HOUSTON -- “Hey, you hit one for Uvalde.”
That was the message from Astros manager Dusty Baker to Alex Bregman when the third baseman returned to the dugout after hitting a two-run homer in Houston’s 6-3 win over the Athletics on Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park. Bregman’s first-inning long ball came just hours after a young girl from Uvalde had requested a home run during a pregame meet-and-greet with Bregman, Jose Altuve, Lance McCullers Jr. and Houston owner Jim Crane.
“It was really cool,” Bregman said. “Anything we can do for them.”
Faith Mata, whose younger sister, Tess, was one of 19 schoolchildren who lost their lives along with two teachers in the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the game. Mata clutched a picture of Tess close to her chest and smiled from ear to ear while trying to convey just how much she loved Altuve.
“Any time the Astros' games were on, she’d throw on her [Astros] T-shirt and just run into the living room and just cheer for them, even though she didn’t know what was going on,” Mata, 21, said. “She just loved Altuve.”
After Bregman came through in the first inning, Altuve roped a two-run double in the second. Tess was there for all of it -- in a photo and in spirit.
“I can’t put it into words,” said Jerry Mata, the father of Faith and Tess, who was 10 years old. “I wanted to pass out when [the Astros] asked. It’s an honor and I’m just like, stunned. It feels good, and I know my daughter is up above and looking down with a smile and saying, ‘Go get ‘em, sister!’”
The Mata family was among a large contingent of residents from Uvalde, which included friends and family members of survivors, who were invited to the game by the Astros. The team provided buses for 500 members of the Uvalde community to travel to Houston and distributed 2,500 additional tickets to the community.
“This is just a little distraction and give a little something back, and that’s what the Astros are about,” Crane said.
About 2 1/2 hours prior to Mata’s first pitch, Crane, Altuve, Bregman and McCullers Jr. addressed the Uvalde residents, with the players taking some questions. That’s when one young fan made the request that Bregman would waste no time honoring.
Abraham Gonzales, a former softball coach from Uvalde, presented Baker with a maroon and white Uvalde baseball cap.
“I actually coached a couple of years ago in Uvalde,” said Gonzales, now a PE coach in Uvalde ISD. “I had an extra cap from when I coached, so I thought before I left the house today, I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to present Dusty a cap,’ and I actually told Dusty, I said, ‘Any time you need a rally cap, just rub on this and you guys will get a for-sure hit.’”
Baker was moved by the moment and the memento and put on the cap in the dugout prior to the game.
“This is what we’re here for,” he said. “We’re not only here to play ball for our town and for ourselves and for our teammates; we’re here to aid the healing process.”
After visiting with the Astros, the Uvalde contingent walked around the outfield track at Minute Maid Park and posed for pictures along the way. Several people wore shirts depicting pictures and memories of the victims and carried various remembrances in their honor.
“There [are] a lot of emotions, but we’re happy to be here,” said Jerry Cazares, whose 9-year-old daughter, Jacklyn, was among the victims at Robb Elementary. “It’s something different. For me, it’s just a little escape from being at home, and I’m glad we were invited, and we’re going to make the best of it.”
Cazares said his family is taking things day by day and was filled with emotion as they arrived at Minute Maid Park.
“My daughter would have been happy to be out here,” he said. “[That’s] where it hurts. Overall, we’re happy to be here.”
Gonzales, who coached former Astros and current Rays reliever Brooks Raley when he was in high school in Uvalde, said the trip will go a long way with helping the city heal. On this day, there were more smiles than tears for a community forever changed. On this day, everyone was “Uvalde Strong.”
“It means a lot,” he said. “The Astros have been so great to our community. … We’re hurt, but it doesn’t get any better than this. It’s kind of just what it means to them right now. That makes me really happy.”
On July 8, the Astros sent members from their front office to Uvalde to help the community heal. Crane hosted a private brunch for affected families, Robb Elementary teachers and Uvalde city officials. The families who lost a loved one received an autographed Astros jersey customized with the name of their loved ones on the back and a gift bag that included a $1,000 H-E-B gift card.
“It’s a blessing,” Jerry Mata said of the support from the Astros. “From my heart, I can’t thank them enough. They’ve been there like a neighbor next door. It’s been amazing.”