June is typically a quiet month for local sports and society happenings, but there was absolutely nothing quiet about the electric Team Up for Kids and K9s soiree. Boasting an all-star lineup of Houston Astros stars present and past, the annual red carpet event is a must-attend merging of the sporting and social scenes in Houston.
The buzz was palpable when supermodel Kate Upton and husband and Astros ace, Justin Verlander, strolled into the gleaming Houston fashion house, Tootsies. Astros fan favorites Lance McCullers Jr. and José Altuve, the event hosts, casually mixed and mingled with a who’s-who of Houston scenesters. Blue, the adorable black Labrador retriever and Astros explosives-sniffing service dog, curled up with Upton, McCullers, and curious kids for photos. Adoptable animals from BARC Animal Shelter and Adoptions were paraded between aisles of high couture.
Now in its third year, the feel-good party benefits causes close to McCullers’ and Altuve’s hearts: homeless animals and children with cancer. This year saw nearly $400,000 raised for the Lance McCullers Jr. Foundation, which advocates for pet rescue, adoption, and no-kill shelters (run by McCullers and his wife, Kara) and the Sunshine Kids, one of Altuve’s many chosen kid-specific charities that he donates to via his José Altuve Foundation and Athletes and Causes.
One by one, Astros stars such as Carlos Correa, George Springer, Tony Kemp, and Gerrit Cole casually crashed the party, as did Hall-of-Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell. After gushing guests sipped cocktails and passed the velvet ropes to have their pictures taken with McCullers and Altuve, attention turned to the live auction.
In-demand items included autographed memorabilia and the G.O.A.T., a one-of-a-kind piece sculpture by Scott Joseph Moore and Frankie Gonzalez that pays tribute to the history of the Houston Astros organization and its greatest members. Hands quickly shot up when a VIP dinner with McCullers, wife Kara, and Altuve, hosted by restaurateur Ben Berg at B.B. Butchers, was announced.
A vintage Astros moment: Players took the stage for the presentation of custom portraits of Altuve, McCullers, Verlander, Correa, and Biggio by artist Michael Vahl. Altuve stepped up to outbid the crowd on Verlander’s painting; Verlander pounced on Altuve and gave him a tight bear hug in return.
The successful night raised funds (Citizens for Animal Protection presented a check for $25,000 to McCullers’ foundation) but also much-needed awareness. “We’ve had employees volunteer to care for the animals through the Lance McCullers Jr. Foundation, and hearing Lance tell our employees all about his cause even inspired some dog adoptions right from our offices,” emcee Saar Shwartz of BMC told CultureMap.
Energized by the response, the always-dapper McCullers was ready to talk business — specifically, the business of helping homeless animals. His charity has recently partnered with local rescue group, Rescued Pets Movement, to transport strays in high-kill shelters to homes in Colorado.
“We’ve just sponsored their transport program, which we’re hoping to get about 8,000 animals or more out of the city from euthanization,” McCullers told CultureMap. “We’re doing that we can to affect the dogs that are here in the city of Houston — whether that’s medical grants, whether that’s helping them find homes through foster-based programs, or whether that’s getting the animals out of the city to safety. So we’ve been busy.”
But not too busy to host one of the hottest sports and social parties of the year.
Who: Kate Upton and Justin Verlander, George Springer, Kara McCullers, Nina Altuve, Reid Ryan, Don Sanders, Bill Baldwin, Amanda Boffone, Jeff Luhnow, Caroline and Kevin Walter, Theresa and James Bruno, Shelly and Saar Shwartz, Patricia and Sig Cornelius, Michelle and Tony Kemp, Ashley and Collin McHugh, Gene Dias, Josh James, Lynn Wyatt, DeeDee and Wallis Marsh, Julie and Stephen Chen, Gaye Lynn and Stuart Zarrow, Twila Carter, Bill King, Donna and Norman Lewis, Frances Moody, Julie and Brook Brookshire, Tony Buzbee, Tony Bradfield and Kevin Black, Ben Berg, Brigitte Kalai, Rachel and Jeff Bagwell, Kelli and John Weinzierl, Jordan and Dylan Seff, Patty and Craig Biggio, Monica and Joe Casiano, Amy and Gerrit Cole, Carlos Correa and Daniella Rodriguez, Cherie and John Lindley, Jake Marisnick, Soraya and Scott McClelland, and Dorysa Moore.