"It's been one of those things where a lot of unexpected things have happened."
That's how Astros starter Lucas Harrell describes his first full season in the big leagues.
"From Spring Training, when I didn't know if I was going to make the team, to having a little bit of success ... just growing as a pitcher, as a teammate and as a player throughout the year," Harrell said.
One thing Harrell didn't suspect when starting the season was that he'd be leading Houston in wins with 10.
"Oh, no," Harrell said. "My goal when I started the season wasn't about how many wins or losses I get, but it was all about giving the team a chance to win every day and [trying] to keep the game close. To be able to get as many wins as I have, I feel very fortunate."
Although the Astros are out of playoff contention for this year, Harrell likes the looks of his team going into the future.
"I feel good about it," Harrell said. "We've got a lot of young players who are ready to prove themselves at this level, and they're working hard and getting better every day. All together as a group, we're fighting for each other, we're getting to know each other."
Part of that future will include Houston's move to the American League West at the start of the 2013 season, which is a challenge Harrell will embrace.
"I played in the American League before with the White Sox," Harrell said. "I am excited in a way. In another way, playing in the National League is fun. I get to play in St. Louis, which is close to home [Springfield, Mo.] for me. It'll be a new challenge, and it will be something we'll be ready to take on next year."
In the meantime, the Astros are focused on finishing out the 2012 season.
"I think the rest of the season, you set a couple of team goals," the 27-year-old said. "[Such as], 'Let's try to win as many games as possible so we have a good feeling going into next year.' We've struggled a little bit this year, but if we finish strong, maybe that'll carry over to next year."
And with a contract expiring this offseason, Harrell is about as loyal as they come.
"I'd like to be here as long as they'll have me. I like the organization, [and] it's only going to get better as each year goes," Harrell said. "It's a rebuilding process, but I think next year we're going to surprise a lot of people and we'll be a lot better. I love the organization; the opportunity that they've given me has been a blessing to me, so I'd definitely love to stay."
But regardless of what happens with his contract, Harrell is content to just soak it all in. He's long been a baseball fan, having grown up watching George Brett, Chipper Jones and Nolan Ryan.
"My dad was a big baseball fan," Harrell said. "Actually, when I was little, he had a sporting goods store and he had baseball cards around all the time. And he played Strat-O-Matic [the baseball board game]. Once in a while, I'll whip [the game] out and play it awhile. My favorite card was a George Brett card. Once he faded out, I went on to Chipper Jones. It's cool being able to see the players that I grew up liking."
Let the record show that by Harrell's own admission, the one time he faced Chipper Jones, he allowed a base hit and a walk to the Braves great.
But still, facing Chipper Jones is facing Chipper Jones.
"It was a neat experience because I grew up watching him play," Harrell said. "He was the guy I tried to be like."
Who knows, maybe 20 years from now, Harrell will be the guy who budding stars want to be like.
Megan Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest who earned the job of youth correspondent in 2011, is a reporter for MLB.com.