CORPUS CHRISTI - Astros President Reid Ryan, Hall of Fame broadcaster Milo Hamilton and former National League strikeout king J.R. Richard headlined the Houston Astros Caravan Luncheon, sponsored by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and ClearChannel Media + Entertainment, at the Solomon P. Ortiz Center Friday afternoon. They were joined by current Astros first baseman Chris Carter and outfielder Marc Krauss, a former Hook.
The contingent toured South Texas Thursday and Friday with stops in Victoria, Rockport and Corpus Christi. The journey started Thursday morning at the University of Houston-Victoria, where former Astros' outfielder Terry Puhl is head baseball coach. Puhl raised an Astros flag in front of the campus, marking Victoria as Astros territory.
"The Astros have been really the only team I ever played for, so it's not just a team for Victoria, it's my team too," Puhl said. "And to have J.R. here, one of the standout pitchers ever with the Astros, it's incredible."
The caravan visited a fire station in Victoria, where the firefighters cooked lunch and took some of the players on a ride in the fire trucks before a stop at Rockport-Fulton High School.
"The response was great. Anytime you come to a high school you expect a lot of energy, especially since they got out of class 30 minutes early," Krauss said. "They were pumped, they were happy to see us. They gave us a good ovation and had a lot of energy the whole time. I think we got a lot of new Astros fans today, if they weren't already."
Stops at Whataburger and K-Bob's Steakhouse, both in Rockport, capped the first day of the South Texas caravan swing. At Whataburger Krauss worked the drive-thru window and Carter served condiments.
Friday morning began with a stop at Corpus Christi City Hall, where cold, wet weather forced the flag raising into the city council chambers. Carter, Krauss, Richard and Hamilton spoke to a small group of city employees including members of the council.
A Corpus Christi fire station marked the second Friday stop, this one less than a mile from Whataburger Field. The players toured the station and got an in-depth look at some of the tools used on the trucks and ambulances.
Hooks and Astros fans turned out to the Ortiz Center for the luncheon and heard from each member of the group. Ryan explained why the Astros caravan has made so many stops in 2014.
"We feel like with our ability right now, with young players to get out and do these kinds of things, it's key that we do it. But also, the fact is that we haven't been on TV this last year in the out markets and I felt like we needed to reconnect with these communities that have historically supported the Astros, so that's what we're out here doing."
The group finished its trip to South Texas with one more fire station stop and an autograph signing at Academy Sports + Outdoors in Portland.