TEMPLE – Houston Astros fans, from the wrinkled to the baby-toothed, showed up Monday afternoon at the Temple Mall to shake hands, talk with and receive autographs from Astros players during the team's annual Winter Caravan.
Garrett Briggs, 63, stood in line waiting for the Astros to show up, just as he had for the previous 15 years, in an Astros' shirt and cap with an official Astros magazine in hand.
"I like being able to associate with the players even if it's just for a minute," Briggs said after having his magazine signed by pitcher Brandon Backe, pitcher Chris Sampson and outfielder Luke Scott.
Down the line from the players, Briggs, who has a master's degree in English literature, talked baseball and poetry to Astros broadcasters Brett Dolan and Dave Raymond after they mentioned a book of poetry during a road game in Cincinnati last season.
"When they combined it (the book of poetry) with baseball, it was great," Briggs said.
The Astros Winter Caravan started more than 21 years ago and makes stops throughout Texas as well as Louisiana and New Mexico before the opening of spring training in March. On Monday, they made stops at the Children's Hospital at Scott & White Hospital and had lunch with the Lions Club before stopping off at the Temple Mall for an hour and a half in the afternoon.
"I don't really know any of the Astros, I just like the team," said Hunter Loesch, 8, of Little River-Academy. Loesch has relatives in the Brenham area who are huge Astros fans, so Hunter and his younger sister Hailey have autographed baseballs to prove that they had met some of the Astros.
"It was really nice – that's about the only way I can describe it," Hunter said.
After skipping back and forth between the major and minor leagues last year, Chris Sampson is enjoying his current status as an Astro as well as his first Caravan trip.
"I'm having a great time," Sampson said. "I was a little kid once as well. I always told myself when I grow and if I ever made it, I was going to do all I could to put smiles on their faces like they put on mine.
"I'm torn," he said when asked what his favorite part has been so far. "I'm torn between doing the simulation at Fort Hood, but it was also gratifying to go the Children's Hospital, putting smiles on those kids faces."
Sampson remembered the first "big league" autograph he ever received, from former player and broadcaster Alan Ashby during an Astros training camp when he was a kid.
"I was kind of in awe," he said. "He was all decked out in his Astros uniform. I didn't know what to say. I just stuck out my little hand and shook his hand."
Backe and Scott have been on the Caravan travels before and said it's always been great to give back to the community.
"I've met a lot of cool people," Scott said. "I can do some witnessing and spreading the good news of the Lord. There are things more important than baseball, more important than me. I'm just thankful for all I've been given and all the opportunities."
Backe remember meeting Craig Biggio for the first time.
"I guess it was the way kids envision us today – that he was larger than life. I was thrilled to meet him," Backe said.
"Really, I guess everything about this thing (the Winter Caravan) is fun and exciting for the simple fact that it's a chance to give back to our community, who support us throughout the year."
The Astros open training camp in Cleveland on March 1 and open the season on April 2 against Pittsburgh in Houston.
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