HOUSTON -- In an effort to reach more fans throughout Texas and surrounding areas, the Astros have expanded their annual Winter Caravan, which gets underway Monday with a variety of events and appearances by players and staff in the Houston area.
The fan outreach tour will include around 40 Major League and Minor League players, as well as the club's broadcasters and members of the front office. There will be multiple stops daily beginning Monday and ending Jan. 27 in Oklahoma City, Okla. The Astros FanFest is scheduled for Jan. 25 at Minute Maid Park.
Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan said the club wanted to get back to a grass-roots level when it came to reaching its fans and try to touch as many as possible. A full list of Caravan stops can be found at astros.com/caravan.
"Not having wide distribution on television last year obviously has hurt the Astros, especially in a lot of the outer markets that have been traditionally Astros territory," Ryan said. "We wanted to put the biggest Caravan we've had in a long, long time out there and try to touch as many cities and as many partners and as many people as we can."
At almost every Caravan stop, fans and local ambassadors will help Astros players and staff raise a flag over the cities that make up "Astros Country" as the team gears up for Spring Training and the 2014 season. The tour will also highlight the club's charitable interests including youth baseball and softball, support for the U.S. military and at-risk youth.
Astros players, alumni and front-office staff will visit schools, hospitals and military bases throughout the week, as well as conduct baseball and softball clinics. There will also be several opportunities for fans to get free autographs from Astros players at select Academy Sports + Outdoors stores.
The Caravan begins Monday with Houston-area appearances scheduled for Katy, Sugar Land, Lake Jackson, Angleton and Cypress. Astros manager Bo Porter, Hall of Fame announcer Milo Hamilton, third baseman Matt Dominguez and former Astros slugger Jimmy Wynn will take part in the Urban Youth Academy MLB Service Day and will repair fields, install fencing and take part in other general improvements to the facility.
Later in the week, the Caravan will make other stops around Houston, as well as Ryan's hometown of Alvin, Pearland, League City, Galveston, Conroe, Huntsville, Beaumont, Spring, The Woodlands, Humble and Kingwood.
The Caravan will also make stops in Lake Charles, La.; Baton Rouge, La.; Lafayette, La.; Oklahoma City; San Antonio; Austin, Texas; Victoria, Texas; Rockport, Texas; Beaumont, Texas; Brenham, Texas; Brownsville, Texas; McAllen, Texas; and Corpus Christi, Texas.
"We're bringing in the big guys like Milo Hamilton to go out and go to places from southwest Louisiana all the way down to south Texas, up to Oklahoma City and all of the central Texas region," Ryan said. "Our goal is to get out and connect with our fans on a grass-roots level and let them learn who some of their players are and see the Astros are on the rise and coming back."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.