Team en­livens city in need,

Rally for Houston drives run to the World Se­ries crown

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - NEWS - A.J. Perez

“The town got be­hind us, and the play­ers wanted to do some­thing for the city.” Jim Crane Astros owner

LOS AN­GE­LES — Just mo­ments af­ter he grabbed the World Se­ries MVP tro­phy, cel­e­brat­ing the Astros’ first cham­pi­onship, Ge­orge Springer ref­er­enced the patch on his jer­sey, with his fran­chise’s iconic star and “H” at the cen­ter.

Houston Strong be­came a ral­ly­ing cry and, many in south­west Texas hope, a des­tiny.

“I’m so happy to be a part of it, to bring a cham­pi­onship back to a city that des­per­ately needed one,” Springer said.

This was a World Se­ries tri­umph like few oth­ers, where nar­ra­tive met real­ity and the Astros man­aged to do what they stated, but per­haps never fully be­lieved them­selves: Win a cham­pi­onship for a re­gion dev­as­tated by Hurricane Harvey.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner cred­ited the Astros for giv­ing “thou­sands of peo­ple hav­ing to re­build, re­pair their homes” a much-needed dis­trac­tion and sense of pride.

Win­ning the World Se­ries wasn’t ev­ery­thing — the city still faces a long re­cov­ery — but it was big.

“For the city of Houston, this was per­sonal,” Turner said at a Nov. 2 news con­fer­ence in Houston. “It has been per­sonal. This was a ‘ We’ mo­ment for the city of Houston. This World Se­ries — this cham­pi­onship by the Astros — has brought this city to­gether like never be­fore. Ev­ery­one was root­ing for a sin­gu­lar pur­pose and that was for the Astros to win.”

The Cat­e­gory 4 hurricane brought winds in ex­cess of 130 mph, dumped tril­lions of gal­lons of rain, led to 82 deaths in the re­gion and caused dam­age es­ti­mated at nearly $200 bil­lion. The Astros, along with do­nat­ing $4 mil­lion to hurricane re­lief ef­forts, seized onto the “Houston Strong” mes­sage, sim­i­lar to what the Red Sox adopted fol­low­ing the Bos­ton Marathon bomb­ing en route to win­ning the World Se­ries in 2013.

“The town got be­hind us, and the play­ers wanted to do some­thing for the city,” Astros owner Jim Crane told USA TO­DAY Sports as the cel­e­bra­tion con­tin­ued on the field af­ter Game 7. “Those things are hard to mea­sure and hard to talk about, but a lot of times they hap­pen like that. They did in Bos­ton. I’m just proud of our guys, play­ing un­der pres­sure.

“The cause is al­ways big. It gives you an added punch. So that was maybe the lit­tle push we needed to get us over. I’m proud of our guys and I’m happy for the city. We hadn’t won in 56 years.”

The Astros were on the road when the hurricane made land­fall in Au­gust. Harvey forced them to stay there, as the Astros played a three-game se­ries in St. Peters­burg, Fla. be­fore re­turn­ing to Minute Maid Park in Sept. 2, eight days af­ter Harvey struck.

A gag­gle of play­ers, in­clud­ing likely Amer­i­can League MVP Jose Al­tuve, spent the day be­fore their first game back at the Ge­orge R. Brown Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, just a half-mile from Minute Maid Park, to aid in re­lief ef­forts and visit evac­uees. Game 7 start­ing pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. vis­ited a county an­i­mal shel­ter.

“I feel like I owe Houston some­thing,” Al­tuve, who do­nated $30,000 to re­lief ef­forts, told re­porters that day, “(af­ter) all they have done for me. Now it’s my time to show up and help peo­ple.”

Turner pro­claimed the Astros’ re­turn to their home park as “an op­por­tu­nity for fam­i­lies to start re­turn­ing to some as­pect of nor­mal life.”

Ex­actly two months later, Minute Maid Park roared, with an es­ti­mated 17,000 fans cheer­ing on the Astros at a watch party.

And af­ter they van­quished the Dodgers in Los An­ge­les, Astros past and present were caught up in the mo­ment.

“This means so much to our city,” Astros great Craig Big­gio said. “There’s still so much dev­as­ta­tion in the city. There are still peo­ple try­ing to get back into their homes. For these guys to be able to con­tinue to play like they did in that dif­fi­cult time, and for the fan base to rally around our boys, is pretty amaz­ing.

“From the or­ga­ni­za­tion stand­point, the fan stand­point, and some­one who lives in the state of Texas, this is a pretty big deal.”

As the Astros stood on a podium with their shiny new tro­phy, short­stop Car­los Cor­rea draped him­self in the flag of Puerto Rico, a re­minder that his home ter­ri­tory re­mains devas- tated af­ter Hurricane Maria, which struck Sept. 20. Cor­rea did not hear from rel­a­tives for sev­eral days af­ter.

Crane and Astros veteran Car­los Bel­tran col­lab­o­rated to do­nate $4 mil­lion and send a plane with 250,000 pounds of sup­plies to Puerto Rico.

Back in Texas, thou­sands of lives re­main in flux, even for those with the means to at­tend the fi­nal two games of the World Se­ries at Dodger Sta­dium.

Bobby Thomas, a real es­tate agent from Houston, who is fight­ing to re­build his house dev­as­tated by nearly 2 feet of wa­ter from the hurricane, at­tended Games 6 and 7. The wa­ter flooded his house and de­stroyed his two cars.

Thomas, his wife and chil­dren have been stay­ing with his in-laws in the months since.

“I had flood in­surance, so I got lucky,” said Thomas, who like hun­dreds of Astros fans hung out be­hind the vis­it­ing dugout be­fore se­cu­rity cleared them out more than an hour af­ter fi­nal out.

“It will take us an­other seven or eight months — maybe a year — to re­build.”

Ken Beck­e­meyer and his son, Chad, also made trip from the Houston area for Game 6 along with the the pricey de­ci­sion to re­turn to Dodger Sta­dium for Game 7.

“The Houston Strong thing is re­ally a good thing,” said Beck­e­meyer, whose daugh­ter re­cently re­turned to her house that suf­fered flood dam­age. “That city came to­gether and we helped each other out. It was un­be­liev­able.

“Ev­ery­one was say­ing it was go­ing to take years to re­build, but we are about 60% there. We are go­ing to get it done.”


Astros short­stop Car­los Cor­rea looks on from the dugout wear­ing a Hous­ton Strong patch be­fore a game against the Mets at Minute Maid Park.

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