HOUSTON -- No matter where his travels with the Astros take him, left-handed pitcher Dallas Keuchel always makes time to check in with his mother. It's usually via text message, because what 26-year-old doesn't prefer texting over talking?
"I need my Dallas fix," said his mother, Teresa. "We joke a lot about how we text, because it's kind of different. It's just those things he writes. He writes, 'Yo mama, what's up?'"
Dallas confessed that his parents, including his father, Dennis, are new to the texting game, but nothing replaces hearing their voice while he's away from his hometown of Tulsa, Okla.
"I'll call them once or twice a week and just stay up to date and see how things are going, just to hear my mom's voice," he said.
Both of Keuchel's parents were instrumental in where he is today, a starting pitcher with the Astros. His father encouraged him throughout his athletic career, and when dad was at work, it was his mother who was in the yard throwing him balls.
"We would go outside and she would toss Wiffle balls to me and just play catch and she could see my love for the game, and she didn't want me inside of the house," Dallas said. "So she was like, 'If you want to hit some Wiffle balls, I'll throw them to you right now.' She did that until I pretty much went to high school, and after that I got too strong for her.
"She was a champ, and I'll be forever grateful for that."
Keuchel was a sports nut growing up in Oklahoma, and he played basketball, baseball and football year-round from kindergarten until his senior year of school. He was a standout quarterback and pitcher at Bishop Kelley High School in Tulsa before playing three years at the University of Arkansas.
"He never had a break," Teresa said. "What people don't realize is when you're dedicated, you're dedicated. And he was. He literally has given his all. The other kids would invite him to go skiing on spring break or whatever, but he was committed to sports."
And it was that way from an early age.
"He would wake up with a ball in his hand depending on the season," she said. "He was one of these kids that he slept and drank sports."
Like most kids growing up in the 1990s, Dallas also had a love of video games, which was OK with his mother. It allowed her to keep an eye on him at home.
"When your kid's playing games, they're not out getting into trouble," Teresa said.
But the Keuchels pushed Dallas to get his hands dirty as well, teaching him the value of hard work. He would cut grass in the summers to earn money for sneakers. Teresa said Dallas always had to have the latest sneakers on the market.
"His birthday is Jan. 1, so he would always ask for money for Christmas and his birthday to save up and buy those Jordan shoes or the ones he's had his eyes on," she said.
Teresa said Dallas grew up with a set of goals he wanted to reach in baseball, one of which was going to the College World Series. He did that with the Arkansas Razorbacks in 2009, about the time he was drafted in the seventh round by the Astros. He worked his way through the Minor Leagues before getting called up on June 17, 2012.
That's a day his family won't forget.
"I had a double ear infection," said Teresa, who works as a cardiovascular scheduler at a hospital in Tulsa. "I was off work Thursday and Friday and had been to the doctor. He got called up Saturday morning, and we had a phone call. Dennis says, 'It's from the Astros. I bet he's getting called up today.' [Dallas] said, 'Is Mom around?' and Dad said, 'Yeah,' and he said, 'Go on speakerphone.' I couldn't hear a thing. I said, 'What? What did he say?' ... Anyway, it was, 'Oh my gosh!'"
Dallas' parents and his older sister, Krista, made the short drive from Tulsa to Arlington to watch the lefty make his Major League debut against the Rangers.
"I cried the first three innings," Teresa said. "I just sat there and cried. I was like, 'Oh my gosh.' I was so proud to see my kid out there. My daughter and I were both holding hands, crying."
Dallas has fond memories of that day, along with his first win in the big leagues, which came with a complete-game victory over the Indians in Houston on June 23, 2012, in his second start.
"They were up in the stands," he said of his parents. "Just special moments like that, I'll always cherish. Every day in the big leagues is special to me, and special to them. It's never a given. They know how hard you worked."
The Keuchels still try to get to as many games in Houston as they can to watch Dallas pitch. But when the family is apart, Dallas' thoughts are still with his mother.
"She's the greatest mom in the world, and she deserves nothing but the best," he said.