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Astros manage to stay busy during Caravan

Porter, Dominguez visit Urban Youth Academy; others out in community

HOUSTON -- Manager Bo Porter, wearing a crisp white Astros jersey with No. 16 on the back, yelled across the field at third baseman Matt Dominguez and told him to grab a rake.

"I can rake," Dominguez said.

HOUSTON -- Manager Bo Porter, wearing a crisp white Astros jersey with No. 16 on the back, yelled across the field at third baseman Matt Dominguez and told him to grab a rake.

"I can rake," Dominguez said.

"Oh, you can rake all right," Porter responded.

Porter didn't want his up-and-coming third baseman doing too much grunt work on Monday during the first stop on the annual Astros Caravan at the Urban Youth Academy at Sylvester Turner Park on Houston's north side.

Porter would rather let Dominguez "rake" in the batter's box this season, but the 23-year-old did chip in as Astros employees and other volunteers repaired fences at the facility.

"Coming out here and helping the community is always a good thing," Dominguez said. "The more we can do this and help out the city and the Youth Academy, and make it look good, the more it will help everybody."

While Porter and Dominguez joined Hall of Fame announcer Milo Hamilton and former Astros slugger Jimmy Wynn at the Urban Youth Academy, other Astros players chipped in elsewhere around the community in an effort to reach many fans as possible.

Reliever Kevin Chapman joined new teammate Anthony Bass for a visit at Houston Methodist Hospital West before they raised an Astros flag during a ceremony at Katy Mills Mall in Katy, Texas. Outfielder L.J. Hoes, pitcher Brett Oberholtzer and former Astros pitcher Brandon Backe stopped by the Lake Jackson, Texas, volunteer fire department before raising a flag at Angleton High School.

Then there was outfielder Robbie Grossman and pitcher Lucas Harrell, who helped bag groceries at H-E-B grocery store in Cypress, Texas, before assisting with a baseball clinic for kids in Grossman's hometown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

It's all part of the Astros' effort to broaden the reach of the Caravan, which this year includes stops that stretch as far north as Oklahoma City, as far east as Baton Rouge, La., as far south as Brownsville, Texas and as far west as San Antonio.

"A lot of our fans are honestly still out there," Porter said. "Fans know two things: they know when you win and they know when you lose. Winning breeds more and more fan support. I believe we're headed in that direction, and [president of business operations] Reid Ryan has said this since he arrived here: We have to do a better job engaging and interacting with our fans, and it starts with the Caravan and the number of places and stops in which we make. It's moving us in the right direction."

Porter, who's entering his second season as Astros manager, has lived in the Houston area for nearly two decades and was active in the community prior to joining the hometown club. On Saturday, he was at the Urban Youth Academy holding a free clinic for around 100 high school students.

"Any time you get an opportunity to engage with your fans in baseball, it's always exciting," Porter said. "And to be able to come to the Urban Youth Academy and work with The Astros Foundation and [director] Daryl Wade of the Youth Academy and his staff, it's great.

"They've done a tremendous job of reaching out the community and putting together programs that really have an impact on a lot of kids in the Houston area."

Hamilton is astounded at how the Urban Youth Academy has grown and how well it's been maintained since it opened a few years ago as the second of its kind in the nation.

"It's a great atmosphere and a great place for kids to come and learn how to play baseball," he said.

The Caravan continues on Tuesday with Bass, Oberholtzer, Hamilton and Doug Brocail making appearances in Alvin, Texas, the hometown of Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan and Reid Ryan, who will help raise an Astros flag at the Nolan Ryan Exhibit Center.

The group will make a public appearance from 9 to 10 a.m. CT at Whataburger, 2305 Highway 35 in Alvin.

Astros pitcher Jarred Cosart will pay a visit to his alma mater, Clear Creek High School in League City, Texas, for classroom visits and a pep rally. He'll be joined by Porter, new teammates Jesse Crain, former Astros pitcher John Hudek and announcer Robert Ford.

There will be a free autograph signing from 5:15 to 6:15 p.m. at the Academy Sports & Outdoors store at 2804 Business Center Drive in Pearland, Texas.

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

Houston Astros