HOUSTON (Jan. 23, 2013) -- Troops at a military installation here received a personal visit from current and former Major League Baseball players today.
The service members were visited at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base by personnel from the Houston Astros baseball club. The visit was held as part of the ballclub's annual traveling community outreach program, known as Astros CAREavan.
As part of the program, players, coaching staff and others pay visits to hospitals, schools and institutions such as military bases.
Children and other family members of the troops were invited to the event, which also featured appearances by costumed characters, including the Astros' "Orbit" mascot. In all, more than 200 military personnel and their family members attended.
Though some troops were on full-time status, nearly all were connected to the reserve components of one of the five armed forces represented at the installation: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. The Army Reserve's 75th Training Command worked with the Astros and the multiple services on the base to help host the event.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Shauna Aubry works full time at the JRB for the Navy Operational Support Center there. Aubry was particularly motivated to bring her two sons, Daniel, 17, and Ayden, 15. "This was a great opportunity to bring my boys to see how important our military service is to other people."
Aubry is a passionate baseball fan, as are her sons, who also play the game. To her, having high-profile public figures like ballpayers express their gratitude to the troops imparted a lesson. "[It showed] them that the people we look up to, look up to us as well."
The delegation from the Astros included current major leaguer Jed Lowrie, a shortstop for the team. It also included three team personalities with even deeper Texas ties.
Jared Cosart, a minor league pitching prospect originally from the Houston area, participated in the visit. Brandon Backe, a Galveston native and pitcher for the team for parts of five seasons, also traveled to the base.
The final Texas connection in the group came in the form of Bo Porter, who was announced as the club's 2013 manager last fall. Porter and his wife -- who is from Houston -- have together called the Bayou City home for more than sixteen years, even as he served time with several pro ballclubs around the country.
Porter was energized to reverse the usual dynamic of military-baseball interaction, in which service members are normally the ones to visit a baseball game or other event.
"Any time you get a chance to pay tribute to our armed forces, that is something I take very seriously, and the Houston Astros organization takes seriously. A lot of times, [the troops] are coming to us. This kind of event gives us a great opportunity to come to the troops, and to serve them."
The occasion also felt like something of a reversal to some of the service members who train full- or part-time on the installation. Ellington Field JRB is the only controlled-access joint military training facility in the nation's fourth-largest city, and several of the units there conduct their own outreach events, such as Toys for Tots.
Marine Cpl. Brett Ballard says that the visit was meaningful to him for just that reason. "We do [community support events] out in town, but we rarely have anyone actually come to the base. So it's very cool that the Astros players came to see us, to see how we work."
After an initial introduction, the players and other Astros figures personally handed out donated boxed lunches to the troops and their families. Later in the event, the baseball personalities signed autographs, posed for pictures, and spent time visiting individually with service members and their families.
Aubry says that in addition to her teenage sons feeling honored by being served lunch by major leaguers, the experience was a direct and personal one for them. "Each of the players showed them that they were interested in what my boys had to say. They held a conversation with them. They weren't rushed."
The executive officer for Aubry's unit, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Ivan Cavenall, was impressed with the overall event, but says he is looking forward to more military-community interaction in the future.
"I told [Astros' manager Porter], 'We're here to support you. We'll make sure to get our troops out there to support the Astros in the upcoming season. But don't make this your last visit to us. Come on back again.'"
Aubry's family is ready to back that sentiment. Barely out of the parking lot after the event, her sons were needling her about making plans for the first of several trips to the ballpark in the coming spring.
The visit from the ballplayers generated a separate excitement within Aubry's family, this time from nearly 2,500 miles away. Aubry's daughter, Kristi Pinon, 20, is also in the service. The naval airman was aboard the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan -- docked in Washington state -- when she saw the pictures online of her family with the players and mascot.
Aubry says her daughter couldn't help but wish she had been there. According to Aubry, her daughter commented, "Maybe the Astros will come to our ship."