Culture / Sporting Life

Springer Scenes — Justin Verlander and Kate Upton’s Sweet Baby Fun, Yordan Alvarez’s Champagne Baptism and Gerrit Cole’s Cigar Talk Are All Made Possible by George

Inside an Astros Party That Proves Winning Never Gets Old

BY // 09.23.19

There goes that man, again. Whether it’s the pressure cauldron of the World Series, the pageantry of Major League Baseball’s Opening Day or just a regular late-inning situation, George Springer grabs the moment. Why should Clinch Day be any different?

It’s not, of course.

George Springer collects big moments at the same rate Jerry Seinfeld collects cars.

“When he’s going good, I don’t know if there’s anybody else on the planet you’d rather have at the plate in that situation,” Justin Verlander says after Springer hits three home runs in the first four innings to make sure the Houston Astros’ American League West Division Championship champagne party is not delayed another day.

Verlander is actually holding a plastic cup of Coke as he talks to reporters against a wall of the Astros clubhouse. But all around the room, bubbly and Budweiser is being sprayed on anyone in Astros gear.

With plastic covering all of the players’ lockers, clubhouse attendants scooping up discarded glass bottles that find the floor and cigars being passed all around, the Astros almost have this celebration thing down to a science.

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With three division titles, two first round playoff series wins, an American League Championship and that golden World Series all earned in the last three years alone — with this season’s haul not close to done — they’ve certainly had plenty of practice at it. But that doesn’t make this party any less special.

“This is not easy,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch says after the 13-5 win that officially seals another division title . “This is not something you take for granted. We don’t know what next year’s team looks like. We don’t know what the year after that looks like.

“You’d better enjoy it now.”

Consider that mission accomplished, too. “Be careful guys,” Jose Altuve, the heart of another history-making Astros team, cheerfully calls out to reporters entering the clubhouse. “It’s a a mess inside.”

Yordan Alvarez Astros
Rookie slugger Yordan Alvarez found himself a popular champagne spraying target. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Yordan Alvarez, the rookie slugger getting his first taste of the clinching fun, finds himself being sprayed by appreciative veteran teammates who love what he’s brought to the party. Especially that prodigious power. Kyle Tucker, the phenom who found an unexpectedly rocky road in his own debut last season, pulls a pair of big goggles over his eyes, ready to join the happy chaos. Tucker’s earned himself a spot on the postseason roster this September.

“We also don’t look past the fact that we can bring joy to people. That we can be a distraction, maybe, during hard times.” — Gerrit Cole.

In one of the celebration’s sweetest scenes, Verlander, his supermodel wife Kate Upton and their baby girl Genevieve share an embrace on the field. Genevieve won’t remember this moment, but she’ll have the happy pictures to show she was there.

Then, there is Springer himself, the man of another major Astros moment, running around hugging anyone he can grab with the joy of a Little Leaguer.

“This is unbelievable,” Springer says amid the clubhouse madness. “It’s so much fun. It’s an absolute honor to be part of it, with these guys, this team, this city. I’m extremely happy.”

Springer Dingers Galore

Springer sets the tone, hitting the first pitch Angels starter Jose Rodriguez throws into the Crawford Boxes. In the second inning, with the Anaheim having tied the game at 1, Springer jacks another soaring home run just inside the foul line. In the fourth, with the Angels within 3-2, Springer hits his third home run in three at-bats, giving the AL West Champs more breathing room again.

With another 40,000-plus Houston crowd in the stands, just three days after the region was hit by another horrific flooding event, Springer refuses to let the party be pushed back. The Astros will celebrate at home, in the heart of a city that can use all the joy it can get.

“We wanted to be with our fans,” Astros co-ace Gerrit Cole says, a smoldering stogie in his hand. “Tip our hats to ’em. We do a really good job here of being involved in the community through our charities, through our outreach.

“We also don’t look past the fact that we can bring joy to people. That we can be a distraction, maybe, during hard times.”

Houston may sometimes take a beating nationally. Friends and family may wonder why someone is moving to an area that floods so often. But the Astros know the real Houston — and this is an organization that wants everyone else to see it too.

“This city deserves to have the recognition that’s coming our way,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow says. “That this is a great place to be. . .

“We want to be the city of champions.”

Having George Springer on the roster goes a long way towards making that a possibility. The truth is if Springer hadn’t suffered a few injuries this season, he’d probably be the Astro pushing the sidelined Mike Trout for American League MVP honors rather than Alex Bregman. Springer’s hit 38 home runs and racked up 94 RBI and 91 runs scored in only 116 games played.

Springer is having his best season at age 30 with free agency potentially beckoning after next season. In many ways, he is still the engine behind an offense that drives MLB pitchers batty.

“We want to be the city of champions.” — Jeff Luhnow.

George Springer brings the joy. Of course, he is going to make sure Clinch Day is a thing. Astros owner Jim Crane and his wife Whitney enjoy what’s rapidly becoming a traditional Houston holiday with their young son, James Robert Crane II, making sure noise-canceling headphones protect him from the loudness on the field.

2017 Redux

The parallels between this party and 2017 are starting to get a little uncanny. Just like in 2017, the Astros clinch the division at Minute Maid Park with Verlander starting and getting the win. Just like in 2017, it happens in the wake of major flood in Houston.

Just like in 2017, October turns out to be. . .

“The last time I clinched the division for the Houston Astros we went on to do some pretty special things that year,” Verlander says, grinning.

This Astros team is more dominant and deep than those World Series winners.

“It’s getting where this team’s accomplishments are reaching historical levels,” Luhnow says.

The American League West Division championship hat on Luhnow’s head is supposed to be just the start. But you have to get the first party going before you can get to the next one. And the next. And the next.

“It’s always fun to celebrate when you win your division,” outfielder Josh Reddick tells PaperCity. “You don’t have to worry about battling that last week down for the wildcard spot. You can sit there and focus on getting the best record (in baseball).”

Springer gets the parties started. It’s what he does. It’s one of his moments.

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