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Inside the Astros’ clubhouse for its quest to defend a title

His team lost its 65-day hold on first place roughly 19 hours earlier, and now Alex Bregman is being asked questions he’s not really hearing and definitely isn’t interested in answering. His level of disengagement is understandable, and kind of funny. It’s ballplayer-early in the morning, and his unfocused eyes are aimed somewhere in the middle distance. His politeness is in a pitched battle with his fierce desire to be doing almost anything else. We really should pick this up another time.cheap nfl jerseys nike china

The setting doesn’t help: the visitors clubhouse in Oakland, a low-ceilinged, low-tech, low-occupancy concrete fissure best known for its unreliable plumbing. There is Little League on the televisions that hang from the ceiling. Someone associated with the Houston Astros has decided that country singer Jamey Johnson — his voice an intravenous sedative, his lyrics an ongoing reminder of every tragic event in human history — is just the thing for a struggling team on a bleary Sunday morning. The once-unthinkable idea of a do-or-die wild-card game now looms. The apocalypse feels near.

Mid-answer, Bregman’s connections snap. He stops, apologizes and asks me what he was talking about. It honestly doesn’t even matter. Everything is grim.10

Meanwhile, a low-level commotion rises from across the room. Outfielder Jake Marisnick beckons loudly. “Bregs! Bregs! Get over here!”

Suddenly, Bregman is back, engaged, blinking into the sunlight. He grabs a $100 bill out of his locker and politely excuses himself to join his teammates around a high-top table in the center of the clubhouse. Everyone is moving toward the center of the cramped room, sliding past chairs, juking their way around tables, drunk-driving their bodies in a centripetal rush toward money. Someone has a deck of cards, and it’s time for a little team building — $100 apiece, high card wins the pot.new nike nfl jerseys for sale cheap

It’s loud in two languages. Jamey’s sorrows are back to being his alone. First place seems inevitable again. The goal now becomes total participation. Justin Verlander presents an impediment to this goal. He is not a regular on the gambling circuit, for one, and for another, he will be the starting pitcher in a little more than two hours, a fact that — in baseball’s quirky ecosystem — grants him total immunity from any form of pregame interaction. A bomb could be found ticking in the center of a clubhouse and guys would gather to discuss whether they should interrupt the starter’s solitude to deliver the evacuation order. Verlander walks purposely to his locker, one side of his headphone perched above his ear, pretending not to hear any of it. But then he reaches into his locker and heads for the table as Marisnick yells, “JV’s in! JV’s in!” Half of them begin bouncing in place. JV being in is a big deal.