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Astros celebrate renovation of Little League fields

Crane, Houston outfielder Maxwell on hand at Ingrando Park for festivities

Special to

HOUSTON -- The Astros celebrated the opening of three youth baseball fields on Saturday in southeast Houston, part of the team's charity mission to promote the sport in disadvantaged areas of the city.

The Astros Foundation, which serves as the official club charity, was joined on the project by health insurance provider Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas. Top representatives from both organizations were on hand for a morning ceremony at Ingrando Park to inaugurate the new facilities.

"I think it's part of the team's responsibility to engage the community," said Houston owner Jim Crane, who addressed the local crowd before catching a flight to Pittsburgh to join the Astros this weekend.

"We're developing ballplayers for the future. It's a pipeline. We want to get kids interested in baseball, not only for that, but also good fundamentals like honesty, hard work and all the great things associated with baseball when kids are young."

Numerous other prominent Astros joined Crane at the event, including team mascot Orbit, legendary alumnus Jose Cruz, senior vice president of community relations Meg Vaillancourt and new president Reid Ryan.

Astros center fielder Justin Maxwell, on the disabled list as he recovers from a broken left hand, also took part in the festivities by signing autographs and posing for pictures with several Dixie Little League teams.

"It's special," Crane said. "You can see the excitement here. They haven't had much help. Now they can feel a part of the Astros."

The Dixie Little League serves more than 225 kids in southeast Houston and will use the newly revitalized fields as its home. All of its teams were involved in Saturday's festivities, which included a parade of team floats navigating through local streets.

"We are deeply grateful to The Astros Foundation and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas for improving our ball fields, because they are also improving the lives of many children and families," said Dixie Little League president Ruben Velasquez. "To have them choose to partner with us and provide so many extras, it's a blessing that will make our whole community stronger."

Construction of the Ingrando Park fields began in the fall of 2012. With the latest additions, the Astros have now renovated 11 fields through their outreach program, and construction of additional fields is already under way.

Crane stressed, however, that the team's work is ongoing across all of the facilities at Ingrando Park.

"It doesn't stop here," he said. "We're going to keep coming out and keep renovating."

The Astros conduct the projects through their Community Leaders program, through which they've pledged $18 million over the next five years to improve city-owned public youth baseball and softball fields in disadvantaged areas of Houston. The initiative is run by The Astros Foundation in collaboration with the city of Houston and corporations such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas.

"Supporting health and wellness within our communities comes naturally to us," said Shara McClure, vice president of network management for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas. "Through our partnership with the Astros, we're fortunate to bring a safe place for families to engage in healthy, fun activities, such as baseball."

The reconstruction and safety features added to the fields are paid for through the Community Leaders program and at no cost to local taxpayers.

"It's going well," Crane said. "Giving back always feels good for everybody."

Ben DuBose is a contributor to

Houston Astros