WHO'S GOT NEXT?

How the Astros magical World Series run served as a changing of the guard

Jeremy Peña is the toast of the town. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

The 2022 season for the Houston Astros was successful in every way imaginable with the culmination of the franchise’s second ever Commissioner’s Trophy.

For the Astros, the 2022 postseason also served as a changing of the guard in many aspects. Houston saw new stars rise, and above them all, was none other than rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña, who might have just become the new face of the Astros.

The 6-foot native of the Dominican Republic made his mark throughout the playoffs. It began in Game Three of the American League Division Series against the Seattle Mariners. In a marathon that went 18 innings, it was the 102nd overall pick in the 2018 draft that delivered the only run of the game, which powered Houston into the American League Championship Series.

In the ALCS, Peña’s stellar play only continued against the New York Yankees. The rookie had four runs batted in throughout the series and had two home runs.

One of the bombs helped get the Astros back into Game Four. A third inning homer switched the momentum of the game with one flip of the bat, turning a contest that saw the Yankees jump out to a 3-0 lead into a tied one.

Peña later came around to score again in the seventh in that same outing, which tied things up again on an RBI single by Yordan Alvarez. His Game Four performance was a big reason he was named the ALCS Most Valuable Player as Houston swept New York.

In the World Series, Peña scored a run in all games except Game Three. He had three RBI throughout the six games, and he also had strong defensive plays as he helped turn the tide for the Astros. He also managed to snag the MVP of the Fall Classic in the process.

Peña’s success on the field is certainly a big reason why he has garnered a lot of praise, but becoming the face of a franchise goes beyond just on-field play.

When you think of the New York Yankees, you think of Aaron Judge, at least for now. When you think of the Los Angeles Angels, you think of Shohei Ohtani and his MLB The Show commercials, and to an extent Mike Trout, who a few years back starred in Subway commercials.

In the NFL there is Patrick Mahomes and his State Farm commercials, and in the NBA there is LeBron James and what seems like is his always airing AT&T commercial. To compare it to the world of professional wrestling, there are always different stars that can transcend their respective bubble and become known to a casual audience. Or in wrestling terms, be a draw.

Now Peña has a ways to go before he can be considered in the same conversation as those other athletes, but after this year’s World Series, he is certainly the face of the Astros, at least in Houston.

The reason for it is that he draws. Even before the playoffs, Peña’s cameos on the H-E-B and Taqueria Arandas commercials showed his potential. In the postseason, his lore only amplified. His signature heart celebration has become synonymous with the shortstop and has transcended just the Astros.

When Houston Cougars football receiver Nathaniel ‘Tank’ Dell scored a touchdown against Temple, he threw up the heart to the crowd at TDECU Stadium.

When Peña himself stopped by Toyota Center to watch a Houston Rockets game on Monday evening, what was his go-to? The heart pose.

Simply put, Peña has become a rockstar in the city of Houston. When it was announced he was going to make an appearance at a local Raising Cane’s restaurant, there were people that camped out and slept in their cars the day before just to have a chance to see the MVP.

On the day of his appearance, people huddled around the restaurant, ignoring the drizzling rain and cool weather, to shower him with cheers, chants and probably even marriage proposals. Cars stretched around the restaurant and even onto the feeder of the Gulf Freeway hoping to snap a photo of Peña.

Peña still has more to prove, after all, he only completed his rookie season. But, not in a million years would Houston fans have believed they would say “Carlos who?” after just one season without the previous shortstop, who was a prominent, key figure in his own right.

Peña has the swagger, he has the looks, his on the field production speaks for itself, and if the Astros continue to make deep runs in October, he might just be the face of the Astros outside of Houston too.

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