HOUSTON -- As part of an $18 million, five-year commitment to youth baseball and softball for at-risk youth, the Astros Community Leaders program on Saturday celebrated the refurbishment of two fields at a Houston park.
The Astros Foundation and Calpine Corporation teamed up to give a face-lift to the fields at Moody Park, which is home to the Lindale Little League.
Players ages 4-14 were delighted to see improvements to their fields and new equipment courtesy of the Astros and Calpine. The youngsters also were excited to see former Astros star Jose Cruz, as well as current players like second baseman Jose Altuve and catcher Carlos Corporan, who were on hand for the festivities.
Jump-started by Astros chairman and owner Jim Crane last year, the Astros Community Leaders program is run by the Astros Foundation in partnership with Houston-based corporations and the city of Houston. Eight of the scheduled 12 fields have been renovated with construction at the other four fields already underway.
"This is our primary project with the [Astros] Foundation," said Crane. "We're going to stay on top of this and provide the resources for this to work well over the years. This is not a one-year deal. We're on this for the long term. We're going to keep working on it and make it fun for everybody.
"It's our commitment from the Astros and the players to the community and to get kids playing baseball and to get them out to the park."
An excitable group of kids and parents noticed the immediate changes at the Moody Park fields. All the dirt on the infield is new and the grass has been replaced. The pitching mounds are in excellent condition. Additions to the facility include covers on the dugouts and bullpen pitching mounds.
"I don't even recognize it anymore," said Vicente Valdez, president of Lindale Little League. "We're fortunate for that.
"It just brings the community together. And for our players, it means a big change that they're getting to play on these new baseball fields. So they're excited and I'm excited for them."
"I was here a few months back for the ground-breaking at the park and at that point it was clear that the park needed some help," said Calpine CEO Jack Fusco. "Jim Crane's vision and the Astros' workforce have done a magnificent job at refurbishing this park. It looks beautiful."
Calpine builds, owns and operates power plants with its employees being around high voltage, electrical equipment in high-pressured steam piping. So safety is important to the company.
On Saturday, Calpine representatives were looking after the youngsters' safety. Every Lindale Little Leaguer received an equipment bag to store their batting helmets that Calpine provided.
"We were trying to think of a way to tie safety into the theme of baseball," said Fusco. "And the best thing we can think of is making sure the players have the right personal protective equipment. In this case we're giving them new batting helmets and [equipment] bags to keep the dugouts free and clear of any debris.
"The community leaders who program with the Astros -- we felt was right down what Calpine is all about and what we're trying to do as far as giving back to the community and being good corporate citizens."
In addition to refurbishing the fields, the Astros are providing bats and balls. The kids can register to play in the league for a nominal fee.
"That gives kids that couldn't afford to play [an opportunity] and builds up the leagues," said Crane. "We're getting kids playing baseball and getting them out to the ballpark. I played when I was a kid, so it had a big impact on me, kept me busy, kept me out of trouble. And got the family involved and that's what we're trying to do here."
Growing up in Venezuela, Altuve understands the importance of getting at-risk youth involved in baseball. That's why he wanted to participate in the Astros Community Leaders program.
"It's a good program and a good opportunity for these kids," said Altuve. "As a kid growing up playing baseball, I know how important it is to have that support. That's why I'm in the big leagues. The community leaders are giving to the kids.
"I never had the opportunity to have what the Astros have given to these kids. That's important. It's going to be easier for the kids to go and have fun. They're not only going to learn how to play baseball, they're going to learn respect and how to share with other kids."
Corporan said he played in similar conditions to Moody Park as a youth in Puerto Rico, but nothing quite as nice as the remodeled fields he saw on Saturday.
"This is what it's all about," said Corporan. "You see the happiness in their faces, and [the happiness] to play baseball. To see how excited they are made my day. "I came here to support the kids because I played Little League too and that helped me to make some good choices in life. Look where I'm at, the big leagues, my dream come true. This is nicer than back home. I'm proud to be here because this is the future. There is a future Astro here today in this park."
Richard Dean is a reporter for MLB.com.