National PLAY Campaign makes stop in Houston

Keuchel, Marisnick and Astros training staff educate local youth on nutrition, exercise

National PLAY Campaign makes stop in Houston

HOUSTON -- A group of area youngsters got a big league experience on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park.

Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel and outfielder Jake Marisnick, as well as the team's athletic training staff, teamed up with the Taylor Hooton Foundation to educate the local youth on the importance of exercise and nutrition and the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs.

"It's something that's dear to my heart because growing up as a kid, I was always active," said Keuchel, who is on the foundation's advisory board. "And the only time I wasn't active was if I was busy getting my schoolwork done. My parents preached good grades, and therefore I was able to play outside and play the sports I loved, which were football, baseball and basketball."

On Tuesday, the Astros hosted the National PLAY Campaign as the event made its annual stop at Minute Maid Park. The message directed to the kids and the parents was to make sure the kids play outside and develop a healthy lifestyle, eat correctly and avoid drugs and supplements because they do not make a player a better athlete.

"They're learning the same stuff that we teach our players every single day," said Astros head athletic trainer Jeremiah Randall. "We try to make it very basic and here's what you should eat, here's what you shouldn't eat.

"And the younger that we can teach these kids those same values, the more impact it's going to be in their life. [Astros dietitian] Roberta [Anding] does a great job on her station on educating the kids, but also the parents."

"Breakfast is not optional," Anding said. "To build muscles, you need protein at every meal. Performance starts on the plate. No amount of nutrition will make you a good athlete unless you exercise. Kids should have water breaks every 10-15 minutes when exercising outdoors."

Marisnick also emphasized the importance of being active.

"What we're about here is making sure we get kids outside and playing and getting their imagination going," said Marisnick, who also made an appearance at this event last year. "When you're sitting there on your phone, playing Xbox, your imagination isn't really going. When you're outside pretending you're your favorite baseball player hitting home runs, that's stuff I did growing up. It goes a long way in your future too, because you remember that as a kid and now it makes where I'm at now extra special."

2015 National Play Campaign

The Taylor Hooton Foundation was established in 2004 after Hooton, a pitcher on the Plano West baseball team in Texas, committed suicide at age 17 in '03. Hooton's father, Don, believes the suicide resulted from depression following Taylor's decision to stop using steroids. Major League Baseball began working with the foundation a year later. MLB has programs at all 30 ballparks.

"We're showing that you don't have to use drugs to get to the top," said Don Hooton.

After listening to a talk from Hooton about the dangers of anabolic steroids, PEDs and dietary supplements, the kids got on the Minute Maid Park field and participated in four stations, as well as a station for a water break.

Astros bench coach Trey Hillman had the kids hitting off a tee, assistant athletic trainer James Ready had the kids in the bullpen stretching and doing core exercises and assistant athletic trainer Daniel Roberts ran the kids through agility drills. Astros strength and conditioning coach Jake Beiting assisted in the drills.

"It's an awesome event for the kids and for the parents," Randall said. "They get the opportunity to come out and hang out at Minute Maid Park where some of their heroes [play] -- Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, guys they see on TV -- they get to run around the field, the bullpen, go in the dugout. So it's just a great experience for them.

"They hear a great message from Don Hooton of the Taylor Hooton Foundation on the dangers of PEDs, steroids, some of the things that are real issues for teenagers. A real impactful message from him. Combining those two and then just getting to run around and sweating, having a good time, it's a great time for these kids."

Danny Gonzalez, 13, enjoyed hitting in the batting cage.

"Just being in there knowing that [Astros] players have been in there," Gonzalez said.

Brianna Molina, 12, said her favorite part on Tuesday was meeting Keuchel and Marisnick, as well as hitting the ball off the tee.

"I love to hit the ball," Molina said.

For Johnny Toups, 13, picking up tips on nutrition was beneficial.

"I learned about the nutritional part of the game," Toups said. "Not to eat fatty foods all the time. What to drink, what to eat, before game, after game."

Added Cristian Gutierrez, 13: "It was fun. I learned some stuff. I learned how it is to be on a Major League field and do what they do and eating right so you can stay in shape to play ball."

Created by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society, PLAY (Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth) was formed to raise awareness about children's health issues and the obesity epidemic in the United States. PLAY has conducted more than 200 events inside all 30 Major League ballparks teaching kids about being physically active and enjoying a healthy lifestyle. The campaign is supported by MLB Charities, the Taylor Hooton Foundation and the Henry Schein Cares Foundation.

Richard Dean is a contributor to based in Houston. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.