HOUSTON -- With a chill in the air and a pep in their step, the World Series-champion Houston Astros gathered for one more offseason soiree on the field at Minute Maid Park Friday night, while raising funds for their neighbors down the road.The Diamond Dreams Gala is always a festive
HOUSTON -- With a chill in the air and a pep in their step, the World Series-champion Houston Astros gathered for one more offseason soiree on the field at Minute Maid Park Friday night, while raising funds for their neighbors down the road.
The Diamond Dreams Gala is always a festive party, given it takes place on the very field that the Astros play on throughout the season. But Friday's event had even a little something extra, with not-so-subtle reminders that the Astros are only a couple of months removed from the most exciting moment in the organization's history.
This year, patrons were invited to pose with the World Series trophy, currently on its own 100-city tour that will continue throughout the 2018 calendar year. The trophy's presence, combined with a slew of Astros players and front-office representatives also in attendance, made this gala perhaps just a tad more festive than its predecessors.
"It's always kind of, to me, the kickoff to Spring Training, to get everybody excited about the upcoming year," Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan said. "Coming off this year [in 2017], it's just so special."
Even with a large portion of the Astros already in California for George Springer's wedding on Saturday, Astros players past and present were well represented at the gala. From the current roster, catcher Brian McCann, outfielder Josh Reddick, pitcher Lance McCullers, third baseman Alex Bregman, infielder Marwin Gonzalez and infielder Tyler White were in attendance.
Past players included Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, J.R. Richard, Phil Garner, Art Howe, Enos Cabell, Chris Sampson and Brandon Backe.
"Any time you can help your team and the Astros Foundation, and help out the community, it's always a fun time," Reddick said. "You want to help the best you can."
In the three years the Astros Foundation has hosted the Diamond Dreams Gala, it has raised $1.4 million, with a bulk of that money going toward New Hope Housing, an organization combating homelessness by providing housing and support services for those in need.
That partnership has provided enough funds for New Hope to build a new facility at Harrisburg on the East end of downtown, which will replace the current building on Hamilton, just across the way from Minute Maid Park.
The new facility will open in February.
"They'll have a brand-new facility for low-income housing, and we'll help some of our homeless," Astros owner Jim Crane said. "We're excited about that. That's one of our key focuses for our team."
The gala, the Astros' largest fundraising effort of the year, has attracted several A-list entertainment acts over the past three years, including Friday's headliner, seven-time Grammy winner Gladys Knight. The legendary singer, whose career has spanned more than 50 years, performed many of her greatest hits, including "Midnight Train to Georgia" and "Best Thing That's Ever Happened to Me."
"My dad asked me, 'Where are the Pips?'" Reid Ryan quipped.
Knight's appearance capped a trifecta of legendary gala performers, including James Taylor in 2016 and Diana Ross in '17.
The Diamond Dreams Gala wrapped up a jam-packed January that included more than a dozen caravan stops and FanFest, and it marked the unofficial end of an offseason that has been spent celebrating last year's grand accomplishment.
In that respect, throwing one more loud party seemed wholly appropriate.
"It's a perfect night of a lot of people that care about the Astros, our good works in the community, coming together to hear some great music, mingle with some players, mingle with some alumni and the front office and just have a good time," Reid Ryan said.
Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.