HARRIS COUNTY – HOUSTON SPORTS AUTHORITY INSIDER

Biggio makes a difference through longtime relationship with Sunshine Kids

Craig Biggio is still making a difference. Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

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It was a day filled with hugs and smiles.

A day to forget the hospitals and treatments, the pain and the fears that come with cancer.

A day to see old friends and meet new ones, to run the same bases their hometown heroes run and get a hit off of one of Houston’s favorite sons – Hall of Famer Craig Biggio.

Yes, it was the annual Sunshine Kids Party at Minute Maid Park, hosted by Biggio and his wife Patty. It’s a party they’ve been hosting for more than 30 years now and they probably will host for 30 more.

“It’s a lifetime commitment they’ve made to be here for the kids,’’ said Jennifer Wisler, Sunshine Kids director of children’s services. “ . . . I don’t know where we’d be without him. He’s been an incredible role model for family and friends.’’

The party started at a high school field, then moved the Astrodome. Now, it’s at Minute Maid, home of the 2017 World Champions.

Each year, the party fills up the second the RSVPs go out and each year the Biggio family is there to make sure these patients have a couple of hours where they can just be kids.

“These kids get to come out and forget about some of the things going on in their lives and just run around,’’ Biggio said. “They can get a good hot dog and a coke and enjoy themselves.’’

And relax.

This isn’t a day when the kids stand in awe of Biggio. It’s one when they greet him like an old friend.

“We’re family,’’ he said. “As much as they look at me as family, they’re family to me too. I love them to death.”

Biggio started this to honor an old childhood friend who battled cancer and it just took off.

“I got into this with the intent of having fun and seeing where it goes,’’ he said. “For they city to embrace the Sunshine Kids and have my teammates embrace it, it’s been fun, its been great.

“We count our blessings with it.’’

The Sunshine Kids do as well.

“It’s giving these kids the opportunity not only to get away from the hospital visits and thoughts of cancer, but to meet other kids who are also struggling with a cancer diagnosis,’’ Wisler said. “It’s knowing they’re not alone.

“And for the once in a lifetime part of it, they’re down here and playing baseball against their hometown hero Craig Biggio.’’

The interaction between the Biggios and the Sunshine Kids is amazing. Jillie started coming to the event when she was 15 and had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Today, she comes back to volunteer and help out other children battling a variety of cancers.

“I wanted to give back to the people who have given to me,’’ she said. “It’s fun running the bases and acting like an Astro.

“And I find Craig Biggio an amazing person. He really treats you like family. I really find that special.’’

Wisler said the only tough part of the day is knowing there are children who can’t be there.

“Sadly, we have kids who were too sick to make it here today,’’ she said. “It breaks your heart.’’

But for those who are here?

“It’s special to be around your best friends who know what you’re going through,’’ she said.

And to get a Hall of Fame hug, an autograph and a hit off one of your heroes.

For more information on volunteering with the Sunshine Kids or to make a donation, go to www.sunshinekids.org.

Justin Verlander will get the Opening Day nod. Bob Levey/Getty Images

If you're not into basketball, or maybe just not into college basketball until March Madness gets here or the NBA until playoff time, man is this a sucky time of the sports year.

It will soon get better, with the Astros like all Major League teams having thrown open the doors to spring training. Less than six weeks away now to Opening Day, for the Astros that will be in St. Petersburg against the Rays. Barring a spring misfortune either way the Opening Day matchup will have American League Cy Young Award runner-up Justin Verlander pitching opposite AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell. In game two Gerrit Cole will certainly go for the Astros, you'd think the Rays counter with their 30 million dollar free agent addition, ex-Astro Charlie Morton.

The biggest roster issues for the Astros to decide in Florida, aren't very big. Who wins the job as fifth man in the starting rotation? Going in that's seemingly advantage Josh James with Framber Valdez and Brad Peacock as the alternatives. For now. Someone who is part of the Astros' rotation once the season gets here is a placeholder. Unless something goes wrong, super stud prospect Forrest Whitley arrives in the majors this year, though not until at least June. Barring a dire need, the Astros will keep Whitley in the minors long enough to push back his salary arbitration eligibility a year. The Astros also have a last spot or two in their bullpen to determine.

Among the non-pitchers, the single biggest story line should be Carlos Correa's back. Correa was simply a bad player while ailing the second half of last season. It would be a horrible thing if at 24 years old Correa has recurring back problems. If he does not one would presume he gets back on track toward superstardom. Jose Altuve should be fine coming off knee surgery, the same expected for Alex Bregman working back from elbow surgery.

As in life few things in baseball are guaranteed. But given good health and their seemingly weak AL West competition, as the Astros start spring training, they're close to a guarantee to end up in the postseason for the third year in a row.

Cougars keep rolling

It's 24-1 for the Houston Cougars after they ground down UConn in the second half Thursday night. Sunday they play at the joke that is Tulane (4-19, 0-11 in conference). When the new polls come out Monday UH will move up to at least number seven in the nation.The Coogs are clearly the biggest college hoops story in Texas this season, but props to Sam Houston State. The Bearkats enter the weekend as one of only four teams in Division One undefeated in conference play. The other three: Tennessee, Gonzaga, and…Wofford.

Texans miss out?

So when it comes to your sports teams, how flexible is your morality? The Texans could use an upgrade at running back. Lamar Miller had a decent 2018 season, though he faded down the stretch with four straight ineffective performances. Yes the Texans offensive line was terrible, but a better back than Miller would presumably have been more productive. If the Texans keep Lamar Miller for 2019 his salary is five and a half million dollars.

Until Monday, Kareem Hunt was available, for roughly 20 to 25 percent of Miller's salary. Then the Cleveland Browns signed him. As a rookie with the Chiefs in 2017 Hunt led the NFL in rushing. He was having another fantastic season in 2018, when a video surfaced of Hunt shoving and kicking a woman in a hotel last February. Turned out Hunt had lied to the Chiefs about the incident and they decided to release him. Hunt is currently on NFL suspension. He will come off though and the Browns will then add a sensational talent on the cheap. Hunt signed a one year deal reportedly for about one million dollars which actually will be a raise for him over what his original Kansas City contract would have paid.

So the Texans could have had Hunt for, say, a million and a half. They'd have added a running back more explosive than the Texans have ever had. And saved about four million dollars in the process by cutting Miller. Would you have signed Hunt? Or would no player guilty of such loser punk behavior ever have a place on your team?

There is no indication that the Texans showed interest. But don't go crazy proclaiming them paragons of integrity. In 2017 the Texans celebrated Brian Cushing's return from his second NFL suspension for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. They recently hired Cushing as an assistant strength and conditioning coach. Morality judgments come on a sliding scale.

Buzzer Beaters

1. James Harden's ongoing streak of 30+ point games is astounding. The extreme ball domination also often makes the Rockets a tedious watch. 2. The Rockets hit the All Star Break one game closer to the draft lottery than to third place in the West. That is stunning, though there is virtually no way they miss the playoffs. Right? 3. NBA Valentine's Day shout-outs: Bronze-Kevin and Bob Love Silver-Roses: Jalen, Derrick, and Malik Gold-Valentines: Denzell and Darnell.

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