Houston Astros baseball club gave thousands of tickets and welcomed ten busses filled with 500 Uvalde, Texas, residents Sunday in the latest show of support for the community that lost 19 children and two elementary school teachers in May after a lone gunman carried out the third-deadliest mass school shooting in American history.
“We can all relate to the tough time they’ve been through, so this is just a little distraction and give a little something back, and that’s what the Astros are about,” Jim Crane, Astros owner, told MLB.com.
Sunday’s game follows a private brunch hosted by Crane last month for the affected families and city officials. Those who lost a loved one received an autographed Astros jersey customized with their loved one’s names on the back and a gift bag that included a $1,000 H-E-B gift card.
Crane and the team’s players and staff invited the grieving community to Minute Maid Park for Uvalde Strong Day. The gameday experience included a walk around the outfield track, a pregame ceremony, and a ceremonial first pitch.
Faith Mata, 21, lost her ten-year-old sister, Tess, during the horrific event at Robb Elementary School earlier this year — and she threw the first pitch before Sunday’s game against the Oakland Athletics.
Mata said her sister loved watching second baseman Jose Altuve play.
“Any time the Astros’ games were on, she’d throw on her [Astros] T-shirt and just run into the living room and just cheer for them, even though she didn’t know what was going on,” Mata told MLB.com. “She just loved Altuve.”
Jerry Mata, the father of Faith and Tess, said he couldn’t express his gratitude enough when the professional baseball asked to host the community.
“I can’t put it into words,” the father told MLB.com. “I wanted to pass out when [the Astros] asked.”
“It’s an honor, and I’m just like, stunned,” Mata added. “It feels good, and I know my daughter is up above and looking down with a smile and saying, ‘Go get ’em, sister!'”
Jerry Cazares, who lost his 9-year-old daughter, Jacklyn, said while his family takes things one day at a time, the support brought a lot of emotions to his family, who were happy to attend the game.
“It’s something different,” Cazares told MLB.com. “For me, it’s just a little escape from being at home, and I’m glad we were invited, and we’re going to make the best of it.”
“My daughter would have been happy to be out here,” he added. “[That’s] where it hurts. Overall, we’re happy to be here.”
While the Astros played nine innings on Sunday, fans had the chance to purchase Uvalde Strong t-shirts, with all proceeds going to Uvalde Strong efforts, a 50/50 raffle awarding $10,000 with the rest of the funds raised going to Uvalde Strong initiatives.
Abraham Gonzales, who teaches physical education at Robb Elementary, said the trip would go a long way in helping Uvalde through the healing process that forever changed the community.
“It means a lot,” Gonzales told MLB.com. “The Astros have been so great to our community — we’re hurt, but it doesn’t get any better than this.”
“It’s kind of just what it means to them right now,” he added. That makes me really happy.”
Gonzales, who also formerly coached softball in Uvalde, gave Astros manager Dusty Baker a maroon and white Uvalde baseball cap.
“I had an extra cap from when I coached, so I thought before I left the house today, I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to present Dusty a cap,’ and I actually told Dusty, I said, ‘Any time you need a rally cap, just rub on this, and you guys will get a for-sure hit,'” Gonzales told MLB.com.
Baker sported the cap before the game, saying the team not only showed up to play baseball for themselves and the fans but also to help aid the healing process for those impacted by the school shooting.
“This is what we’re here for,” Baker told MLB.com.
During the pre-ceremony before the Astros and Athletics faced each other on Sunday, Uvalde residents met with Crane, Altuve, the team’s third baseman Alex Bregman, and pitcher Lance McCullers Jr.
A young fan asked if the Astros could hit a home run in honor of the Uvalde community.
Within the first inning of Sunday’s game, Bregman knocked a two-run home run out of the park leading to a 6-3 victory against the A’s.