Lance McCullers Sr. and Lance McCullers Jr. shared some Major League fun. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros dads Lance McCullers Sr., Raul Enrique Urquidy and Carlos Altuve all threw out first pitches on Father's Day night. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
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)
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)
Mauricio Dubon certainly enjoys every big moment he gets with the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
J.J. Matijevic enjoyed this first MLB hit and home run in one. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
J.J. Matijevic and Mauricio Dubon powered the Astros to the ultimate Father's Day feel-good win. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve and his dad Carlos Altuve enjoyed the Father's Day moment at Minute Maid. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
It's a good to be an MLB dad on Father's Day. And most days. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Lance McCullers Sr., Carlos Altuve and Raul Enrique Urquidy were prepared for this first pitch Father's Day night. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Altuve and Jose Altuve share a real love for baseball and believing in what others think is impossible. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
It's a family affair — several baseball families — on Father's Day night for the Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros starter Cristian Javier can rack up strikeouts even when he doesn't have his best stuff. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker always wants to be prepared. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Lance McCullers Jr. is on the 60 day injured list, but he still received plenty of love from Astros fans on ring night. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros Justin Verkander won his 8th games of the season, helped by home runs by Jeremy Pena and Jose Altuve, at Minute Maid Park, Sunday June 12, 2022
Jose Urquidy's slider can provide plenty of strikeouts. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Lance McCullers Jr. pitches with determination for the Astros. That's something his dad appreciates. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The Astros are experts at spraying champagne in October. (@Astros)
Jose Altuve is still the heart and soul of these Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jeremy Pena is the latest Houston Astros player who's about to become a H-E-B commercial star. Here, he hams it up with Lance McCullers Jr. in sala night.
Lance McCullers Jr. just pounded the zone — and pitched like a true Astros ace. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Lance McCullers Jr. is embracing the role of a staff ace for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Lance McCullers Jr. and his wife Kara enjoy the Astros family. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve is still a hitter opposing pitchers have to fear. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
When Alex Bregman is right, the Houston Astros lineup takes on a new dimension. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros rookie J.J. Matijevic (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Mauricio Dubon gives the Astros a versatile infielder. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Alex Bregman is still a very important figure for these Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Martin Maldonado keeps it light with Astros starter Luis Garcia. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
J.J. Matijevic received plenty of love when he got back to the Astros dugout. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
It was good to be J.J. Matijevic on Father's Day. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Mauricio Dubon could play an important role for these Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Alex Bregman has plenty of devotees at Minute Maid Park. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Kyle Tucker is the next Astro who could be looking at a mega contract. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Alex Bregman is one of the better third baseman in baseball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Hector Neris gives the Astros another bullpen force for what the stats say is the best relief corps in all of baseball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros closer Ryan Pressly relishes the pressure of the ninth inning. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros closer Ryan Pressly brings plenty of intensity. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.