THANKS, LANCE!

Lance McCullers gives lucky fans free tickets to World Series

The fiery McCullers is passionate about giving back to fans. Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

Houston Astros pitcher Lance McCullers, Jr. may not be playing in the World Series, but the fiery fan favorite and local philanthropist is still very much part of the action.

McCullers, who was a pivotal and impactful piece of the 2017 Astros squad that clinched the World Series title, has been in Florida rehabbing following Tommy John surgery on his elbow. While the pitcher has been impressively returning to form, he's also been watching for Astros fans who are going above and beyond — and rewarding them.

It started with Forrest Magee, a Houstonian and a long-time Astros fan, whose hilarious (and relatable) excited reaction to a play during Game 4 of the ALCS went viral.

"I was watching the game and I was like, 'Man, it's really cool that that kid is sitting by himself in New York and repping the Astros like that,' McCullers tells CultureMap. McCullers asked for ways to contact Magee on social media, reached out to Magee on Twitter, and thanked him and invited him to a game, offering him two tickets.

Then there was the ugly moment that also went viral, when a trio of Astros fans were bullied and harassed during Game 5 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium. Cruz Arcia, Jr., Nathan Rocha, and Kristina Contreras had beer, popcorn, and other food dumped on them and were nearly assaulted by Yankees fans before security stepped in.

McCullers stepped in, too, offering Arcia two tickets to a World Series game. "As a player for the Astros our fans are an extension of our community and our family that we have in the clubhouse," says McCullers. "They're the ones who support us. So, I wanted to make it right. I wanted them to know that I appreciate them going on the road and supporting us — because that's financially expensive and can be intimidating going into opposing stadiums to support a team. I wanted to make it right for them getting their game messed up, and also wanted them to know that I appreciate them supporting us."

His generosity doesn't stop there—he's also offered a chance at four World Series tickets through his Lance McCullers Jr. Foundation. "We're helping animals, which I'm really passionate about, and giving animal enthusiasts and Astros fans a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he says.

For McCullers, the generosity is about his chance to interact with fans and give back. "Not everyone has the kind of platform that a lot of guys on our team have," he says. "I think everyone on our team uses it responsibly and for good."

The 25-year-old also sees a chance to leave his mark long after his days in an Astros uniform are over. "One day, there will be new players wearing Astros jerseys, there'll be new reporters taking to players, new guys winning games and winning homers," he says.

Continue on CultureMap for McCullers' thoughts on how the World Series will play out.

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The Rockets got a steal at No. 3 overall. Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images.

With the Astros absorbing their worst loss of the season Thursday night at the Yankees, here's to the Rockets! Wait, what? It's only educated guess work, but in landing Jabari Smith out of Auburn the Rockets had a spectacular night. Heaven knows they have had very few of those the last two years. After having to settle for the third pick in the NBA Draft despite being the worst team in the league again, in Smith the Rockets got the best player in the Draft. Of course Smith could be an epic flop, it’s very inexact science. But Orlando taking Paolo Banchero from Duke first then Oklahoma City selecting Gonzaga beanpole Chet Holmgren second left the "surest thing" two-way player on the board. Through most of the run-up to the draft the six-foot-10 inch Banchero was most commonly projected to the Rockets. It's not as if he would have been a bad choice as a player. Banchero certainly could turn out to be the best player in this draft class. But his game is skewed toward his offensive skills, his fit in Houston would have been quite questionable. The also 6-10 Smith has shown the vastly better outside shooting ability, and is indisputably more athletic and better equipped to defend at a higher level and with more versatility. Jabari Smith is not going to be Kevin Durant or Kevin Garnett. Let's at least call it extreeeeemely unlikely given very few in the history of the planet come close to those guys, still, envisioning Smith providing some KD and KG level moments on both ends of the floor is pretty, pretty, pretty good.

The Rockets' defense was an absolute joke last season. Little to no improvement was shown as the death march of 2021-22 dragged on and on and on to its 20-62 finish. Frankly if Head Coach Stephen Silas can't demand/develop vastly improved D this coming season he'll deserve and need to be fired. The Rockets love Alperen Sengun, and his rookie season offense showed both flair and promise. Defensively he was one of many parts of the joke. Just 20 years old late next month so some improvement should come, but Sengun is slow. Quick twitch muscles, slow. Lateral movement, slow. He’s not long, not a leaper, not thick. Sengun will be hard-pressed to become an average defender. In today's game he's the kind of big who quality small-ball opponents play off the court. Banchero would have been a lousy defensive pairing with Sengun. Smith-Sengun has a chance. Smith as a small-ball center has potential. Christian Wood was a dog, not in a good way. Smith’s character grades are very high.

The seven-foot 194 pound Holmgren has a fascinating array of skills. He could be Rudy Gobert defensively with way better offense, or a skinny guy who can’t hack it physically. Had the Thunder taken Smith at two, Holmgren to the Rockets would have been interesting. Getting Smith to pair with Jalen Green as the tent poles of the Rockets’ still long way to go reconstruction is more encouraging. With due respect to all the other first round picks added in 2021 and 2022, what Green and Smith become individually and as a tandem is what will foremost determine how long the Rockets remain horrible. It could go pretty well for the duo and the Rockets could still be awful for multiple more years. A third consecutive losing season is virtual certainty. By the end of it though at least a few meaningful rays of light at the end of the tunnel need to be peeking through.

As for the other two first rounders added Thursday night, both are interesting darts at the board. Tari Eason out of LSU brings defensive chops and size (six-foot-eight) for his position, a combo that exactly zero returning Rockets have. Jae’Sean Tate plays really hard, but he’s a six-four forward. All their Josh Christophers, Garrison Matthewses, Kenyon Martin Jrs., and David Nwabas add up to very little.

No one smart really believes in Kevin Porter Jr. as a long term winning point guard growth stock. TyTy Washington should get some rookie run at the point. He’s the only non-worthless to the team ex-Kentucky point guard on the Rockets’ roster. Yes, John Wall and his 47.3 million dollar salary are still on the roster.

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