Astros newbies rock hair extensions for the playoffs

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HOUSTON (AP) — Astros starters Framber Valdez and Luis Garcia look like naturals on the mound, even in the hairiest of situations.

A lot of work to make it look so simple – at the ballpark and, ultimately, at the hairdresser.

Both pitchers have completed their hairstyles with an artificial boost this season, adding hair extensions as a way to express their individuality. They’re showing those locks this postseason as Houston tries to reach the World Series for the fourth time in six years.

“At first a lot of people were talking about it and joking about it,” Valdez said in Spanish through a translator. “But at the end of the day, I feel comfortable with my hair and I feel good with my hair, so I’m going to keep having my hair like that.”

Garcia, who opened the season with natural, shoulder-skimming curls, opted this summer to add length and volume via beaded braids at the end.

“When I have the braids, everyone knows me better, because it’s not a normal look,” the 25-year-old said.

For Valdez, who opens Game 2 of the AL Division Series on Thursday against Seattle, the transformation has been more dramatic.

To stand out at his first All-Star Game in July, the 28-year-old southpaw added dreadlocks that fell past his shoulders to hair that had previously been cut tight at the sides with a few inches of growth on top.

Outstanding backs are not unheard of in baseball. Longtime MLB outfielder Oscar Gamble had a resplendent Afro in the 1970s, and more recently pitcher Noah Syndergaard earned the nickname “Thor” for his flowing blonde locks.

Quirky facial hair has long been a staple in sports, like Rollie Fingers’ handlebar mustache or Al Hrabosky’s Fu Manchu.

Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel has long had Houston’s most notable hairstyle. Its spiny top resembles the leaves of a pineapple, and it is known as “La Piña”, the Spanish word for the fruit.

Gurriel was not initially a fan of Valdez expansions. He even made a few jokes.

“At first I thought he looked very strange with all the hair he came in with,” Gurriel said in Spanish through a translator. “But now I like his style and I think he looks really good, and I really like when people change their style because I like changing mine too.”

It’s been a better reception than NBA star Jimmy Butler for his fake locks this summer. The Miami Heat forward was bombarded with backlash on social media when he showed off long dreadlock extensions. He denied they were extensions on media day, even though his Instagram posts made it clear they were. By the time he took the field for Miami’s first preseason game, the long-haired look was gone.

Valdez initially received good-natured teasing from Gurriel and others, but neither he nor Garcia endured the teasing like Butler. The two say they don’t care if people don’t like unconventional styles.

“My mom likes it,” Garcia said. “If it’s okay with him, I’m fine.”

Hair accessories come with a significant time investment. Valdez and Garcia said initial installations took over four hours. Subsequent touch-ups take approximately 90 minutes to two hours.

Garcia has had her extensions all summer but recently took them out to “let her hair rest.” He got a new set of thin braids — with three see-through beads at the end of each — installed Monday after Houston practice.

He had no pearls on the first extensions he got in June, and his teammates were puzzled as to where a rattle came from as they took to the court this week.

“It was a bit noisy when I was walking, and the guys were like, ‘What’s that noise?’ And I said, “This,” Garcia said, pointing to the beads in her hair.

What does a winner of 15 games do for four hours in the barber’s chair?

“Just watch Tik Tok during the process and it’s fine,” Garica said.

He ran into a little problem when he first added his extensions. His cap no longer suited him and he had to take one two sizes larger. He laughed as he remembered that conversation with the Houston equipment staff.

“Hey guys, I have more hair,” he said. “I need a new hat.”

Houston has had her share of showy hairstyles. Wide receiver Martín Maldonado dyed his pink this season at the request of his young daughter, then debuted a crimson tone for the ALDS opener. Pitcher Jose Urquidy and utility player Aledmys Díaz are among a handful of other Astros who have added blonde highlights.

It’s the kind of youthful exuberance that the sometimes-heavy sport has tried to encourage.

“It shows a lot of personality in the game,” Díaz said. “In the past, when I came to the league in 2016, people were more like old school baseball. You just showed up at the park and played the game.

“But right now, with social media and everything going on, players like to show their personality, and I think that’s great for the game.”

Maldonado, who helped Valdez and Garcia succeed on the mound, was thrilled with how they looked. He joked with Valdez that he was trying to be left-handed Luis Castillo shortly after showing his extensions. Castillo, a fellow Dominican who will leave opposite Valdez for Seattle on Thursday, has longer natural dreadlocks that he has been growing for years.

“So now it’s funny that they’re facing each other,” Maldonado said.

Díaz is very superstitious and thinks a new hairstyle can bring good luck. He got his hair cut weekly for a stretch in 2019 after he started hitting a home run every time he got a cut.

Not to mention Valdez’s pitching skills, but Díaz thinks his extensions might have something to do with his success this season.

“He was fine after that hair change,” Díaz said. “So hopefully he can make the playoffs.”

Valdez, who ranked second in the AL behind teammate Justin Verlander with a career-high 17 wins this season, scoffed at the idea that hair extensions bring him luck.

But he’s eager to build on his regular-season success when he leaves on Thursday — his fantasy playoff debut.

“I’m waiting for the playoffs to get here and be able to show what I’m capable of and show people that we can go to the World Series together as a team,” he said. “And I’m looking forward to continuing to show my talent.”

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