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Is any team having more fun than the Houston Astros?

June 19, 2017 08:16AM
HOUSTON -- Josh Reddick loves professional Matt Joyce Womens jersey wrestling. Can't get enough of it. He once dropped $400 on a satin robe autographed by Ric Flair. He often gets ringside seats to big events. The veteran outfielder's choice in at-bat music: the heavy metal anthem of Triple-H, his favorite wrestler. So, after signing with the Houston Astros as a free agent last winter, Reddick ordered an orange championship belt with the team's 'H' logo in the center and his name and No. 22 on the side. He custom-designed similar wrestling belts when he played for the Boston Red Sox, Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Dodgers, but this time, he figured he would share it with his teammates. "It was going to be more of a clubhouse show-off thing, and then give it to the 'player of the game' after every win," Reddick says. "That was the idea." But two days after Reddick's belt arrived in the mail, two others wound Authentic Drew Smyly Youth jersey up in the Astros' clubhouse. They belonged to Carlos Beltran, of all people, a 40-year-old slugger with a Hall of Fame resume who likely wouldn't know Triple-H from Triple-A. Beltran understands leadership, though, and unbeknownst to Reddick, he hatched his own plan to help galvanize his new team. Beltran, another free-agent addition, went online and custom-made two replica World Boxing Organization title belts, one in blue and the other in orange, one designated as "Player of the Game," the other as "Pitcher of the Game." They would be awarded after each victory, with the most recent winners serving as judges, and the recipients would be required to stand up in the clubhouse and deliver a brief speech. So far, the belts have been well-worn. Entering the weekend, no team in baseball had more wins than the Astros (45), who raced to an 11-game lead in the American League West. They have not lost more than three games in a row, and they reeled off a season-high 11 consecutive wins from May 25 to June 5, including a 16-8 victory May 29 in Minnesota in which they overcame an 8-2 deficit by scoring 11 runs in the eighth inning. The Astros have scored the second-most runs in the league (374) and have allowed the fewest runs (267) going into Sunday's games. Oh, and good luck finding a team that's having more fun. "I felt like we all got along pretty good in spring training and hung out quite a bit off the field, but it seems to have carried over here," Reddick says. "We've had a few team dinners. We had a little team get-together where everybody's come and hung out. We have a very good connection with each other." For three years, beginning with their out-of-the-blue 86-win season and playoff appearance in 2015, the Astros have been a good team. Their Harold Baines Authentic jersey young position-player nucleus -- 22-year-old shortstop Carlos Correa, 27-year-old second baseman Jose Altuve, 27-year-old outfielder George Springer and 23-year-old third baseman Alex Bregman -- is regarded with envy around the league, and co-aces Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. have blossomed into a formidable one-two punch atop the rotation. But general manager Jeff Luhnow knew something was missing last season when Houston encountered problems during a 7-17 April and never fully recovered. For all their talent, the Astros still lacked experience. They needed the steady hand and respected voice of a veteran player who has been through struggles and lived to tell about them.
The Astros needed Beltran. And Reddick. And catcher Brian McCann. "We were a young team last year with a lot of talent but no leader in the team that can lead us the right way," Correa says. "I feel like they're leading us down the right path, which is winning. They've been there before. They've been with great teams before. They've been in the playoffs before, so they know how to win. They know what it takes. They're bringing this team together in order for us to have the season we're having." Luhnow admits all three players were targeted for both their on-field abilities and their off-field reputations, with the Astros doing their homework on the latter by talking to everyone possible, from scouts to trainers and clubhouse attendants. "First and foremost, we looked for guys that were still producing at a high level," Luhnow says. "I understand the hypothesis that you want guys around the clubhouse who have experience and can mentor younger players, but if they're not able to perform on the field and help the team win, I don't really think that's what we want. Now, that being said, we had our choice between the veterans and we were looking at guys that we thought would be influential on our younger players and be a motivator for them.

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