Culture / Sporting Life

Forget Lance McCullers Jr.’s Fabulous Hair, His Heart and Good Guy Grit is What Makes Him a True Houstonian

McCullers is One of the More Beloved Astros Because the Pitcher and His Wife Completely Embrace the City

BY // 07.26.20

Yes, Lance McCullers Jr.’s hair is fabulous. Flowing. And fit for a shampoo commercial. That’s true by any objective measure or scientific method. Much like with global warming — or the appeal of Michael J. Fox — the evidence in favor of McCullers’ hair is so overwhelming that it’s impossible to sanely dispute.

So it’s probably no surprise that McCullers’ new grown out locks are drawing all kinds of love on social media whenever he pitches. Or just sticks his head out of the dugout.

Some Astros fans have taken to comparing McCullers’ hair to departed super ace Gerrit Cole’s Astros days hair. Others just wonder what type of conditioner he uses (we all have a lot of time on our hands these days).

While McCullers hair is a worthy topic, it also happens to be obscuring a larger and (dare we say) more important truth. It is McCullers’ good guy grit that makes people care about his hair in the first place. The 26-year-old McCullers’ accomplishments to date do not make him one of the best athletes in Houston (he simply hasn’t pitched enough to be at that level). But there is no doubt that he is one of the most beloved.

This largely has to be with McCullers’ heart. And his grit.

It is no surprise that he shows both in his first start since August 4, 2018. McCullers is not great against a beyond bad Seattle Mariners team (albeit one with a serious Rookie of the Year candidate in Kyle Lewis) in the Houston Astros second game of this bizarre coronavirus season. But he fights, scraps and battles.

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And gives the Astros six innings of two run ball, more than enough for the deepest lineup in baseball to power its way to a 7-2 win. With McCullers showing just enough with his knuckle-curve to tantalize with the hope for more, the Astros are suddenly the only undefeated team in the entire American League after just two games.

“It’s been a long road,” McCullers says after his first win since July 18, 2018. “Two years is a long time and it was great to get back and compete. It’s changed my outlook on a lot.”

Houston Astros vs. Seattle Mariners. Lance McCullers pitches 2nd game of 2020 season a Minute Maid Park
Lance McCullers Jr. needed a visit from pitching coach Brent Strom, but he steadied himself. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Many pro athletes fade from view when they’re going through something as grueling as recovering from  Tommy John surgery. Lance McCullers Jr. and his wife Kara stayed connected to the Houston community. They hosted charity events like the Team Up for Kids & K9s. They teamed up with reliever Joe Smith and Smith’s TV personality wife, Allie LaForce, to start Project Front-Line, which helps hurting restaurant workers and health care professionals.

McCullers couldn’t be in the game, but he could still stayed linked to the city he’s adopted as his own.

He even made regular radio appearances, essentially having a mini Lance McCullers radio show, throughout his injury and rehab. McCullers’ radio work mostly showed how human and relatable he is. This is not an athlete who attempts to put distance between himself and his fans.

No wonder Houston’s embraced him right back.

“The fans have been unbelievable on social (media),” McCullers says. “And kind of wherever I have been in the city. They’ve been very supportive of me.”

Some athletes try to build a wall around themselves. Lance and Kara McCullers worked to help create a village.

That is McCullers’ heart. His grit is also unmistakable. It screamed through loud and clear when he pitched beyond hurt in the 2018 postseason, desperately trying to help the Astros repeat as World Series champs, knowing that some of his best friends on the team (Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton) were likely gone at the end of that October. Teammates like Carlos Correa still rave about what McCullers did for the Astros in those lost playoffs.

McCullers sacrificed for the team, for his guys. Now, he’s finally back on the mound. That means something that goes far beyond one return start against a bad Mariners team.

“I was a little emotional pregame,” McCullers admits.

In a largely empty ballpark. Yes, those rows of empty green seats are still better than Fox’s horrific virtual fans. But Major League Baseball in these coronavirus times is going to take more than a day or two to get used to.

At the end of this game, the Minute Maid Park public address announcer declares, “Have a safe drive home, everybody.” That “everybody” consists of the players, about 30 media members and Astros staffers.

Astros Depth

A number of other good things happened for the Astros as they moved to an incredible 20-1 against the Mariners the last two seasons. (Seattle would have been relegated by now in the Premier League.)

Jose Altuve got on base three times and even stole a base, flashing back to his free running days. George Springer absolutely tattooed a baseball for his first home run of the season. Yuli Gurriel also found the Crawford Boxes with a dinger of his own. Michael Brantley collected his fourth RBI in two games.

Some athletes try to build a wall around themselves. Lance and Kara McCullers worked to help create a village.

But Kyle Tucker smoking a double down the first base line with a 102.8 MPH exit velocity and lining out with a 99.8 MPH shot may be one of the most important thing of all. Tucker lost the regular right field job to Josh Reddick under Astros manager Dusty Baker’s veterans-get-privileges approach, but these Astros are going to need his super prospect talents to have a chance to win it all.

Still, Win No. 2 in a 60-game season is largely about Lance McCullers. His heart. His grit. His fight. And well. . . yes, his hair.

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