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Astros Make Derek Jeter Look Old

Derek Jeter a hurt big dud as Yankees look old in face of Astros speedster: Farewell tour flipped over?

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Astros opener dirt slide
Jose Altuve and the Houston Astros got into the dirt with all-out aggressive play in their Opening Day win over the New York Yankees. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Derek Jeter Astros bat
Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees were frustrated by the Houston Astros. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Astros Scott Feldman pitch
Starting pitcher Scott Feldman made Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow look Major League smart. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Jose Altuve Astros third base
The Houston Astros took extra bases against the Yankees. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Astros out
The Astros made the right plays in the field. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Astros C.C. Sabathia
Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia looked old as well as slim in his 2014 debut. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Astros fireworks
On Opening Night, celebratory fireworks reigned at Minute Maid Park. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Astros opener dirt slide
Derek Jeter Astros bat
Astros Scott Feldman pitch
Jose Altuve Astros third base
Astros out
Astros C.C. Sabathia
Astros fireworks
News_Chris Baldwin_managing editor_arms crossed

"Let me ask him," L.J. Hoes says before shooting the question across the space of a few lockers. "Fowler, are you a veteran?"

The man in question doesn't hesitate. "Hell, yeah," Dexter Fowler shoots back, grinning.

There aren't any teams in Major League Baseball besides the Houston Astros on which Dexter Fowler would be The Man. But this Colorado Rockies questioned, downgraded and reputation knocked center fielder is clearly already looked at that way in the Astros clubhouse. It's a clubhouse that is awfully glad to have their unlikely new leader too after Fowler puts his feet and hands all over a 6-2 Opening Day win over the New York Yankees.

 "It got us going," Hoes says of Fowler's Tal hit. "It kind of let everyone know, 'We're not scared of the Yankees.' " 

Day one of the Great Derek Jeter Farewell Tour turns into a referendum on how old the Yankees look (particularly yesteryear ace CC Sabathia) and how fragile the whole grand MLB production could be (Jeter is drilled with a fastball in the first inning and admits his forearm "hurt"). Instead, it's the Astros pressuring The Evil Empire with their speed and aggressive base running from the jump, racing out to 6-0 lead after two innings. 

And it all starts with Fowler sending a double rocketing up to Tal's Hill in center field in the Astros first at-bat of the season. There are leadoff moments. And there's this — first time up for the new team, kick starting a new season that just can't look exactly like the last three seasons if anyone with the Houston Astros wants to keep their sanity.

"It got us going," Hoes says of Fowler's Tal hit. "It kind of let everyone know, 'We're not scared of the Yankees.' "

In truth, on this Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park, it looks like the Yankees, particularly the 40-year-old Jeter and Sabathia, a very old-looking 33, should be the ones scared — of falling into rocking chairs.

With the Yankees much more highly-paid new leadoff man Jacoby Elsbury unable to get on base against Astros starter Scott Feldman, the speed's all on the Houston side of the field. 

Fowler hits the third pitch he sees as an Astro all the way up onto the hill. Then, he outraces a throw to third on a fly out, leading with his speed — and hustle.

Suddenly, the Astros are hustling all over the ever-hyped, big money Yankees. Longtime Ray of Hope Jose Altuve steals second, takes third on a wild pitch. Fowler stretches a single into a double in his second at-bat. Altuve soon matches that feat while driving in the sixth run.

"Last year a lot of teams put pressure on us," Hoes says, "because we were young and inexperienced. They took it to us. This year we want to put pressure on other teams with the way we play."

The crowd of 42,117 at Minute Maid on opening night — one of the rare sure buzzy nights for these Astros — is on its feet, actually cheering for the home team.

"It was loud with a lot of support in the ballpark," Fowler says. "I hope it's like that all year."

Good luck with that. But at least there's a sliver of Major League hope, a sign of some real active roster talent.

That Feldman Feeling

Feldman gives the Astros 102 pitches, turns over a 6-0 lead with two outs and two on in the bottom of the seventh. He gives Houston everything he has. On this night, Feldman finally makes a Major League level move from Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow (whose done so much for the minor league system) look golden.

 With everything from his toughness to his love for the game questioned by Rockies officials, the 28-year-old Fowler knows he needs a fresh start. 

There's some Opening Night fireworks (besides the weird shooting up pyrotechnics the Astros starters run in-between during introductions) — the kind that this team cannot count on this season. Jesus Guzman clubs a two-run home run in his first at-bat as an Astro and Hoes launches a solo shot into the Crawford Boxes.

But it all starts with Fowler.

Fowler may have never meshed with Colorado Rockies management, but so far this character is fitting right in with Houston. The new addition leaves a note in all of his teammates' lockers, something for them to discover when they arrive at the stadium for Opening Day. It talks about the future of the team being up to the players in the locker room, a motivational nod to the power of possibility.

With everything from his toughness to his love for the game questioned by Rockies officials, the 28-year-old Fowler knows he needs a fresh start. So far he's latching onto it with the bite of a pit bull.

"He's one of those special guys," second-year Astros manager Bo Porter says of Fowler. "He knows exactly where he is in his career. He's going to bring it every day for us — in the clubhouse and on the field."

The ultimate clubhouse star Jeter finishes with one single in four trips to the plate — and more alarmingly, a sign of the trouble the team with the highest payroll in the American League could be facing. The first "Let's Go Jeter" chant starts in the packed rows of stands right behind the Yankees dugout at 4:04 p.m. It's still more than two hours till first pitch. Yankees seems to be everywhere in the Astros park.

Fowler grabs it back — at least for a night.

It looks like the Yankees, particularly the 40-year-old Jeter and Sabathia, a very old-looking 33, should be the ones scared — of falling into rocking chairs.

An Opening Day romp means little in the grind of a 162-game season. The Astros destroyed the Rangers 8-2 in a Sunday Night Baseball showcase to open last season and went on to lose to Texas 17 times, racing to a franchise record 111 losses overall.

Altuve, who's seen more losing than a talented 23-year-old should have to endure, swears he sees something different now. After the celebratory postgame rap music's been turned down and new leaders like Fowler and Feldman have left the clubhouse, Altuve quietly takes a seat at his locker.

"It's going to feel different," Altuve tells CultureMap. "We've got some guys who've been around a little and know how to play in the Major Leagues. This team is run differently. We definitely have the players to be a winning team.

"I see it. We all see it."

There's clearly a baseball spirit that still exists in Houston — even if it's usually far underground these days. Opening Day's lure brings it out. The streets around Minute Maid are crowded three hours before the first pitch with people mingling in baseball T-shirts. Some folks are even toting gloves.

It's a beautiful Houston day, full of appreciation for a game played in the sun, if not hope. Hey, no amount of 100-loss seasons can kill enthusiasm for Houston's weather or its welcoming nature.

A little winning can turn you into a hero. Day one is a win for these Astros. The New Man's all over it, even inspiring home runs.

"At least it will shut (Fowler) up," Hoes says of his blast into the seats. "He's been getting on me, telling me I have no power."

Hoes grins, shakes his head. This Dexter Fowler guy is awfully fun to play with. Maybe, it's contagious.

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