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Astros Minor Leaguers help with tornado relief

Triple-A RedHawks spend four hours clearing debris following disaster

DENVER -- While sifting through the stunning amount of debris left behind by last week's tornado in what used to be someone's backyard in Moore, Okla., Astros pitching prospect Brett Oberholtzer found a wad of $20 bills under a dresser that came from who knows where.

Oberholtzer, wearing protective gloves on his hands and a mask over his face, gave the money to the person who once owned a home that stood on the property, knowing he would never be able to find the rightful owner and that it certainly would be needed.

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"The homeowner was there, so I felt obligated to give it to him because even though it probably wasn't his, the guy lost his home and many other things," Oberholtzer said. "If it wasn't his, he could put it to good use."

Oberholtzer was one of 13 players from the Astros' Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City -- just north of Moore -- to board a bus at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday and volunteer about four hours of their time trying to help those who need help the most.

"It's hard to believe what kind of damage a tornado could do to a community," RedHawks manager Tony DeFrancesco said. "When you look around, there's hundreds of people helping out all over, a bunch of school kids raking fields and picking up wood, and the Red Cross giving away food and water. The whole community just came together. It was nice to see."

Joining Oberholtzer and DeFrancesco were RedHawks players Cody Clark, Jake Elmore, C.J. Fick, Marc Krauss, Ross Seaton, Andy Simunic, Alex Sogard, Jose Valdez, Brett Wallace, Austin Wates, Asher Wojciechowski, and Josh Zeid. Even a strong contingent from the visiting Omaha Storm Chasers volunteered.

"It's just devastating to be there on site," DeFrancesco said. "The players and the wives were right in there. They got their hands dirty and were helping a family of a fireman at his house and trying to recover some of the property. They went over to the school and looked at the memorial."

The players and their wives paid respects on the makeshift memorial of seven crosses at Plaza Towers Elementary, where seven children died when the two-mile-wide tornado ripped through the area on May 20. The RedHawks were on the road when the storm hit, but they held a team meeting and vowed to help the community when they returned.

"First, we got up at 8 o'clock and it was just a cloudy, dreary, windy day," Oberholtzer said. "It was a miserable day and then to go to a disaster site like that, it put a damper on things. We made it out there and we were kind of unaware what we were going to do.

"We helped some families move some things that they wanted to save, some dressers, speakers, pictures. We helped some Army and Red Cross [volunteers] doing some demolition stuff and carry some pieces out to where the backhoes were going to pick it up and dump it. We were giving help to some families."

With each piece of debris the players moved, they uncovered more memories and heartbreak strewn aside by the storm. There were stuffed animals, books and a Bible. Oberholtzer even found a beat-up RedHawks cap the team plans to put on display somewhere at the ballpark, perhaps even in the clubhouse.

At the end of the day, Oberholtzer was nursing several cuts and bruises and even stepped on a nail that penetrated his shoe and went into his foot. That was nothing when you consider the pain the tornado victims endured, he said.

"It was a humbling experience," he said. "It definitely made you think twice about the life we have and how fortunate and blessed we are. I can only imagine how long it's going to take the city of Moore to get back up and running."

With that in mind, Oberholtzer isn't done helping. He wants to do more. He needs to do more. He wants to donate baseball equipment and set up an auction of game-used items on the concourses at the ballpark to raise some money.

"I'm definitely willing to do some of these things," he said. "I don't know the laws and restrictions on what we can or cannot do. For me, I felt obligated to do it. These are the fans and people that come out to our games. Even if they weren't, it's still such a tragedy that it was a good experience, a humbling experience to get out there and see it."

And Oberholtzer hopes others can step up to help, as well.

"Over time, you get one or two or three people together that can help out. Over time, you get hundreds of people and then you get thousands," he said. "Together that makes a difference."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

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