J.J. Watt's comeback from football's medical rock bottom has been scintillating to watch and experience with no shortage of triumphant returns, the most astounding of which, of course, was Watt's own return to the first team All Pro squad in 2018, with 16.5 sacks. However, underrated in its return was Watt's signature charity event, as the J.J. Watt Charity Classic returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday night after a one year hiatus.
The annual softball game, pitting offense versus defense on the diamond, and Watt against several of his teammates in a pregame home run derby, took last year off as Watt focused on rehabbing his gruesome leg injury suffered in Week 5of the 2017 season. The return was thunderous, as the game raised more than $1 million for the Justin J. Watt Foundation, which has raised over $5 million for after-school athletics for middle-school aged students.
This particular event began in 2012, and was hosted by Constellation Field in Sugar Land for its first four years, before making the move to Minute Main Park in 2016. In his pregame press conference, Watt recalled the planning that went into that first Charity Classic in 2012.
“So my first year we did it I grabbed a pencil and paper and I literally looked up all the ballparks around Houston,” Watt said. “I checked out Rice’s field. I saw their capacity. I checked out UH’s field. I checked out here, and I was like no way. So, Constellation Field we settled on and they sold it out, like, the first day. I was so thankful and grateful and we had it a couple of years out there before we moved here.”
Watt admitted that he is still blown away that the event has enough support to fill a sizable portion of a Major League Baseball stadium. “I was like, ‘This place holds about 42,000. It’s going to look bad if it doesn’t sell.’ And over 22,000 fans came," he said. "The amount of money that we raised, the people that come out, the experiences. We had some people say they came from Maine and Chicago and Florida and all over. It’s just I’m so thankful and grateful.”
The turnout among Watt's teammates was substantial, and included star quarterback Deshaun Watson and future Hall of Fame punter Shane Lechler, who Watt called out specifically before the game as his arch nemesis in the home run derby, which Watt won:
As for the game itself, that didn't go quite as well for Watt, as the offense topped the defense 13-7, scoring five runs in the first inning and cruising to the victory:
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Overall, Saturday was another chapter for one of the most well attended, fun charity events in the history of the city, and another notch on the philanthropic resume for a city icon.