The Voice That Drives The Astros rings out through the clubhouse. Most of the reporters are gone chasing deadlines and Jose Altuve's relaxed and letting it fly.
"Where's my ring?" Altuve calls out. It comes across as part ask, part demand and part kid. The best player in baseball not named Mike Trout is inquiring after the gaudy, diamond-encrusted bling the Houston Astros gifted him with as part of the Opening Day festivities.
It seems that Jose Altuve lost track of the pricey jewel during the evening. He was a little busy, pushing the Astros to a priceless 2-0 win over the Cleveland Indians and the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner. Only now that he's changed another game and driven another elite pitcher batty can Altuve think of the spoils.
This is how it goes with the player who's clearly hell bent on refusing to let the Astros be losers again this season. First things first.
"He started everything," George Springer, the superstar in training, says. "He always does."
Game No. 1 of 162 serves as the opening exhibit for why Jose Altuve absolutely cannot finish a ridiculous 13th in the AL MVP voting again this season. This is one of baseball's biggest impact players. With a better Astros team, there is no reason Altuve should not join J.J. Watt and James Harden as Houston athletes seriously pushing for a league MVP. He's that good. He's that much of a game changer.
Altuve does not hit the type of mammoth home runs that Trout opens the 2015 season with, but he's just as much of a game shifter.
"It all starts with Altuve. What he says goes. We're all fine with that."
For Openers, Altuve starts it all for the Astros by breaking up a no hitter. Indians pitcher Corey Kluber is absolutely filthy, dropping 95 MPH sinkers and 90 MPH cutters on the corners. The Astros cannot touch him. Until Altuve decides enough is enough in the bottom of the sixth inning.
That's when Altuve flares one of those sliders that's nastier than a Breaking Bad character into center field, dropping it between the second baseman and the center fielder like he planned it.
"I just wanted to make contact," Altuve says later at his locker, downplaying the magic as usual.
Altuve does not just make contact. He ensures a masterful Kluber's night still ends miserable. For as soon as Altuve's on first base with that single, he's taking off for second. The first-pitch steal is all guts — and measured brilliance. It makes the second of only three Astros hits on this night — No. 2 hitter Springer's sharp single into left — produce the first run of the game.
New Astros manager A.J. Hinch swears he sees it all coming. Because he always sees it coming with Altuve.
"I think he's going to get a hit every time," Hinch says of the man who got more than anyone in baseball last season. "I'm surprised as anybody in the ballpark when he doesn't get one. I assume the best with him."
If it's finally safe to assume the best with these Houston Astros as well, it's because of Altuve. He's grown into one of the best leaders in all of baseball. You hear Jose Altuve's voice more and more — whether it's delivering an impromptu speech laying out the Astros way to minor leaguers, setting the tone in the dugout or even sometimes shouting out a little mischief in the clubhouse.
"It all starts with Altuve," Astros starter Dallas Keuchel says. "What he says goes. We're all fine with that."
On a night when Keuchel pitches like an uber ace and new closer Luke Gregerson crafts a no-sweat ninth inning, Altuve's still the one who swings the game. He does it almost subtly — just like his humor.
"It's a good car," Altuve deadpans when someone asks about the luxury SUV the Astros also gave him for winning the 2014 batting title. "You see it?"
Jose Altuve might not have much time to drive that shiny new, fully loaded Lexus. He's too busy driving a Major League Baseball team.
Astros Opening Day Wonder
It's a picture perfect Opening Day with the Astros new grass looking strikingly green in the sun that Minute Maid Park's open roof provides. This is the kind of weather that helps Houston land Super Bowls and Final Fours. The largest Astros crowd in five years — 43,753 strong — laps it all up.
It's fun to be an Astros fan again.
All the Astros' suddenly supersized hopes rest on the team's surprisingly good 2014 starting pitching being just as good in 2015. That's no minor assumption. But Keuchel lives up to it on Opening Night.
Altuve does not just make contact. He ensures a masterful Kluber's night still ends miserable.
The left hander retires the first seven Indians he faces, makes two Gold Glove worthy plays on balls hit back to him, matches the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner zero for zero through five innings. Then when Altuve pushes the Astros ahead, Keuchel masterfully works out of a two on, no-out jam in the seventh inning.
Keuchel's signature beard is glorious. His pitching's better.
All the Astros have to show for their power packed lineup early are loud outs. Springer hits a bomb . . . to the center field warning track in the first inning. Chris Carter follows suit in the fifth inning.
Fittingly, Altuve ends the no-hit nonsense with that flare to center with two outs in the sixth. Then, he steals second on the very next pitch. Kluber suddenly has an issue. And soon a deficit.
This is how it goes with the Hidden MVP.
"I think we're mainly doing it for the fans. I think the city of Houston's waited long enough for a winner."
It's wise not to read too much into any Opening Day performance. The Astros enjoyed some rollicking openers under Bo Porter after all. But it's hard not to enjoy this one. Hard not to see something more.
"It means a lot," Keuchel says. "I think we're mainly doing it for the fans. I think the city of Houston's waited long enough for a winner."
Baseball sense screams that these Astros are still at least a good year away. But a 24-year-old leader, The Voice of the Astros, refuses to wait.
Not for his ring. Not for his new car. And certainly not for his winning.
OK, maybe Jose Altuve will wait for his car.
"Are you going to drive your new car home tonight too?" Astros media relations manager Steve Grande jokingly asks the Hidden MVP in the clubhouse.
"I don't have the keys," Altuve shoots back matter of factly.
First things first. Jose Altuve knows it's the only way to change everything.