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Astros manager A.J. Hinch speaks to reporters before yesterday's batting practice.

Image: Scott Vogel

The roof was closed at Minute Maid Park yesterday, but somehow the gray mugginess of the afternoon made its presence known anyway. “Is it hot in here?” A.J. Hinch asked reporters, meeting with the press in the Astros’ dugout before the team’s afternoon workout. The reporters agreed that it was. All baseball managers like to project an image of serenity, but Hinch likes to go further, to actually be serene, something distinctly difficult to accomplish when beads of sweat are forming on the back of a man’s neck.

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A nail-biting Jose Altuve takes the field for batting practice with his fellow Astros.

Image: Scott Vogel

But he succeeds more often than not, which is a very good thing, as Hinch leads the Astros, a high-energy and spirited ball club if ever there was one. You get the sense that his role is not so much to rein in the team’s energy as catalyze it—by calming his players’ nerves ever so slightly, he can set them loose to devastating effect.  

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A.J. Hinch confers with game 2 starter Dallas Keuchel before yesterday's practice session.

Image: Scott Vogel

Calming his players, not to mention the city they play for, will be something of a challenge in the days ahead. There was already a palpable excitement in the air, and it was still two days before the team’s first playoff game against the Boston Red Sox. “I love the fact that we get to be at home and I expect it to be loud,” said Hinch, glancing up at the Minute Maid roof, which will be closed during the games. “This is one of the loudest buildings I’ve ever been in, so I don’t expect any disappointment in the way our crowd gets into it. It will be an incredible environment for us. Our players feed off that.”

As Hinch continued to speak in measured tones, the players who feed off the noise were chomping at the bit to hit the field and practice their double-play balls. Jose Altuve and Marwin Gonzalez bounded out of the dugout and went through a few lazy stretches on the outfield grass, laughing all the while, after which Altuve played catch with Carlos Correa while Gonzalez did the same with

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George Springer waits his turn at batting practice.

Image: Scott Vogel

Yuli Gurriel. Even as “ALDS 2017” flashed on the big screen above them, and enormous “Earn History” signs bearing their faces were hanging from the stadium walls outside, the atmosphere was curiously fun and relaxed. Alex Bregman cracked up at something Altuve said. George Springer leaned into bench coach Alex Cora, putting his arm around him. Later, watching them all, a half-smile would even find its way onto Hinch’s face, although only for a moment. Soon, it was replaced by something else, a look of admiration, a look that seemed to say I only hope the world gets to see what they can do.

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Expectations are huge, and so are the posters hanging outside Minute Maid Park. 

Image: Scott Vogel

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