HOUSTON -- Before Saturday, the last time third baseman Alex Bregman walked on the field at Minute Maid Park was after Game 5 of the World Series, when his walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th secured an epic 13-12 victory over the Dodgers for the eventual champion Astros.Nearly
HOUSTON -- Before Saturday, the last time third baseman Alex Bregman walked on the field at Minute Maid Park was after Game 5 of the World Series, when his walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th secured an epic 13-12 victory over the Dodgers for the eventual champion Astros.
Nearly three weeks later, Bregman and starting pitcher Lance McCullers took the field Saturday for their first "game" since the World Series as part of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Youth Experience. The event, which included participation from 10 Miracle League teams with the Greater Houston YMCA, provided more than 100 children with physical and developmental challenges with the opportunity to live out a Major League Baseball experience.
"This field, last time we were here, we won Game 5," Bregman said. "But this game was just as important. To see those smiles on those kids' faces, it was awesome. To be able to bring joy to them and come out here and spend time with them is really cool."
For nearly an hour on Saturday morning, the children took swings off live pitches from McCullers and ran the bases following hits. McCullers, who earned his first All-Star nod in 2017, was the natural choice to pitch, while Bregman offered hitting tips from the batter's box while helping guide swings.
"When you see kids who have been through some impossible times having fun again, it goes well beyond baseball," McCullers said. "They're able to be on a big league field, a World Series championship team's field no less, and you could just see how excited they were to be here and how much fun they had. It's priceless."
The annual event is a collaboration between the Astros Foundation and Shriners Hospitals for Children to raise funds and spread awareness for the international health care system that provides care regardless of a family's ability to pay. McCullers had previously visited a number of patients at Shriners' facilities, and he relished the opportunity to see the children in a happier environment.
"When you see them there [at the hospital], it seems like they're going through impossible times," McCullers said. "It's pretty inspirational to see kids that have been through the absolute worst able to come out here, have smiles on their faces, and just be able to enjoy the day again."
Since winning the World Series, Bregman has traveled to various events all over the country -- including a role on Saturday Night Live and a celebratory appearance on the sidelines of a football game at LSU, his alma mater. In comments following Saturday's game, he ranked the Shriners event as high as any.
"To be honest with you, this was probably the coolest thing that we've done [since winning]," Bregman said. "Just seeing the smiles on these kids' faces, and being able to spend some time with them and share with them the game that we all love, it's super special to us."
Many children were more mesmerized by the ballpark's big-screen television than even meeting the players, who lingered on the field for some time after the game to sign autographs and take photos with the children.
"When they see their face on the big screen, they didn't want to look at me," McCullers said. "They just wanted to look at the big screen. This whole day is super special for them. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and they certainly deserve it for all the things that they're working through."
McCullers, who runs his own Lance McCullers Jr. Foundation as a nonprofit charity to benefit stray and homeless animals, said the thrill of winning the World Series is further bolstered by the opportunity it gives him to make an even bigger difference off the field.
"My wife and I have been doing a lot of outreach stuff, a lot of things in the community," McCullers said. "We think that winning the World Series has given us an even bigger platform to get our voice out there and make some peoples' days, and change some peoples' or animals' lives. So that's what we've been working on."
Ben DuBose is a contributor to MLB.com.