When you enter the Cathedral at Chartres, the first thing you see is a set of miraculous, glowing stained-glass windows. When you enter the Astros clubhouse, the first thing you see is a laundry room. But that is the only difference between the clubhouse and a certain medieval masterpiece, and even that difference is superficial. After all, it is in the laundry room that the miracle workers of Minute Maid Park somehow guarantee a two-hour turnaround time for returning dirt-stained, sweat-soaked baseball uniforms to their pristine condition.
The Astros' subterranean clubhouse and the Cathedral at Chartres are essentially the same in most other respects as well. The attitude of the faithful, say. Standing at the clubhouse door on a recent Saturday, scanning the sign warning that “only immediate male family members escorted by the player” will be granted access, a dozen lumps form in the throats of a dozen fans—eight men, three women, and one baby of uncertain gender. They are not immediate family members and yet they are here. A grizzled old penitent removes his ballcap.
Passing through the doors, the devout are consumed by reverence, but also a bit of fear. For them, the Astros clubhouse is a sacred space, carrying as it does the hopes and dreams of our baseball-besotted metropolis. But it is also a place unknown. Even as they are grateful for a glimpse of the real thing, they wonder: will the experience be a soul-stirring epiphany, or a disappointment, like the cathedral at Chartres was? No one can be sure. The clubhouse is a mystery, a legend shrouded in fog.
Literally. There’s a fog machine.
“Because we have a player named George Springer,” laughs a female docent, by way of explanation, as the visitors make their way down a hallway. “Also lights and a big sound system.” On this day, the locker room greets its visitors with neither fog nor pounding techno. Springer’s away on business, after all, as are his colleagues. There are some Tigers in Detroit that need to be caged, Phillies that need to be, uh, fileted or something.
The saints’ presence in the sanctuary is felt nonetheless. The altar in the center, such as it is, is unremarkable—merely a set of sober brown Barcaloungers arranged around a big-screen TV, a pack of playing cards and a few other games on the coffee table between them. The small chapels on the periphery, however, otherwise known as the players’ dressing areas, are mini-masterpieces, each and every one.
“They’re just like anybody else,” says the docent, trying to temper the apostles’ expectations, to no avail. “Some are packrats, some aren’t. Some are nice housekeepers, some aren’t.” Her eyes fall on the large footwear collection in Carlos Correa’s locker, and for a moment she is too mesmerized and bewildered to speak. “Some of them have a shoe fetish or something.” With that, her voice trails off, and the visitors trail off too, to pay their respects at every locker, each an accidental shrine to a different saint.
They see Jose Altuve’s jerseys in his cubicle, all neatly arranged on hangers. They see the Dallas Keuchel autograph that Lance McCullers Jr. has hanging in his. They see Nori Aoki’s letter from Japan that someone will need to forward to Toronto, the avalanche of packages for Luke Gregerson, the tall round stack of chewing tobacco pouches in Evan Gattis’s locker, and the Spiderman action figure dangling from Josh Reddick’s. And of course they stop at Correa’s spot too, bestrewn with a collection of footwear that inspires not a few references to Imelda Marcos’ closet. “That’s a $500 pair of shoes right there, just sitting there, on the ground,” remarks one fan, agog.
Nearby, another docent stands under the large speakers that propel the infamous Club Astro, Springer’s highly successful, if unorthodox, teambuilding gesture. “Our AV coordinator had to go into the sound system and set it at three-quarters so it doesn’t go as loud as it really can,” the man confides. “It was going throughout the ballpark.”
Needless to say, this is not the sort of church where one lights candles; still, prayers of the faithful are everywhere in abundance. Off to the side of the room, next to the statuary—a uniformed mannequin that signals which jersey must be worn by the players that day—sits the players’ mailboxes. Crammed into each are the wishes and adoration of an entire city, and many other cities besides. Fifty or so fan letters for Correa are arranged in two neat stacks. “World Series Bound!” screams one of Yuli Gurriel’s envelopes. In a world that no longer writes letters, these guys get letters, stacks of them. And they’re more evenly distributed than you might imagine, a testament to the fearsomeness of the Astros’ roster.
Each is like a note on a wishing tree, a devotional, a prayer. Many of the writers pray for an answer from their heroes, of course, but many more pray for a team that goes all the way. And so, filled with a fervent desire to give their deities a nudge, they pen letters to them, address them, put stamps on them and take them to the post office—all in a world that never does any of that anymore. All so that thousands of messages might be delivered to the Astros, thousands of messages that say essentially the same thing: I am proud, I am grateful, I am with you.
“If y’all can join us outside now.”
The voice shocks the pilgrims, startling them out of the dream they are living and the Barcaloungers they are trying on for size. Docents appear to slowly and gently usher the faithful out of the cathedral. They depart silently, taking with them nothing but a few brief memories. After all, the visit is short and photographs aren’t allowed.
Public tours of the Astros clubhouse at Minute Maid Park—offered only on select dates—cost $45 per person and include visits to the dugout, field and more. Aug. 26 is the sole remaining date this season. For information, visit the clubhouse tours page.