When Alex Bregman made his major league debut for the Houston Astros in July 2016, he received a standing ovation from the home crowd at Minute Maid Park.
“By my 10th at-bat,” he joked, “I was getting booed.”
There’s little chance Bregman will hear boos again in Houston anytime soon.
Bregman, the Astros’ starting third baseman, helped the franchise to its first World Series championship in November. For his efforts, he was voted the Louisiana Sports Writers Association’s 2017 Headliner of the Year.
Bregman, who received 14 first-place votes and 106 total points in voting by the LSWA membership, is the first baseball player to be named Headliner of the Year in the award’s 19 years.
New Orleans Saints rookie running back Alvin Kamara was second with seven first-place votes and 65 points. LSU’s baseball team that was runner-up at the College World Series was third with 47 points, and Kamara’s teammate, Drew Brees, was fourth with 35 points and one first-place vote.
Bregman, who will turn 24 on March 30, began last year as the youngest member of Team USA, which won gold in the World Baseball Classic.
During the regular season, Bregman hit .284 with 19 homers, 71 RBIs and 17 stolen bases for the Astros. It’s even more impressive when you consider he is still adjusting to life in the majors and at a new position. Bregman had been a shortstop throughout high school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and during his college career.
The Astros drafted Bregman second overall in the 2015 MLB amateur draft.
“I was spoiled,” Bregman said a few weeks ago on a radio program. “I went to LSU and got to play in Minute Maid Park as part of the Shriners Classic. I was hoping the Astros would (draft) me. It would be perfect — halfway between Baton Rouge and Albuquerque.”
After a year in the minors, Bregman was called up to the Astros and promptly went hitless in his first 17 at-bats. Instead of benching him or sending him back to the minors, Astros manager A.J. Hinch moved Bregman up in the order to hit ahead of Jose Altuve.
Bregman recovered to hit .264 with eight home runs and 34 RBIs in 40 games as well as making the move to third base full-time.
In 2017, Bregman settled in as a vital cog in what may be the majors' top infield, which includes Altuve at second base, Carlos Correa at shortstop and Yuli Gurriel at first base.
During the playoffs, Bregman had a knack for providing a clutch play when the Astros needed it.
He hit a solo home run off Boston ace Chris Sale at Fenway Park in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the American League Division Series to tie the score at 3. The Astros went on to win 5-4, clinching the series.
In the American League Championship Series, against the team he rooted for as a child — Bregman wears No. 2 in tribute to Yankees great Derek Jeter — it was Bregman’s defense that stood out.
In Game 7 of the ALCS, the Astros were nursing a 1-0 lead in the top of the fifth inning. There was one out and the Yankees’ Greg Bird was on third base. Bregman was playing in when Todd Frazier hit a hard grounder to him. Bregman didn’t hesitate, fielding the ball and firing to catcher Brian McCann, who tagged out Bird for the second out. The Astros went on to win 4-0, scoring three runs in the bottom of the fifth, to advance to the franchise’s second World Series.
In the World Series, Bregman came up big again, this time with his bat. In Game 5, he singled in the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning as the Astros rallied from a 4-0 deficit to win 13-12 over the Los Angeles Dodgers and take a 3-2 series lead. Houston eventually won the World Series in seven games, clinching in Dodger Stadium.
Now that the Astros have won their first championship after 56 years, Bregman sees no reason why they can’t win more.
“Everybody says enjoy it, but I say why not? Why can’t we repeat?” he asked. “Hopefully, we turn it into the place to play in the major leagues.”
Bregman said he took one week off to enjoy the spoils of the World Series championship. Then it was back to work.
“I’ve changed my diet, eating habits, flexibility and mobility,” he said. “I’m not satisfied, especially with my power. Altuve’s 5-5, 5-6, and he can hit to center field. I’m working on getting a lot stronger.
“I want to improve on every phase of the game. I want to be one of the best players in the game.”
2017 HEADLINER OF THE YEAR VOTING
(First-place votes in parentheses)
1, Alex Bregman (14) 106
2, Alvin Kamara (7) 65
3, LSU Baseball 47
4, Drew Brees (1) 35
5, LSU Gymnastics (1) 29
6, Anthony Davis (1) 28
7, Armand Duplantis 26
8, Sam Burns (1) 24
9, UL-Lafayette Softball (1) 22
10, Sean Payton (3) 17
Also receiving votes: Mark Slessinger 13, LSU Softball 6, LSU of Alexandria basketball 6, Ed Orgeron 3, Leonard Fournette 2, Dell Demps 2, LSU-Eunice softball 1.
2016: Dak Prescott
2015: Leonard Fournette
2014: Odell Beckham Jr.
2013: Peyton Manning
2012: Tom Benson
2011: Drew Brees
2010: New Orleans Saints
2009: Drew Brees
2008: Chris Paul
2007: LSU football
2006: New Orleans Saints
2005: New Orleans Saints
2004: Nick Saban
2003: LSU football
2002: New Orleans Hornets
2001: David Toms
2000: Jim Haslett, Randy Mueller
1999: Peyton Manning