems like he hits a lot of home runs," Cook said of Pence.

Bagwell, the Astros' all-time leader in home runs, said most Houstonians can't relate with the hardships these families have been going through.

"Put it this way -- I'm building a new house and they didn't have a house or anywhere to sleep," Bagwell said. "That's amazing for a lot of us who don't really realize that. We live in our own little world. I live over in Memorial [area of Houston] and feel nice and comfy over there and have my little restaurants I go to.

"That's not reality to these people. To give them something back and do something like this, I applaud the Astros for putting an event on like this, and I think it's great."

Berkman said an event like the one the Astros hosted on Saturday celebrates the achievements of the families.

"Life is difficult a lot of times," Berkman said. "I don't care what your status is financially. Everyone faces challenges. One of the great things about human nature is showing the perseverance it takes to come out of situations like this.

"I'm on the outside looking in. Most Houstonians haven't experienced what these people have experienced and don't understand fully what the challenges are, but it is our responsibility to help them in any way we can and help them help themselves."

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