Chris Sampson has been making Houston Astros fans smile with his strong relief outings this season, but what he's done off the field makes him smile just as much.
In June, Sampson and other players were joined by Astros staff on a visit to The Methodist Hospital. It's one of many volunteer opportunities the right-hander agrees to do each season.
"I get a lot out of just seeing the kids smile and be happy," Sampson said. "I always told myself that if I ever made it, I was always going to try to give back as much as I could."
That almost didn't happen.
Drafted as a shortstop, Sampson quit the game at age 21 after one season in Class A. Four years later, in 2003, he attended a tryout at Minute Maid Park and was invited to Minor League Spring Training as a pitcher. He made it to the big leagues on June 2, 2006.
Because of what he has become -- or almost didn't -- Sampson doesn't put more pressure on himself to give back or consider any of his outside activities extra special.
"It just comes from the heart. I enjoy doing stuff like that, and I want to do it," he said.
Helping others is something that Sampson grew up around, as he indicated that his father was a man who would always be there for someone to help out, a trait he hopes to instill in his child.
Sometimes his wife, Heather, and 2-year-old son, C.J., are able to accompany Sampson to his charitable outings.
"My wife enjoys doing stuff like that," he said. "We get so little family time that sometimes just spending that little extra time together doing charity things is great."
For hospitalized youngsters to meet a professional ballplayer they've watched on TV can make their day, but Sampson says the feeling is mutual.
"I get a lot out of it just being able to see kids smile and be happy," he said. "Being in the hospital, they're not in a good situation. So, if I can put them in a good situation and put a smile on the face, if even for a brief moment, it makes it all worth it."
Sampson does more than just hospital visits. For example, he's helped out at an autograph session and golf tournament for a buddy with a brain tumor, and on Jan. 14, he helped kick off the team's annual caravan by joining the Bay Area Habitat for Humanity in building a home in Dickinson, Texas, a town that was ravaged by Hurricane Ike in September 2008.
"That was important, because the hurricane did so much damage to the Galveston, Dickinson and some of the Houston area. To give back to the community and give them any help we can, it's huge," Sampson said.
He said that he often gets requests from former high school or college teammates to speak to Little League or high school players.
His message is simple and comes from his own experience: "Don't let anybody tell you that you can't do anything because anything is possible," Sampson says. "If you believe you can do something, you can do it."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.