Astros hav­ing fun

Thanks to homer cel­e­bra­tions, fun re­turns as de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons surge down stretch

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - SPORTS SUNDAY - JENNY DIAL CREECH

A few weeks ago when the Astros were in Ana­heim, Ju­lia Mo­rales — field re­porter for the Astros on AT&T Sport­snet broad­casts — no­ticed some­thing dif­fer­ent about the cam­era place­ment at An­gel Sta­dium.

“The cam­eras were on the op­po­site side of the dugout than most sta­di­ums,” Mo­rales said.

She took a few min­utes to mull a de­ci­sion she needed to make quickly. She had never re­ally chat­ted with any of the Astros about where cam­eras were in the dugout, but in light of the team’s re­cent dugout cel­e­bra­tions, she fig­ured it might be best to give them a heads-up.

The Astros were go­ing strong be­hind Alex Breg­man’s new­est vi­ral sen­sa­tion — the dugout stare.

Mo­rales tipped off Breg­man so the Astros would know where to look if a home run cel­e­bra­tion took place that night.

“I didn’t want them to look the wrong way,” she said. “So I de­cided to help keep it go­ing.”

The dugout cel­e­bra­tions fu­eled by Breg­man have gone vi­ral in the last sev­eral weeks and have prompted fans to do their own dugout stares and share them on so­cial me­dia with the hash­tag #dugout­starechal­lenge.

“It’s been a lot of fun to see the re­sponse,” Breg­man said. “I love see­ing what peo­ple are com­ing up with. And we have a good time com­ing up with more.”

In the midst of a pen­nant race, the stress of get­ting back to the post­sea­son and the hopes of mak­ing another big­time run, the seem­ingly silly cel­e­bra­tions that con­sist of Breg­man and his team­mates find­ing new poses as they stare into the cam­era af­ter home runs are an im­por­tant part of the Astros’ suc­cess.

“Be­ing loose, hav­ing fun,” Tony Kemp said. “It’s re­ally im­por­tant. This game is re­ally hard and the sea­son is long, You have to be able to en­joy it.”

Beat­ing the slump

The Astros had a small slump af­ter the All-Star break. They gar­nered a lot of neg­a­tive at­ten­tion soon af­ter that for trad­ing for pitcher Roberto Osuna, who had just served a 75-game sus­pen­sion for vi­o­lat­ing MLB’s do­mes­tic vi­o­lence pol­icy. There was a stretch where sev­eral play­ers were in­jured, in­clud­ing stars Ge­orge Springer, Jose Al­tuve and Car­los Cor­rea.

It wasn’t gloom and doom, but it was a low point for the World Se­ries champs. They weren’t the same easy­go­ing, happy-go-lucky group that won the cham­pi­onship last sea­son.

With the cel­e­bra­tions, the Astros just seem more like them­selves again.

“It’s a small thing, but it’s good for us,” Kemp said.

Kemp was one of the first on board with Breg­man’s bud­ding idea. Kemp was the first to get a vi­ral cel­e­bra­tion go­ing this sea­son as he started hugs for homers in the dugout ev­ery time one of his team­mates hit one.

That orig­i­nated in Class AAA for Kemp and he brought it with him. Breg­man’s cel­e­bra­tions came soon af­ter and in­volved Kemp early on.

“I al­ways just no­ticed the red light on the cam­era when we scored (a home run), so I de­cided to stare it down one day,” Breg­man said. “Af­ter that, I got some team­mates in­volved and it has evolved from there.”

Astros team pho­tog­ra­pher Alex Bierens de Haan set up a cam­era that would face the dugout soon af­ter the cel­e­bra­tions started. He wanted to get them from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives.

One of the first ones he caught was when Jake Maris­nick held Kemp up by his arms. His legs set on a bench across the dugout. Breg­man lim­boed un­der­neath.

There was also the one where the team was look­ing one way and all turned to stare into the cam­era at the same time. Soon af­ter that, a few of the play­ers im­i­tated curl­ing, then bob­sled­ding.

“They are ac­tu­ally hav­ing to be cre­ative and se­ri­ous about it,” Mo­rales said.

She said they dis­cussed the bob­sled act on the team bus a few days be­fore do­ing it.

At the rate Breg­man and his team­mates are hit­ting home runs, there are go­ing to be a lot of stares and a lot of hugs and who knows what else in the dugout.

And the fans will con­tinue to eat it up. From high school volleyball teams to air­plane pas­sen­gers to lit­tle kids in their liv­ing rooms, fans are par­tic­i­pat­ing and send­ing their best stare chal­lenge videos to Breg­man. He loves ev­ery sec­ond of it. The dugout stare is his re­cent gim­mick, but he’s had sev­eral this sea­son. He shaved a mus­tache be­tween at-bats this sea­son. He bleached his hair at one point. The other night, he mim­icked a James Har­den gif and rolled his eyes and walked away while Mo­rales was in­ter­view­ing him postgame.

Breg­man’s per­son­al­ity

Mo­rales said that what fans are see­ing is a ge­u­nine side of Breg­man.

“He al­ways has some­thing go­ing,” she said. “What you see is what you get with him.” She’s seen the team like this. “This is the way last year’s team was,” she said. “They like to have fun. They have great chem­istry. It’s what helped get them to the World Se­ries last year.”

Breg­man and his team­mates seem loose again. And it’s the per­fect time for it. It’s a cru­cial stretch of the sea­son and Breg­man is play­ing the best base­ball of his young ca­reer. But the pres­sure doesn’t seem to get to him.

“I’m hav­ing fun,” Breg­man said. “You have to. It’s an im­por­tant part of the game.”

Steve Gonzales / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

The Astros give the Breg­man stare af­ter third base­man Alex Breg­man (cen­ter, hold­ing bat­ting hel­met) home­red in the eighth in­ning of a vic­tory over AL West ri­val Oak­land on Aug. 27.

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