Any argument about J.J. Watt and his place in Texans history or his place in Houston sports history is, almost by nature, a subjective debate in which the rules slide depending on whose side you're on. Andre Johnson versus J.J. Watt. Nolan Ryan versus J.J. Watt. It all generates fun banter in which, with each passing Watt season, it becomes harder and harder to defend the non-J.J. side.
However, if you're looking for something substantive and material to measure the love affair between a city and its biggest CURRENT star (and on that, there is no debate), you could find it Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, where J.J. Watt's charity softball game between the Texans' offense and defense, the J.J. Watt Charity Classic, attracted a crowd that would likely end up ranking among the Astros' five or ten best crowds of the season.
From purely an entertainment standpoint, Watt's softball game, which he has organized for four years now, is the best charity event I've ever attended. It was when he did his first one in 2013, and it was again last night. I've been to three of the four. My kids, who live in Chicago, have picked the weekend of Watt's game to come visit, specifically to go to the game. It's fun, it's interactive, it's fast-moving, it's star-studded and it's just extremely well organized.
Most important, the game raises a ton of money for Watt's foundation, which has donated millions to schools and organizations nationwide to help subsidize after-school activities. Last night's game alone raised an incredible $1.6 million.
For those who truly care about the outcome of the game itself — played by a group largely made up of under-the-table gamblers and Brian Cushing, who hilariously argued seemingly every close call — the offense beat the defense, 4-3, in extra innings. But the game itself is really a backdrop for a lot of little moments, almost a "This Is Your Life" of the Houston chapter in J.J. Watt's life story, a celebration of everything for which Watt stands — camaraderie with his team, bonding with his adopted hometown, a Hall of Fame playlist of "guilty pleasure" music — that appropriately does a ton of good for people who need it.
Put simply, J.J. Watt is a really great player, a really great person. This was a really great event, for which Watt's entire foundation, spearheaded by his mother, Connie, should be proud.
The most incredible fans on the planet. We raised over $1.6 million dollars tonight for @JJWFoundation. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) May 15, 2016
Now, in case you couldn't make it, let's relive some of the magic through social media...
Brian Cushing won the Home Run Derby, taking down defending champ Shane Lechler by a score of 5-2 in the finals. The two qualified for the finals with scores of six for Lechler and five for Cushing in the prelim round, easily out-slugging their teammates, who collected just three home runs (Watt 2, Simon 1) between eight of them...
The moment of the night was, without a doubt, former First Lady Barbara Bush throwing out the first pitch. If there was one moment where Watt had to look around and say, "Holy crap, this is all really amazing...," I would guess it's standing next to a former First Lady (who clearly is very fond of him; she has the socks to prove it) while the national anthem is playing in a stadium full of people there to see YOU...
The best moments from the game itself had to be the rookie hazing...
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...and Vince Wilfork's fashion choices...
All in all, an amazing night.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.