September holds a lot of potential for the Houston Astros. They have the best record in baseballâ€™s American League and hopes of quickly clinching their division title.
But as the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park in this flood-ravaged city Saturday, Manager A.J. Hinch admitted in that talking about sport feels embarrassing after having spent time with the victims left in the wake of Tropical Storm Harvey.
â€œThat stuff almost feels silly to talk about when youâ€™re sitting there across the table from a guy whoâ€™s trying to find socks for his kids,â€� Hinch said. â€œReal life will always exceed sports. But sports has a responsibility to reconnect the community at times like this and hopefully provide something back.â€�
The Astros on Saturday played against the New York Mets, their 1st appearance home since the deluge. Baseball, fans and players said, was a welcome respite.
The Astros returned to their ballpark at the urging of Mayor Sylvester Turner, who asserted the teamâ€™s presence would â€œprovide a much-needed boost for our city.â€� The- team has pledged $4 million to hurricane relief efforts and offered thousands of free tickets to Harvey victims, 1st responders and volunteers.
Players had been in limbo this week. The- Astros were playing against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim last weekend as Harvey bore down on the Gulf Coast. Unable to return to Houston after Harvey hit, they traveled to Dallas to await word on where they would play their agreed to be scheduled homestand against the Texas Rangers. Major League Baseball relocated the series to Tampa Bay, Fla.
On Friday, players visited the George R. Brown Convention Center, where thousands of Harvey evacuees are staying, less than half a mile from the ballpark. Seeing so many kids, players said, was tough.
Saturday had some of the jitters of a season opener. Players asserted they owed it to the city to win.
Relief pitcher Tyler Clippard, who was traded to the Astros from the Chicago White Sox just two weeks ago, asserted their role was to be â€œentertainers for the day.â€�
â€œIt’s aggressive from the sense in that we know what the city is going through right now and how meaningless a baseball game is at this point in time,â€� Clippard said. â€œBut at the same time, we accomplish in that if we can give the city a little bit of a distraction for a while from whatâ€™s going on…and give them a little outlet to kind of forget about the struggles in that theyâ€™re going through, then itâ€™s worth it.â€�
At each one entrance to the park, volunteers collected donations â€” cans of soup and ravioli, baby formula, cleaning supplies, bug spray to ward off Houstonâ€™s ever-present mosquitoes.
Volunteers asserted they just felt as if they needed to do something to lend a hand, especially if they had not suffered any damage.
â€œWe are the auspicious ones. We have a home to go back to,â€� asserted Marilyn Flores, a Houston resident who was accepting donations at the entrance near home plate.
In this city, it seems, everyone who was unscathed uses one of two words: auspicious or blessed. And they share a collective guilt.
â€œWe feel really bad, really guilty,â€� asserted Anne Marie Rogers of nearby Tomball, as she and her husband dropped off bags of canned food before heading in to the ballpark. â€œYou look around and see other peopleâ€™s stuff on the road, everything they owned, and you feel dreadful in that nothing happened to you.â€�
In the ballpark, one phrase was ubiquitous â€” Houston Strong. Players wore it on patches on their jerseys. It was on handmade signs. It glowed from the Jumbotron above right field.
Before the Astros took the field, the song â€œThe Boys Are Back in Townâ€� blared over the loudspeakers. Mayor Sylvester threw out the ceremonial 1st pitch, and there was a moment of silence for the dead and hurting. First responders stood along the 1st base line during the national anthem.
â€œStay strong. Be strong,â€� Hinch told the crowd.
Steven Crenshaw, a 43-year-old firefighter with the Woodlands Fire Department, had spent a week aiding flood victims. But on Saturday, he was at the ballpark, with his five children.
When he wasnâ€™t working, he was at his church with his family, volunteering. His 12-year-old son, Isaiah, had spent the previous day ripping damaged wallboard from neighborsâ€™ houses. Crenshaw was thrilled to be watching baseball with his family, whose home survived the storm.
â€œI kind of connect all these things. Itâ€™s Americaâ€™s game, and right now Americaâ€™s eyes are on us as a city,” he said.
In a bizarre quirk, the Astros in their 1st game of the day faced the Metsâ€™ starting pitcher Matt Harvey. â€œIâ€™m sort of weirded out by stuff like that,â€� Hinch asserted of the coincidence.
â€œWeâ€™re going to beat Hurricane Harvey,â€� he asserted before the game. â€œWeâ€™d like to beat Matt Harvey, too.â€�
And thatâ€™s what the Astros did, winning the 1st game of a doubleheader, 12-8. They won the 2nd game too, 4-1.
8:50 p.m.: This article was updated to report the Astros won the 2nd game of the doubleheader.
This article was originally published at 6:50 p.m.