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.

Houston accused of more wrongdoing

New report of illegal sign-stealing puts Astros back under scrutiny

Jason Behnken / Getty Images

Back in 2017, the Houston Astros could be considered the darlings of the MLB. They helped pull a Harvey-ravaged city out of despair and into a celebration in a matter of months with the acquisition of Justin Verlander and subsequent World Series victory. The young team full of potential suddenly had the attention of not only fans but other MLB clubs and the league's front office.

On Tuesday, that attention reared itself yet again in a severely negative way, with the Athletic reporting (subscription required) that former-Astro Mike Fiers was alleging and confirming that his former team used illegal means to steal signs in their 2017 championship season. Fiers, along with three other anonymous sources with the team in 2017, claims that the team used cameras and other technology to monitor opposing catchers to relay signs to batters in real-time. The Astros have released the following statement:

"Regarding the story posted by The Athletic earlier today, the Houston Astros organization has begun an investigation in cooperation with Major League Baseball. It would not be appropriate to comment further on this matter at this time."

While GM Jeff Luhnow had this to say:

Another negative blow to the team's reputation

This is not the first time the Astros have been under a microscope in recent years, the most recent being less than a month ago when assistant general manager Brandon Taubman taunted reporters in the Astros clubhouse following their ALCS series-clinching win. The Astros fumbled that event, coming out with a rebuttal against the reporter, which would eventually be retracted, and Taubman terminated from his employment.

Neither is this the first time the Astros have dealt with accusations of sign-stealing and other forms of cheating. In this year's ALCS, the Yankees complained about a "whistling" noise from Houston's dugout they believed to be a method of relaying pitches to batters at the plate. Also, in the 2018 postseason, the Astros found themselves under fire for having an employee taking photos of the opposing team's dugout.

It's just part of the game until it's not

Both pitch tipping and stealing signs are things that are nearly unavoidable in baseball. With the catcher having to relay a sign to the pitcher 60.5 feet away using his hands, the opposing team will inevitably try to decipher what's coming. The same is true of tipping, where if a pitcher has a tell before a specific pitch, that information will quickly spread through the dugout.

However, there is a line teams should not cross, and that comes by way of utilizing technology to aid further the ability to steal signs, and using that to give an immediate advantage to a batter amid an at-bat. The Astros are not the first team to be alleged of this type of grievance, as the Red Sox received a fine after utilizing a smartwatch to try and steal signs.

It's a widely known and accepted fact that teams will try anything within reason to get a leg up on their opponent. However, with technology ever improving both for organizations to use and be caught by, it's no surprise that this is becoming an issue that the MLB will have to deal with, and soon.

Ramifications could loom large

Will the Astros be found guilty and made an example of to deter other teams for trying similar tactics? It appears we will have to wait for the conclusion of this investigation to find out. While it may not be an indictment of the entire team, it will bring into question the integrity and character of many of the team.

Still, no matter the outcome, the report alone and continued negativity surrounding the Astros organization has made them villains of many, a role that many would not have expected this team to play if asked just two years ago.

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