Free-agent right-hander Chris Sampson, a fan favorite with the Houston Astros over the past five seasons, has gone the extra mile over the last month to put together the Michael Gill Benefit Ragball Tournament this Saturday at Channelview Little League Complex in order to raise money for childhood friend Michael Gill, who was diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma (grade 3 brain cancer) in March 2007.
Sampson looks forward to watching the 35 registered teams expected to participate, as multiple champions will be crowned over the course of the tournament while utilizing seven different fields.
According to Sampson, if any interested participant wants to play, yet doesn’t have a team, they can begin arriving at 8:00 a.m. and inquire at the check-in table to find out if registered teams need extra players.
“I don’t mind at all if males or females show up early and ask, ‘Do you need any extra players,'” Sampson said via a phone interview Thursday.
LoneStar Baseball Academy, co-owned by Sampson and Kade Johnson, plans to field a team that will include Sampson himself, as well as fellow major leaguers Jorge Cantú, Garrett Mock and J.R. Towles, Toronto Blue Jays prospect Clint Everts, Daniel Cox, Brittany Towles (J.R.’s wife), Crissy Autry and current high-school standout Jordan Fannin.
“I’m actually going to be playing shortstop for our team,” Sampson said. “It’s going to be a throwback to my very early professional days and even before that at Texas Tech and in high school. That was my position before I converted to pitcher.”
Cantú, Everts, Mock, Sampson, Towles and former Astros right-hander Brandon Backe, who has entered a team from Galveston, will be available to sign autographs, pose for photos and mingle with all fans and participants throughout the event.
Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, Constable of Harris County Precinct 3 Ken Jones and Sampson’s former Channelview High School coach Kerry Cox are also expected to appear.
MLB memorabilia and autographed items, including a Lance Berkman game-used bat and glove, highlight the silent auction, which also features an assortment of gift certificates and a hand-painted, game-used bat of Sampson’s donated by Juan DeLeon, owner of Juan DeLeon Studio.
Chick-fil-A, Coca-Cola, Daniel’s Meat Market (Baytown, Texas), Las Palomas Mexican Restaurant (Channelview, Texas), LoneStar Baseball Academy and Minute Maid represent the collective group of sponsors.
Also, Channelview Little League has done an exceptional job behind the scenes in coordinating the event with Sampson.
“Minute Maid is donating all of the drinks and $500 for brisket,” Sampson said. “Channelview Little League assembled a committee just to focus on the tournament to make sure everyone is on the same page. They aren’t charging us for the two concession stands and they’re donating the fields at no charge.”
Even if interested individuals don’t plan to participate in the tournament, Sampson encourages as many people as possible to attend, whether it’s just to watch live music, purchase a plate of barbecue or get autographs from the big leaguers.
The opening ceremony will begin at 8:30 a.m., with Sampson personally introducing Gill and thanking all sponsors, fans and participants for coming out.
Gill’s pastor at his church in Crosby, Texas, will then say an opening prayer, followed by Gills’ mother and father-in-law singing the National Anthem prior to Gill throwing out the first pitch before the tournament’s scheduled starting time at 9:00 a.m.
Sampson wants everyone to keep in mind that the day belongs to Gill, as all proceeds benefit the Gill family to help with medical expenses.
Without a doubt, Sampson defines the true meaning of friendship with his proactive approach and dedication to getting the community involved in helping out an old buddy from Channelview.
Gill has undergone two brain surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, yet continues to push forward and inspire others due to the loving support of friends and family, including his wife, Dana, two daughters (ages 10 and six) and one son (seven months old).
“Mike and his family are the true champions,” Sampson said. “I’ve known Mike ever since junior high. We’re lifelong friends and I’ll do anything to help him. We grew up playing on these fields in Channelview.
“It should be a great day to come out and be part of a noble cause.”
To get an idea of all the legwork Sampson has done to put this event together, he jokes about not knowing what to do following Saturday.
“I don’t know what to do with myself when it’s all over,” Sampson said. “I can’t even begin to describe how much hard work has gone into this. I know I’m going to have to re-introduce myself to my family.”
For additional tournament information or questions, Sampson welcomes all those interested to email him directly at email@example.com, with “Mike Gill Benefit” as the subject line.
Donations can be made personally to the Gill family at Wells Fargo Bank under the account name “Mike Gill Benefit.”
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