Clemente Award nominee Houck is 'big brother' for kids in need

September 21st, 2023

This story was excerpted from Ian Browne’s Red Sox Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

For many players, community service is something they grow into while watching the veterans on the team set an example of how to make a difference in ways that go beyond the baseball field.

Then there is Red Sox righty  who started his “Pitch for Adoption” foundation at the start of his first full season of professional baseball in 2018.

Houck’s cause is personal. When he was in high school, his family adopted a four-year-old named Reanna.

For his exhaustive efforts to support children who seek a stable home, Houck was named the Red Sox’ nominee this season for the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award, which is given annually to the Major Leaguer who best represents baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.

Prior to Friday’s home game against the White Sox, Houck will be recognized for his nomination in an on-field ceremony at Fenway Park.

Red Sox DH Justin Turner won the award last season when he was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Houck realizes that everyone in Boston’s clubhouse looks at Turner in higher esteem because he won the Clemente Award.

“It is one of those things, everyone talks about this award and how much of an impact it has,” said Houck. “JT has the 21 on his cap [for winning the Clemente Award]. It's truly an honor to be nominated for this. Hopefully, it’s a nomination that I can live up to for many years to come.”

Houck didn’t rule out adopting a child of his own someday with his wife Abby.

“Yeah, we've definitely talked about it,” said Houck. “You know, we're not ready to add another person into our lives just yet. I'm 27, she’s 26, and we’re coming up on two years of marriage. So we're not ready for that step yet but we we've definitely talked about it.”

When it comes to Houck’s effort to make a difference in the lives of children, the thing he enjoys the most is actually spending quality time with the kids.

“It’s been a long journey, but it's been a fulfilling one getting to see the joy on these kids’ faces and just getting to meet the families and just hang out with the kids and just be there for them in a big-brother role, or, like I said, maybe a parental role one day,” said Houck. “In the big-brother role, I love being that with them. It all started with my sister, who’s adopted, so I love filling that role, being there and being a voice for them, knowing that they have someone that cares about them and looks out for them.”

Houck got his first callup to the Major Leagues in 2020 and immediately made a connection with Home for Little Wanderers, the oldest U.S. child welfare agency in the country with over 25 community-based programs that help children of all ages at all stages of life.

On a visit to a group home earlier this season, Houck played sports and other games with the kids and also gave them a succinct, and meaningful message.

“You’ve got someone fighting in your corner,” Houck told the children. “And someone who can hopefully impact you, not just now, but for many years to come.”

Each month, Houck invites kids and staff from the Home for Little Wanderers to Fenway Park.

“If you’re going to live in Boston, I feel like you’ve got to go to Fenway Park, for sure,” Houck said. “So getting the kids to come to the field, and just getting to hang out on the field, getting to tour Fenway, you know, it's been incredible. And the Red Sox, they’ve been awesome on that front, getting these kids to games and just allowing them to experience the whole adventure.”

Houck feels fortunate that he grew up in a loving and supportive family and wants to help people who haven’t had that same privilege.

“I mean, that’s what sparked my interest in it,” Houck said. “I have such an incredible family and I wouldn't be at this point my life without them. And, you know, after my sister came into my life, it knocked some sense into me, just how great it is, just how truly privileged I was. I always wanted to give back. And, like I said, to have this platform now to actually do that, It's incredible, and it doesn’t take this kind of platform to make a huge difference.

“Anyone can do it. It’s a matter of putting in a little bit of time, a little bit of effort and just finding a passion project that we all have and this is mine. This topic needed to be talked about and it needed to be brought to light. It's been an incredible journey. And this is just one stepping stone for, hopefully, many years to come.”