Carlos Correa plays with unbridled enthusiasm. It's part of what makes him great.
Sometimes it’s not just about baseball. Sometimes, it’s about an Opening Night that somehow almost feels like the nearly uninterrupted continuation of October’s red-hot postseason cauldron. Sometimes, it’s about honoring your rabid fans, the ones going crazy over everything Houston Astros.
And sometimes, it’s about a brand-new truck.
“Ooh, I get to drive a new truck home tonight,” Astros rainmaker Carlos Correa says, his 21-year-old face as genuinely enthusiastic as any 21-year-old face gifted a fully-loaded, gleaming new ride would be. “I don’t have a truck here, so it’s going to be nice. Especially since the streets here in downtown Houston are very bad. It’s good to drive a truck around.”
A lot of people in Texas have big trucks. Only one got gifted his for winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award and announcing his arrival to Major League Baseball with a bang. Only one can drive a team quite like Carlos Correa.
Correa is at it again, driving in the first run in the Astros’ 8-2 wipeout of the defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals on Monday night, the night that baseball returns to Houston and Astros owner Jim Crane gives Correa a brand-new, black Chevy Silverado Texas Edition. This is how these Astros play the game — with plenty of swagger, verve and frat boy enthusiasm.
“A lot of people like our team,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch says. “I like our team.” It’s a fun team, one that’s much more about unbridled joy than baseball’s often-arcane unspoken code of conduct. These guys don’t try to pretend that Game No. 7 in a 162-game season, the home opener, is like any other game. Instead, they grab the moment like their hair is on fire. Or like they have a new truck waiting in the players’ parking lot for them.
Jose Altuve gets three hits. Correa gets three hits. Colby Rasmus smashes a soaring two-run home run to right. George Springer knocks a ball into the right-field corner and races around the bases for a stand-up triple. Rookie sensation Tyler White collects two more hits. Everybody hits. The Astros respond to a little adversity like the Golden State Warriors do in their first real big moment of the season. With a ruthless dismantling of the defending champs, Correa and Co. serve notice. They’re ready for the brighter lights of Minute Maid Park’s revamped LED lighting.
Yes, Kansas City eliminated Houston in the playoffs last October, stole victory from defeat in a torturous Game 4 for the home team. But these Astros don’t fear the Royals. Instead, they love the moment.
Suddenly, the fan holding up the green, “I have no fear, this is our year” sign looks like Nostradamus. Or at least, a wise palm reader on Montrose Boulevard.
“Oh yes, I was talking to Altuve about that,” Correa says, standing at his locker later. “It felt almost like a playoff game.”
“That was a blast of a game,” Rasmus says.
For years, Opening Day stood out as a futile cry for hope around here, the one day of the year another 100-loss team would play in front of a packed home stadium. Opening Days are about selling hope as much as tradition. No one needs to sell anyone on these 2016 Astros, though. There are plenty of big crowds and bigger moments in their future.
The Astros wobble into their home opener with a 2-4 record and roar out with a 14-hit explosion. It always was beyond too early to panic. There’s definitely no crying over the first week of April in baseball. Still, the overreactions seem to amuse Hinch.
“Correa, you’re gone,” Hinch cracks, playfully mocking the Astros’ beat writers’ obsession with first-week rookie legend Tyler White.
Of course, Correa is in no danger of disappearing in his follow-up season. Instead, Correa accepts his new wheels (Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel gets an identical new truck for his own award win) — and goes on mashing. Correa is the one who drills the double into the right-field gap that starts the onslaught in the bottom of the first.
Suddenly, the fan holding up the green, “I have no fear, this is our year” sign looks like Nostradamus. Or at least, a wise palm reader on Montrose Boulevard. It’s more fun to believe.
Kansas City’s veteran starter, Chris Young, must feel like he’s been battered in a washing machine. The tall lefty with placid demeanor isn’t steady anymore, needing 101 pitches just to get 14 outs. By the time, the Astros score three more runs in the fourth to push the lead to 6-0 in a flurry of hard-hit doubles and triples, all of Minute Maid Park feels like it’s turned into Club Astros.
Which is a good thing, because the Astros can’t get the actual fog-machine post-win clubhouse celebrations dubbed Club Astros by Springer last season going on this night. “I don’t know,” Altuve says when asked about the sudden absence of a clubhouse dance party. “First game. Maybe we have to buy another one.”
He’s talking about a fog machine, not a truck. Soon, Correa will be rolling through the streets in his extended cab. Yes, a guy from Puerto Rico — a territory hardly known for its infrastructure is calling out Houston for its horrific roads. Who’s going to complain, though?
Carlos Correa is right. And he knows how to make other teams feel so wrong.