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Family Day always a big hit at Astros UYA

Special to MLB.com

HOUSTON -- The Astros know how to put on a show. That was displayed throughout last season, culminating in the club winning the franchise's first World Series championship.

The Houston area rallied around the Astros in 2017, especially following the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated many homes and businesses in southeast Texas.

HOUSTON -- The Astros know how to put on a show. That was displayed throughout last season, culminating in the club winning the franchise's first World Series championship.

The Houston area rallied around the Astros in 2017, especially following the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated many homes and businesses in southeast Texas.

The Astros have always been a big part of the community. On Saturday at the Astros Urban Youth Academy at Sylvester Turner Park on the north side of town, the annual Family Day was held, with several thousand people gathering for a day of fun and involvement.

While many parents brought along their children and enjoyed the free food and music provided by the city, many a youth was spotted participating in baseball-related activities under the watchful eye of a group of knowledgeable instructors at the academy, which is celebrating its 10th year this month.

"The Commissioner [Rob Manfred] has this initiative to Play Ball," UYA director Daryl Wade said. "That's what we try to do with our small kids, is just to let them play ball and not really have a lot of structure to it."

Saturday was all about having a good time, with plenty of running involved.

"I come here to have fun and enjoy baseball," said 14-year-old Justin Tellez, who is also a playing member at the academy, which accepts youngsters ages 7-18. "Play the game you love to play."

When Manfred took over as Commissioner in 2015, one of his top priorities was to get more kids involved in the national pasttime. Del Matthews, senior director of baseball development with Major League Baseball, was at the academy on Saturday afternoon, supporting the city of Houston, the Astros and the growth of baseball.

"We're just trying to energize kids around the sport of baseball, and when we can partner with the city of Houston and the Astros, and the academy to do that, it's a no-brainer for us," Matthews said.

Before the weather took a turn for the better, just past noon CT on Saturday, rain had hit the Houston area and altered some of the day's agenda. A scheduled Junior RBI League game was canceled, as was a college baseball game between Texas Southern and Southern University.

But that didn't put a damper on the day's festivities. There was still plenty to do and see. On the third of the four fields at the academy, the setup included basic baseball, along the lines of Play Ball.

"At the end of the day, when you're making a down payment on the future with youth and the kids of the next generation, you're hoping to inspire that next generation of fans," Matthews said. "And clearly that's what we're doing here today, to inspire the youth in the community around baseball as a vehicle, around this beautiful facility. It's part of our mission statement and it's what we'll continue to do to grow the game.

"Most kids, their first memorable baseball experience usually comes at a young age. Whether it's playing catch in the backyard or coming out to the park watching baseball. It's a game passed down generation to generation."

Saturday's activities included a home-run hitting contest, hitting off a tee, taking popups and grounders, and being timed running the bases.

"Our main goal is to provide a fun outlet for kids to be able to play the game and see the game at a fun level right now," said Duane Stelly, who manages the Astros academy with more than 5,000 kids in the database. "Not too competitive, just coming out and showcasing a few skills."

Most of the staff at the Astros academy, which runs year-round and has a lengthy playing schedule, has played either Major or Minor League baseball, or at least on the college level. Among the instructors is former Major League star Bobby Tolan, an outfielder for the 1967 World Series champion Cardinals and the National League stolen base leader in 1970 for the Reds.

"Today is just a good time," Tolan said. "We try to teach these kids the fundamentals of baseball at an early age so they can progress as they get older. This helps them learn the game. Once you know the game, it's a lot more fun.

"We see some of the kids that have been at the camp. It's just great they come out and you get a chance to meet some of their families."

Among those youngsters participating and enjoying herself on Saturday was Yasmine Rivera, who plays in a softball league at the academy.

"It's just a fun experience," Rivera said. "You don't have to stress yourself out like anywhere else. Here, you just come out for a couple of hours just to play around. You learn new things while you're out here."

Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com based in Houston.

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