HOUSTON — Dallas Keuchel is home.
The Chicago White Sox lefty now plays his home games on the South Side, of course. But for the first seven years of his major league career, he was a Houston Astro, winning a Cy Young Award, a closet full of Gold Gloves and a World Series.
So Minute Maid Park obviously holds a special place in his heart and mind.
"I'm surprised they haven't put up a statue of me," he joked upon the White Sox arrival in Houston for a four-game series against the Astros this weekend. "That's kind of BS.
"This place is always going to be, I would say, home. I came up here as a 24-year-old and had some bumps and bruises pretty much the first two years I was here. I had a 5.00-plus ERA and was just trying to figure things out, trying to stay in the big leagues and make the most of my opportunities. I worked hard."
Earlier this week, Keuchel — who greeted former teammate José Altuve with a huge hug Thursday and tipped his cap to an appreciative crowd following a Jumbotron tribute video — described Houston as "a place I never thought I was going to leave," an indication of how comfortable he was pitching for the Astros before baseball's draft-pick compensation rules turned him into a pitcher without a home deep into the 2019 season. He eventually hooked up with the Atlanta Braves, then signed a multi-year deal with the White Sox the following offseason, becoming one of the key pieces to what's hoped to be a championship puzzle on the South Side.
So while it was mostly warm and fuzzy feelings as Keuchel stood in front of the third-base dugout, with fans lining up to wish him well and seek an autograph on a picture of the Astros winning the World Series, there will be more than one emotion for Keuchel when he pitches against his former mates Sunday.
"I'll always have a little chip on my shoulder," Keuchel said earlier this week. "I'm sure I'll have a little chip on my shoulder on Sunday."
Over the course of a pair of question-and-answer sessions, the first in Chicago and the second in Houston, the always honest Keuchel had bad words for former Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and pointed words for fans across baseball who have given the Astros a harsh welcome in their first time seeing them in big league ballparks since the uncovering of the team's sign-stealing scandal. He lamented a contract offer from the Astros that he felt didn't match what he'd earned.
But that honesty clearly applied to the positive side of his time in Houston, too. And helping the Astros climb out of rebuilding mode and all the way to baseball's mountaintop — the same ascent he hopes to witness with the White Sox — there were an awful lot of positives.
"Every time I see this place, it's just always giving me a smile," Keuchel said Thursday. "Today's no different. Tomorrow's going to be the same."