Culture / Sporting Life

Jose Altuve Refuses to Stop Trophy Hugging, Kate Upton Professes Her Love For Houston Fans, Dusty Baker Creates Mosh Pit Mania and Jim Crane Promises More — Inside the Forever Together Astros’ Sweet Family Championship Party

Becoming a Baseball Dynasty's Never Felt So Right and So Nice

BY // 11.06.22

Pumping his arm into the air, Yuli Gurriel just keeps spurring on the Houston crowd, the Astros’ crowd, his crowd, asking for even more noise. Standing next to Gurriel, holding the World Series trophy tightly in his arms, looking like he’s never ever going to let it go, Jose Altuve just grins at his longtime teammate’s antics as golden confetti falls all around them. Soon, Kate Upton is pulling herself onto the stage, eager to hug her husband Justin Verlander now that he’s a champion again. And this time, the super couple’s 3-year-old daughter Genevieve gets to be part of the ecstatic embraces too.

All around Minute Maid Park, scenes of pure joy are breaking out. From the field and that grand hastily-wheeled-out stage to the soon-to-be-champagne-drenched home clubhouse to the stands, where almost none of the 42,000-plus lucky enough to be here seem to be in any hurry to leave.

Why would anyone ever want to depart this scene? When Kyle Tucker catches the final out in right field, Astros manager Dusty Baker finds himself the center of a happy mosh pit with all the club’s coaches and a lot of its support staff jumping all around the 73-year-old baseball lifer who’s finally a World Series champion for the first time.

“This is the longest interview ever,” Daren Baker, Dusty’s 23-year-old son and frequent sounding board, says later. “We’ve got to go party.”

Oh yes, is Dusty Baker, the hippest 73-year-old you’ll ever meet, ever going to go party. He’s earned that epic bash. All these forever together 2022 Houston Astros have.

Champions again. Dynasty stamped. Doubters destroyed. Houston overjoyed.

“That’s a dynasty, baby,” Verlander says in the clubhouse, a cigar in his hand.

It certainly is. After this 11-2 run through the playoffs that culminates with this 4-1 comeback win over the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 6 of the World Series, after a second championship in six seasons is secured (to go with two other World Series berths), there can be no doubting which team is now baseball’s great modern dynasty.

It’s the special team that proudly calls Houston home.

“I think we’ve proven that we’re an extremely dominant force in this era of baseball,” Lance McCullers Jr., one of those five Core Astros that are now two-time champs, says. “And that’s all you can judge yourself on.”

The rest of baseball, really the rest of America, has judged these Astros for so long. Ridiculed, booed and mocked these Astros. Hated these Astros. But they missed what makes this group, this franchise that was absolutely rescued and reimagined by Jim Crane, so special.

They missed the heart and will to win for each other.

“These guys, they wanted to win for the guys in this clubhouse,” Astros general manager James Click says with the clubhouse partying going on all around him. “They wanted to win for their families. They wanted to win for the fans.

“I never heard any talk about pressure. There was never any we have to do this for X, Y or Z reason. Other than the other 25 guys in the clubhouse.”

That feeling of mission hood — of playing for each other, playing for their families, playing for the Houston fans — comes through in the postgame partying too. There is closer Ryan Pressly, who didn’t give up a single earned run this entire postseason, holding his three-month-old daughter Hunter in his arms as he does interviews. There is Alex Bregman, another of the Core Astros, playing goochie goochie goo with his 3-month-old son Knox as his wife Reagan holds the little guy in her arms. There is veteran catcher Martin Maldonado, carrying his giggling son over one shoulder and his beaming daughter over the other.

There is Ava McCullers, Lance’s nearly 3-year-old daughter, running into her dad’s arms again after another series clincher. Only, this one’s a championship clincher.

Champions again. Dynasty stamped. Doubters destroyed. Houston overjoyed.

“This is a special team. I wouldn’t want to win it with any other group of guys.” — Astros outfielder Kyle Tucker

Yordan Alvarez hits a 3-run home run in the sixth inning as The Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies met for Game Six of the World Series Saturday at Minute Maid Park
Lance McCullers Jr. gave his 3-year-old daughter Ava a big kiss. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

But some things are even bigger, even more important, than making baseball history.

“A lot more of us have kids now,” McCullers says. “And I think it just hits a little differently. Winning it, getting to celebrate with them, is just something else.”

Yordan Alvarez Goes Boom

These Astros celebrate as a family after winning as a family. This Saturday night Game 6 finds them down 1-0 to a seemingly cruising Phillies ace Zack Wheeler in the sixth inning. The ballpark sounds a little nervous. But the Astros aren’t.

Wheeler hits Astros catcher Martin Maldonado, who somehow seems to be involved in so many of these big Astros moments. Wonder rookie Jeremy Peña singles and suddenly Wheeler is being pulled from the game with Yordan Alvarez coming up. Alvarez sends the fourth pitch reliever Jose Alvarado throws soaring into deep right center field, where nobody is supposed to be able to hit a baseball.

Suddenly, there’s a man-made earthquake shaking Minute Maid Park. Suddenly, the Astros lead 3-1 — and there’s no doubt they’re never letting this championship go.

Alvarez opens these playoffs with that epic walkoff three run home run to stun Seattle. And he finishes them with the home run that effectively wins the World Series.

It turns out that Carlos Altuve, Jose’s dad, predicted the moment. The Alvarez home run that went 450 feet and punctured every one of the Phillies’ dreams before it landed.

“My dad told me you’re going to be the man of the game,”  Alvarez says after the game, describing how Jose Altuve greeted him when he arrived at the ballpark earlier in the day for what turns into a championship night.

Carlos Altuve might want to consider playing that $1.9 billion Powerball right about now. Then again, this is what these Astros do. Seize the big moment.

“That’s the best hitter on the planet,” 26-year-old Astros rookie David Hensely tells PaperCity. “You throw him a fastball and he’s liable to hit it out of this world.”

Alvarez nearly does. And he lifts up Framber Valdez, the workhorse ace who could have won World Series MVP if Jeremy Peña didn’t, in the process.

Valdez stalks off the mound after the top of the sixth inning, shaking his head and talking to himself. The Astros’ pitching rock clearly can’t believe he made that mistake to Kyle Schwarber. Let the Astros go down 1-0 with only 12 offensive outs to work with. Even after fanning Phillies playoff superstar Bryce Harper to end the inning for his ninth strikeout of the night, Valdez clearly leaves beyond annoyed.

But Framber needn’t have worried.

These Astros will pick him up. It’s what they do.

Soon Trey Mancini will be flinging his glove, looking for someone else to hug after already getting Kyle Tucker at last out, thinking of his fiancee Sara Perlman who he credits with getting him through that frightening colon cancer fight just two years ago. Soon Jose Altuve will be wrapping Dusty Baker up in a private hug, two of the biggest leaders of these Astros sharing a moment that seemed like it took forever to happen again to Altuve, a moment that actually did take a lifetime for Baker.

“I’m just so happy for everybody,” Altuve says. “All my teammates. All the fans. Just so happy for everybody. . .”

Altuve has tears in his eyes as he delivers those words, but he’s quickly off running again. The heart and soul of these Astros, the man who’s taken more hate and vitriol than anyone for the 2017 electronic sign stealing scandal, seems determined to get a moment with every single one of his teammates.

Soon Kate Upton, the supermodel turned proud baseball wife, will be giving a love letter to Houston fans on national TV.

“Can you ever imagine a Houston fan booing anyone?” Upton asks with incredulousness on the MLB Network on-field set. “They’re the nicest people in the world.”

Champions again. Dynasty stamped. Doubters destroyed. Houston overjoyed.

Yordan Alvarez hits a 3-run home run in the sixth inning as The Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies met for Game Six of the World Series Saturday at Minute Maid Park
Justin Verlander, Kate Upton and the super couple’s 3-year-old daughter Genevieve enjoyed some family time with Orbit. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

These together forever Astros will win as one, overcome as one. Maldonado, the Hidden MVP maestro of one of the best pitching staffs in baseball history, will reveal that he’s been playing with a broken hand and a sports hernia that will require surgery since August. Alex Bregman will break his finger sliding into second base in this Game 6.

Of course, Bregman still finishes it. Of course, he’s out there for that final sweet out.

“It’s one of those ones where it happens and you get the sick to your stomach feeling right now,” Bregman says, a giant grin still planted on his face. “That’s what I got going. So I can barely think right now.”

Luckily, you don’t need to think to championship party.

“We’ll be ready next year. I’ll tell you that much.” — Astros owner Jim Crane

The Forever Together Championship Astros

In one corner of the champagne and beer soaked clubhouse, reliever Ryne Stanek and Kyle Tucker talk as the partying goes on around them. Tucker has a cigar in one hand and an open champagne bottle in the other. Like with Yordan, Pressly and so many of these Astros, this is Tucker’s first championship, one earned going through the disappointment of those 2019 and 2021 World Series losses.

“I mean this is awesome,” Tucker tells PaperCity. “This is a special team. I wouldn’t want to win it with any other group of guys. Since day one, everyone was just trying to win this thing. . . We won the World Series. Very special. Like I said, I wouldn’t want to do it with any other group of guys.

“Phenomenal group. I love everyone in here. Everyone has each other’s backs. Everyone’s trying to work hard and do whatever they can to help each other.”

Yordan Alvarez hits a 3-run home run in the sixth inning as The Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies met for Game Six of the World Series Saturday at Minute Maid Park
Kyle Tucker caught the final out and Trey Mancini couldn’t wait to hug him. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

When the job is done, when Jim Crane has lifted the big Commissioner’s Trophy once again, the Astros owner will say he plans to turn to Dusty Baker and James Click’s futures (neither man is under contract for next season yet) on Monday. Parade day.

Crane praises the Astros fans again, admits that this team, this franchise, needed this second championship for so many reasons. Including for legacy purposes. But he stops short of uttering the D word.

“I’ll let you guys work with that one,” Crane says when asked if this is now a dynasty. “I’m not talking about that. But we’ll be ready next year. I’ll tell you that much.”

“A lot more of us have kids now. And I think it just hits a little differently. Winning it, getting to celebrate with them, is just something else.” — Core Astro Lance McCullers

Champions again. Dynasty stamped. Doubters destroyed. Houston overjoyed. And just getting started?

With Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, Jeremy Peña, Cristian Javier and Luis Garcia all just 25 years old, and Framber Valdez 28, that’s certainly in play for this Astros franchise. But that’s a future vision for another day. On this championship night, Crane enjoys the family scene, with his wife Whitney and youngest son James Robert Crane II up there with him on the big stage, like many of his players do.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Jim Crane says. “Having the families out there and celebrating.”

It’s a party for their loved ones. A party for each other. A party for all of Houston. This is what a forever together team can really do.

Part of the Special Series:

PaperCity - Astros Playoffs