Carlos Correa has enjoyed reunion with ex-teammates Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman

The lack of action this week against his former teammates has been a disappointment for Twins shortstop Carlos Correa. The reunion with them has not.

On Monday, Correa aggressively tried to rehab his bruised right finger in an attempt to return to the lineup for a much-anticipated debut against the Houston Astros, his only other team before he joined the Twins in late March on a three-year, $105.3 million deal. But with little progress being made at the time and the Twins in need of a healthy player, Correa was placed on the injured list.

While his injury certainly dulled the occasion, it also afforded Correa and his beloved ex-teammates more time to spend together catching up. Even though he says he’s moved on from the Astros, his home of seven seasons, Correa intends to never bail on a group of people with whom he’s experienced it all.

“Our friendship will never be left behind. But I’m not part of the organization anymore. You’ve got to learn how to move on,” Correa said. “But the relationships you build, they’re way more important than the game itself. The game is going to pass you by, but those relationships are going to stay. So it’s very important to me to keep the relationship with them.”

It should come as no surprise to Astros fans that the first player to reunite with Correa was rehabbing pitcher Lance McCullers, who was selected 40 picks after the shortstop in the supplemental first round of the 2012 amateur draft. Shortly after they were drafted, McCullers encountered Correa in the lobby of the team hotel in Kissimmee, Fla. McCullers offered Correa a ride to the team’s complex and the two have been friends ever since.

With a day off Monday, McCullers and his family flew ahead to join Correa and his family.

“I haven’t been as close to anyone as I probably have been with Carlos,” McCullers said. “I never really thought we would be playing in different uniforms, I guess. I was hopeful that wouldn’t be the case. But I tell him all the time, we’ve still got some years on the back end that we’ll try to get back together in the same uni. He’s just someone that was a teammate and became a friend and became basically family.”

In between rehabbing his finger, Correa has spent ample time with the Astros during the series. On Tuesday, he stood behind home plate in the early afternoon and spoke to Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman at length. On Wednesday, Correa spent time with catcher Martín Maldonado and bench coach Joe Espada.

When asked Sunday if he still kept tabs on Houston, Correa replied with a sarcastic “What do you think?”

“I follow the game, follow the box score, watch them whenever I’m at home and they’re playing,” Correa said. “I want them to do good, except when they play us. I want us to win. … Altuve I’ve been playing with my entire career, Lance I’ve been playing with my entire career, Bregman, Yuli (Gurriel). (Kyle) Tucker I saw his debut, been playing with him ever since he made the debut. All these guys, we’ve grown in the organization. Maldonado is a really good friend of mine. So yeah, they’re family to me.”

Correa’s wide-ranging experiences with his Houston teammates have only cemented their relationships. The team was only one year into its three-season tanking program when he was selected first overall in 2012.He joined an upstart club on June 8, 2015, and helped the surprising Astros come within a win of reaching the American League Championship Series.

After missing the playoffs in 2016, Houston soared to 101 wins in 2017 and eventually brought the franchise its lone World Series title, topping the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games. Two years later, the Astros reached the World Series again, losing in seven games to the Washington Nationals. A month later, it was revealed the club had been embroiled in the most famous sign-stealing scandal in major-league history, which has led to two seasons of trash can jokes and hearty boos for every player involved at ballparks across baseball. Those experiences helped deepen the bond between teammates who banded together to find more success in the wake of the scandal, reaching the World Series again in 2021.

“It’s definitely weird seeing him in a different uniform,” Bregman said. “But I’m extremely happy about the impact he has on his baseball teams. He’s a leader, such an amazing baseball player and a great teammate. I feel like his presence is a winning presence. (The Twins) got off to a great start. I definitely expect every team he plays on to be a winning team.

“He knows how to motivate. He knows how to get the best out of his teammates. I think that’s why he’s such a great leader for any team that he’s on.”

The Twins definitely would have liked to have Correa available to face Houston. After news broke he was headed to the IL, Correa said he was bummed but called it “a smart decision” because he needed more time to recover.

Same as Correa, Bregman made it clear he’s been watching his former teammate. In the eight games before he got hurt, Correa was 14-for-34 with three doubles, a home run and eight RBIs.

“You never want to see anybody get hurt,” Bregman said. “He was just getting hot and it was fun to watch him swing the bat and play D. He’s going to have an amazing season this year.”

Former teammates suspected Correa’s leadership would translate easily to the Twins. He’s been with the club less than two months and already has made believers in the clubhouse. Whether it’s doing pushups with infielders when they make an error during infield practice, pumping up Byron Buxton or passing along new ideas, Correa has endeared himself to his new teammates.

“I’m a huge fan of analytics so I wouldn’t want to come off like I’m not,” McCullers said. “What analytics has brought to our game has helped so many guys be recognized, it’s helped a lot of guys become the players they always knew they could be, including myself. But when everything is so numbers-driven, you lose a little bit of clubhouse presence and being a leader. When Carlos got over there, I knew it wouldn’t be long. He’s a born leader and has the track record to back it up. … His genuine interest in seeing other people succeed is rare.”

His interest is so uncommon that Correa spent part of Tuesday’s media session praising his replacement with the Astros, shortstop Jeremy Peña. Knowing his departure from the organization could be coming, last year Correa counseled Peña, who’s off to a strong start in 2022.

“From the moment I saw him, I saw the talent in him,” Correa said. “Last year, in spring training, I invited him to take some groundballs with me, and while we were taking groundballs, I told him, ‘Hey, look at how we work here. Look at how we take care of business, because next year, this might be you playing this position.’ He gave me a nod. He said, ‘Thank you.’ And then when we finished, when we lost in the World Series, I pulled him aside and I told him, ‘Hey, Peña, next year, this most likely will be your team. You’ll be playing shortstop for this team. It can happen. So go out there in the offseason, prepare yourself like you’re going to play shortstop for this team. Make sure you’re ready to go.’”

No matter where he winds up, Correa knows the bond he formed with his ex-teammates is rare. He’s confident it will extend long beyond the end of their playing careers. And that’s why he couldn’t wait to spend the week with everyone.

“We built a family-type of culture in the clubhouse and that will last forever,” Correa said. “It doesn’t matter what team we play for during our careers, we will always be brothers.”

(Photo of Carlos Correa: Tommy Gilligan / USA Today)

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