Culture / Sporting Life

Proud Dads — Lance McCullers Sr., Other Astros Dads Marvel at What Their Sons Have Done in Feel-Good Astros Father’s Day Showcase

From First Pitch Old Man Magic to a 26-Year-Old Rookie's First Home Run For His Firefighter Pops

BY // 06.20.22

Lance McCullers Sr. never talked much about his own Major League Baseball career with his son. McCullers Sr. didn’t want to put any pressure on his kid, and he’s not much for bragging anyway. At least when it comes to himself.

But this proud dad loves to talk about his son’s already impressive MLB career. And maybe even brag about Lance Jr. a little.

“It’s just amazing to see what he’s done and be able to share it with him,” McCullers Sr. says after throwing out the first pitch to his son Lance McCullers Jr. on Father’s Day at Minute Maid Park. “. . . I think he showed last year how good he can be. He had a great year last year.

“He’s had a great run with the Astros in the playoffs. I think every year that they’ve gone to the playoffs, he’s had tremendous success.”

Lance McCullers Sr. is one of three Houston Astros fathers who threw out first pitches before the Sunday Night Baseball ESPN showcase game, a 4-3 Astros win over the White Sox that’s as feel good as a Hallmark movie. Carlos Altuve, a former engineer who always encouraged and pushed his 5-foot-6 son’s once seemingly beyond unlikely MLB dreams, and Raul Enrique Urquidy (Astros starter Jose Urquidy’s dad) also threw out pitches to their sons.

Fathers and sons and baseball are seemingly as old as the game itself. The whole Field of Dreams cottage industry is practically built around it. But on a Father’s Day night of feel-good moments for the Astros — 26-year-old rookie J.J. Matijevic finally getting his first Major League hit on a home run that just tucks into the Crawford Boxes and getting the ball back to give to his firefighter dad, Giant turned Astro Mauricio Dubon hitting his own two run shot just as injuries are likely to thrust him into playing more — the McCullers’ story sticks out.

Lance McCullers Sr. pitched for four different teams in his seven year MLB career, appearing in 229 games almost all of them as a reliever. He left the game with 3.25 ERA and a 28-31 record. But he’ll tell you he’s really lived the dream through his son, the curveball artist who closed out the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2017 American League Championship Series and started Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, the most important game in Astros history.

McCullers Jr. flirted with Cy Young contention during a 13-5 2021 season, but he’s been rehabbing the forearm injury that knocked him out of the playoffs last October all of this season so far. When McCullers does come back later this summer, it could be the most important addition to any of the AL’s true contenders.

That’s in part because the 28-year-old McCullers just seems to keep raising the level of his game, pushing to turn himself into a true No. 1 level starter and consistent All-Star. Which makes dad even prouder.

“I just think he wants to be the best he can be,” McCullers Sr. says when I ask why he thinks his son continually gets better. “He studies it. He works on the game. Tries to develop new paths every year.”

On Father’s Day, three Astros players brought their dads to the ballgame to see their Houston teammate beat the Chicago While Sox, at Minute Maid Park
Lance McCullers Jr. and his dad Lance McCullers Sr. shared several hugs on this Father’s Day night at Minute Maid Park. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Still, one pitcher to another, dad tries to tell his son not to push too hard, too fast during this rehab. Rehabbing from an injury — especially a flexor tendon injury in your pitching arm — can be a tedious and gruelingly long process. One where taking a shortcut — or trying to rush things — can often lead to disaster.

“I just told him to make sure he takes it step by step and make sure he gets to where he’s going,” Lance McCullers Sr. says. “And feels well before he starts trying to throw really hard.

“Make sure his arm is good and take his time.”

Lance McCullers Jr., a Forever Team and the Power of Caring

Lance McCullers Jr. is one of the most beloved professional athletes in Houston, largely because of how much he and his wife Kara seem to care about the city and doing right by it. This is an Astros team built on caring more than the average team. It’s anything but just another Big League clubhouse.

Take the reaction to Matijevic’s home run. The entire Astros dugout went crazy with Justin Verlander and Jose Altuve, two superstars who’ve won major awards and rings in this game, seemingly as excited as if they’d done it themselves. Altuve wraps Matijevic in a big hug. And Verlander pushes him (literally) to get out there with the rest of the starters (Matijevic is the DH on this night so he’s not on the field for the final out) in the postgame celebration.

“Everyone cares here,” Matijevic says, unable to stop grinning on this night. “That’s something that’s really special. And it goes a long way. That’s why it’s a winning culture.”

On Father’s Day, three Astros players brought their dads to the ballgame to see their Houston teammate beat the Chicago While Sox, at Minute Maid Park
J.J. Matijevic enjoyed this first MLB hit and home run in one. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Matijevic plans to give the home run ball to his dad Joe, who’s a fire department captain in Jeannette, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh. The baseball’s already been authenticated and put in a protective case for Matijevic by the time the game is over.

“I just think he wants to be the best he can be. He studies it. He works on the game. Tries to develop new paths every year.” — Lance McCullers Sr. on his son.

Dubon leaves the game with his first Astros home run — and a dad moment of his own. Well, make that a dad text. With rising star rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena and his backup Aledmys Diaz both hurting, Dubon figures to get plenty of playing time in what could be a telling stretch of nine games against the New York Yankees and New York Mets, the two Gotham teams that are the talk of baseball.

Which meant the kind of encouragement that only a good dad can give.

“My dad said something during a text,” Dubon says. “He’s telling me great moments come from great opportunities. It’s something that I carried today, and he. . . it’s just something that I always embrace.”

Fathers and sons and baseball. There’s just something about it that brings out these type of special moments. With a demanding test coming up, these now 41-24 Astros — who lead the Minnesota Twins by four games for the AL’s all-important second seed (and first round playoff bye that comes with it) — truly needed a feel good night.

A bunch of baseball dads helped make it happen. While loving every minute of it just as much — if not more — than their sons.

“Probably 1991 since I’ve been on a Big League field,” Lance McCullers Sr. says, evoking a time before his son was even born while describing his first pitch thrill. “It was great. I really enjoyed it.”

On Father’s Day, three Astros players brought their dads to the ballgame to see their Houston teammate beat the Chicago While Sox, at Minute Maid Park
Houston Astros players Lance McCullers Jr., Jose Urquidy and Jose Altuve seemed even more excited than their dads for the Father’s Day first pitches. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

It’s hard to imagine many of the 37,000 plus people in Minute Maid on this Father’s Day night not getting some joy out of it. That’s what fathers, sons and baseball can do, yes. But it is also what these Astros almost do best too.

Mauricio Dubon has only been with this team since May 15th, but he can already see an Astros difference.

“Guys are pulling for each other,” Dubon tells PaperCity. “There’s no selfishness here. There’s not one guy selfish  here. And I think that’s the most awesome thing.

“. . . When J.J. hit it, everybody erupted. It’s something that I love about being here. Nobody wishes evil on anybody. And I think that’s the biggest thing we got. And that’s the reason we’re so good.”

Dubon smiles. Turns he can’t stop grinning either. It’s contagious on this type of night.

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