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Players go yard at home run derby


With Astros slugger Carlos Lee looking on, Texans tackle Eric Winston prepares to tear into a pitch at the annual Reliant Energy Home Run Derby at Minute Maid Park.

At the Texans' annual Reliant Energy Home Run Derby at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, Texans players raised $30,800 for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston with an impressive display of hitting. Along the way, tackle Eric Winston may have found a second career.

With 300 Boys & Girls Club children in attendance and Astros players and coaches looking on from the first-base line and behind the batting cage, players earned $500 for each home run, $250 for each ball that hit the wall, $100 for each hit to the warning track and $50 for each line drive.

The 10 participating players, decked out in Astros gear, were divided into five teams of two: Winston and defensive end Mario Williams, kicker Kris Brown and long snapper Bryan Pittman, linebacker DeMeco Ryans and quarterback Sage Rosenfels, tight end Owen Daniels and quarterback Matt Schaub, and guard Chester Pitts and tight end Mark Bruener.

It was Winston who stole the show.

The 6-7, 310-pound left-hander belted several monstrous home runs into the upper deck in right field, the longest of which was a 439-foot shot, drawing rave reviews from Astros such as manager Cecil Cooper, ace Roy Oswalt, closer Jose Valverde and slugger Carlos Lee.

It was enough to make Cooper consider adding Winston, a former high school baseball player, to his roster.

{QUOTE}"I think we should. Tonight," Cooper said from the Astros' dugout. "If he can hit the curveball, then he might have a contract. That was a pretty awesome display right there. I haven't even seen (Lance) Berkman hit them up there.

"He put a lot of good swings on today. We might have to keep him around for a while."

Winston credited his success in part to Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, his classmate at the University of Miami who popped out of the visitors' dugout to offer a few pointers and lend Winston his bat for the hitting session.

"It helped me hit a couple over," Winston said. "I told him I could hit. I told him I could hit from all the way back when I was a freshman, so he's been waiting for this for about four years. I'm glad I got a chance to go out there and show him I could actually do it."

"I'm impressed," Braun said. "I think the beginning of the round, he was hitting quite a few line drives, but then he got some loft and hit some bombs. That's impressive.

"That's a big, strong boy right there."

Many of the Texans played baseball as children and relished the chance to swing for the fences in a big-league park in front of the pro hometown team.

"I was thinking this is my tryout right here, so I was trying to show them how I could hit it," said Ryans, who played catcher growing up in Bessemer, Ala., and finished with one home run.

The pairing of Winston and Williams tied Schaub and Daniels for the best team output, combining to raise $10,450, but got the nod as champions because of Winston's show-stopping performance. Rosenfels, last year's co-champion, also came through with a strong showing.

Pitts and Williams had perhaps the roughest individual outings of the day, but still managed to raise more than $1,000 apiece for the Boys & Girls Clubs.

Brown, the other co-champion of a year ago, like Pitts and Williams failed to get one over the fence during his five-minute hitting session. The Texans' kicker got plenty of pointers and a bat from Astros center fielder Darin Erstad, a former punter for Brown's Nebraska Cornhuskers, but couldn't come close to matching Winston's success.

"Kris had his third kid so I think he's pretty exhausted and hasn't had a chance to get his cuts in," Rosenfels said. "But it was a good to raise money for a great non-profit organization and for all these kids that are out here today."

Erstad noted that the Astros' batting practice pitcher was mixing things up on Brown, throwing his 55-65 mile an hour pitches up and in and then tailing some away, making it a difficult batting practice matchup for his good friend.

"I've usually come out at this thing and usually hit pretty well, hit at least a couple out," an exhausted Brown said after his lackluster showing. "I think it was just the pressure of having Darin sitting right down the line."

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