Team enlivens city in need,
Rally for Houston drives run to the World Series crown
“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.