You can’t have World Series champions at an event without a red carpet, and last Thursday's Team Up for Kids and K9s at Tootsies did not disappoint. Upon entering the legendary Houston retailer, guests were greeted by spring collection pieces in Astros' colors, navy and orange, and photos of event hosts Jose Altuve, Dallas Keuchel, and Lance McCullers Jr. doing what they do best: playing phenomenal baseball. The event served as a fundraiser for the Lance McCullers Jr. Foundation and the Sunshine Kids Foundation and raised just over $360,000.
McCullers’ organization—which he runs with his wife, Kara—lends a helping hand to those with paws, finding homes for dogs and cats in Houston’s kill shelters. “I’ve just always loved animals growing up. I’ve always been passionate about them,” the pitcher said.“When I got to Houston, I quickly realized it’s a big need in this area, and I decided that was where my passion would be.”
A goal of the McCullers' foundation is to raise awareness of the number of homeless animals here. McCullers is an advocate for the “Adopt, Don’t Shop” movement and encourages people to check out local shelters or breed-specific rescue groups before supporting breeders. The foundation also supports other area rescues in hopes of eventually making Houston a no-kill city.
The Sunshine Kids Foundation concentrates on brightening the lives of children with cancer. They’ve teamed up with the ‘Stros on more than one occasion, so it's no surprise this organization has touched many of the players. As McCullers said, “Sunshine Kids is something Altuve is very passionate about. Dallas and I have spent a lot of time with Sunshine Kids taking them to the ballpark, so there are things happening here that we are very passionate about.”
Monetary donations and a silent auction comprised of unique 'Stro-centric art pieces and memorabilia benefitted both organizations. Big ticket items included a dinner at B&B Butchers with the McCullers, Verlander, Altuve, and Keuchel, which sold multiple times; and custom artwork by Jason Skeldon.
The mood at Tootsies was classy yet breezy, and Keuchel and Altuve were in particularly great spirits during the event. As fans lined up for photo ops, the two could be seen playfully pushing each other and cracking jokes.
Besides horseplay, there was also plenty of talk about the athletes’ opinions on animals. Altuve offered an enthusiastic "oh, yeah!" when asked if he liked dogs—as if fans needed any more reason to love him. Posed the same question, McCullers reminisced about his childhood pets and spoke fondly of his current companions, Siberian Husky Minka and black lab mix rescue Riggs.
Professional athletes, they’re just like us—obsessed with their pets.
Guests were also treated to surprise appearances by other big-name guests, including former Astro and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, Houston Texan Greg Mancz, and other current Astros: Justin Verlander, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Gerrit Cole, Brad Peacock, Collin McHugh, and Joe Smith. It's clear the players are a team on and off the field with great love for their adopted city, for which they’re genuinely excited to support and give back to. “I really feel like I was born in Texas, so that’s always going to be with me,” Keuchel said of being an "honorary Houstonian." “So for me to link my name with Lance for his event here in Houston, it means a lot to me.”
Excuse us while we start a GoFundMe for Keuchel’s gubernatorial run. To join the Astros in supporting the local causes, McCullers recommends volunteering at one of Houston's animal rescues or making a donation.