HOUSTON — Carlos Correa had a cookout at his house Sunday night.
Lance McCullers, doing little aside from playing video games at his own house, soon joined him.
Correa, the reigning American League Rookie of the Year, is the youngest member of the Houston Astros’ 40-man roster. McCullers, a right-handed starting pitcher, is the fourth-youngest.
At 22 years and 117 days, Alex Bregman is now right behind McCullers.
Bregman, the former LSU star, landed in Houston late Sunday evening, accepting Correa’s invitation to the gathering one day before his ballyhooed major league debut against the New York Yankees in Minute Maid Park.
“Have a good meal — a homecooked meal,” Correa told him. “It’ll probably be the last one you get for a while. We’ll be on the road soon.”
Bregman enjoys mixed martial arts, so Correa played his new teammate twice in a UFC video game, beating the rookie both times. Following the first two losses of his major league career, Bregman hitched a ride with McCullers back to his hotel.
“We all know you’re a great player,” McCullers told him. “Just try to do your part when you can and try to fit in with the guys. You may get a little flak here and there, but it’s all in good fun. It’s baseball; we’re here to win.”
Bregman arrived at Minute Maid Park on Monday to fulfill a dream. Fifty family members and friends joined him, entering the stadium as the gates opened, hollering support for baseball’s top prospect as he prepared for batting practice.
The group — including mother Jackie, father Sam and his college coach, Paul Mainieri — heard little in response.
“I’m going to keep my mouth shut,” Bregman said in his 11-minute introductory news conference. “The only thing I want to do is win games. I’m not going to win games by talking about it — just by doing it.”
Although he finished 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, Bregman dazzled defensively, assisting on five of the Astros' first 12 putouts in a 2-1 loss. His barehanded pick of Mark Teixeira's second-inning grounder behind third base drew thunderous applause.
"I thought he was exceptional on defense at a position he hasn't played many innings at," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "The moment wasn't too big for him; the game wasn't too fast."
The crowd exploded in the sixth when Bregman came to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded against Yankees starter Michael Pineda. Bregman pummeled a 1-1 fastball 357 feet to the opposite field but missed a grand slam by 3 feet on the warning track.
"(The debut) didn't go as planned because we didn't win," Bregman said. "It felt better than I thought it would feel. It felt amazing. It was the most fun I've ever had."
Following Bregman’s pregame press briefing, the Astros’ media relations department politely requested no further interviews of 2015’s No. 2 draft pick once the clubhouse opened. He stretched, warmed up and carried himself in silence, even absorbing ribbing from teammate George Springer, who carefully instructed the seven news cameras assembled to film the rookie’s every move.
“He’s got to earn it, like anybody on our team. H’s going to have to perform, have that edge and always have a chip on his shoulder to help us contribute,” Hinch said. “We wouldn’t have brought him up here if we didn’t think he wasn’t ready or he wasn’t one of the best options for us to play a lot."
With Bregman’s confidence comes cognizance. He was the first to state his obvious lack of experience and service time in his short meeting with reporters. Futures Game accolades and minor league masterpieces mean nothing in this league. Production and victories are the only goals.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow spoke glowingly of the latest high draft pick his club promoted. Several seasons of dread produced this top-end talent that will now, ostensibly, give the franchise a viable shot its first World Series title.
But Bregman’s path is not like Correa’s, nor McCullers’.
“This is uncharted territory,” Luhnow said of the fastest-moving position player prospect of his baseball career. “There’s really nothing that he’s faced that he hasn’t been able to quickly dominate. Typically, there’s a certain number of at-bats that you need in the minor leagues to be ready for this level. Maybe he’s the exception. He may not need this many at-bats. I hope I’m right on that.”
It began in silence.
Altuve and Jake Marisnick finished a noisy game of "FIFA 17" soccer on the clubhouse television, Altuve rejoicing in celebration of his victory over the backup outfielder.
Sixth-year catcher Jason Castro thumbed through a magazine feet away. Bregman finally arrived at his locker, a smirk of incredulity at the past 36 hours on his face. He floated a simple query to Castro, the team’s most veteran member.
“What do I wear?” Bregman said, his voice not above a whisper.
Castro, the pragmatic, polite, former Stanford backstop, took time to help his new teammate.
"If you wear your jersey, you'll get (expletive) for it," Castro laughed. "If you don't, you'll still probably get (expletive) for it."
Welcome to the club.
"We have a pretty young position player group and, when you join this clubhouse, you better bring your personality. You've got to bring some thick skin a little bit," Hinch quipped. "And I think our team knows he has a chance to make us better.”
Added Bregman's mother, Jackie: "I think everyone is going to fall in love with him."