HOUSTON -- They were met with a reception fit for the Beatles. Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel, second baseman Jose Altuve and reliever Ken Giles certainly didn't look like rock stars, wearing their white Astros jerseys while emerging from a van in a local Chick-fil-A restaurant on Thursday afternoon to a throng of screaming fans.
The trio spent an hour taking orders and working the drive-thru window during a morning stop on the last day of the Astros Caravan, all the while taking selfies and signing autographs. The crush of people was a sign the Astros are as popular as they've been in years.
"It's very nice to see people excited about Dallas, Mr. Giles and every single baseball player that comes here," Altuve said. "You see the different locations with the Caravan right now, the fans are really excited. We're just doing this for them to spend time with them before the season so they can get to know the new players and get to know us a little bit more."
Keuchel and Altuve are perhaps the two most popular Astros, which is one of the reasons the crowd was so large. Keuchel is coming off a season in which he won 20 games and the American League Cy Young Award, and Altuve started the All-Star Game, reached 200 hits for the second year in a row and even won his first Gold Glove Award. They were two key players on an Astros team that advanced to the AL Division Series, sparking a renewed excitement among the fanbase.
"I think it was a matter of time, and now we've made the playoffs and had a winning season, fans are just eager to kind of get out and get ready for the 2016 season to start officially," Keuchel said.
The players took turns working the counter and taking orders and helping at the drive-thru, where unsuspecting customers were met with a surprise when an Astros player handed them a chicken sandwich out the window.
"It's not an easy job," said Giles, who was acquired in a December trade with the Phillies.
Altuve had fun with it.
"We just want to spend a little time with them before the season," he said. "I hope they had a good time."
After leaving the restaurant, the Caravan headed to Keegan Kitchen, a local food bank, to help hand out meals to kids and later participated in a chalk talk at College Park High School in Conroe, Texas. A Caravan Jam party in The Woodlands followed, and the day was scheduled to wrap up with an autograph session at an Academy Sports + Outdoors store in Spring.
"Everybody should be excited about the Astros," Giles said. "Look at what they did last year. It was an unbelievable run. We're going to make that run again and take that next step forward."