Astros fans love their team for some reasons that go beyond wins. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Strong became part of the World Series winning Astros team's mantra.
Streets turned into rivers in the Houston Imelda flooding. (@auryslife)
Jose Altuve brings real joy to the Houston Astros lineup. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Correa knows big swings. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros fans are back to packing Minute Maid Park. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros manager A.J. Hinch (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Jose Altuve is still the straw that stirs the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros owner Jim Crane, his wife Whitney and his son James Robert Crane II embrace the Minute Maid Park fun. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow with the World Series trophy. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Gerrit Cole went on a dominant roll for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Justin Verlander may be the smartest pitcher in baseball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Standing in the Astros Hall of Fame Alley, looking at the memorabilia of some of the stars his dad used to tell him about, Victor Takacs is enjoying one heck of a Friday night with his wife. Still, he thinks of all the people in the greater Houston area who have had anything but a good time of it lately.
“I felt bad for all those people stuck on the freeway,” Takacs says when the subject turns to flooding, as it always seems to in this city.
One day after another horrific storm flooded hundreds of homes, and made thousands of lives harder, the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park and drew 40,000 fans. It seems like this team and flooding are forever linked. Jose Altuve and Co. took the responsibility of doing what they could to lift Houston’s spirits seriously after Hurricane Harvey, practically volunteering for the job. And now that another historic storm (Imelda, downgraded almost as soon as it was named, is still somehow the seventh-wettest tropical cyclone in all of U.S. history) has dumped on Houston, they’re being looked to again.
“The Astros sort of bring everyone together,” Danielle Takacs, Victor’s wife, says.
It is another buzzing night at Minute Maid Park. Carlos Correa hits two home runs in only his second game back from the injured list. Altuve reaches the 30 home run mark for the first time in his Hall of Fame tracking career. The Astros pick up their 101st win, move two games ahead of the Yankees in the all-important loss column in the race for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
There are fireworks all around — including the traditional show after Friday home games. And there likely will be an inevitable American League West division clinch party today.
No one thinks that this will get the water (or the mold, or anything else) out of anyone’s flooded home. And let’s face it, the people worst hurt by this latest storm are not likely to be among the crowds at Minute Maid this weekend. But it’s still nice for everyone to have a distraction, something for Houstonians to rally around that doesn’t involve water levels or rescue boats.
One of the most enduring images of the Astros’ 2017 World Championship run is the picture of Houston fans watching the team on TV in a completely gutted shell of a flooded home. This is a franchise that understands its impact.
“We’re definitely thinking about that,” outfielder Jake Marisnick tells PaperCity after the game. “I don’t know how it was getting to the field, but a lot of fans still came out and supported us and that means a lot.”
Professional baseball players make a lot of money, but that does not mean they’re immune to the flooding. One of the longer tenured Astros in his sixth season, through ups, downs and everything in-between, Marisnick has become a Houstonian in many ways. He knows the deal.
“I know yesterday a lot of guys had to deal with a few things with the flooding,” Marisnick says of his teammates. “We’re dealing with it, the fans are dealing with it. Hopefully we can all rise up.”
In a world where the Bill Belichicks and Nick Sabans of the world seem to almost take pride in being completely ignorant of everything going on outside of their competitive bubble, Astros manager A.J. Hinch has fostered a clubhouse that acknowledges what is happening beyond its doors in a real human way.
That may not help you win championships — but it still means something.
The Astros are not just the clear No. 1 team in Houston at the moment because they’re only the sixth franchise in MLB history to win 100 games or more in three straight seasons. Oh, the winning is the ultimate lure. But the heart matters too.
A City Bond
Many Houstonians feel connected to these Astros in ways that go far beyond the raw numbers. This is why Bernardo Vazquez brings his family visiting from Mexico for the first time to an Astros game. It’s a Friday night in Houston? You go to an Astros game, no matter what happened the day before.
“I just wanted them to see this,” Vazquez says, standing in the concourse behind home plate, having wandered around during the game to show his visiting relatives different parts of the park. “All the sights and sounds of an Astros game.
“That’s a big part of Houston to me.”
The 35-year-old Vazquez traces his own Astros fandom back 26 years. When he shows off his city, the Astros have to be included.
To much of America, at least those who’ve never visited the nation’s fourth largest city, Houston is a seemingly endless series of images of flooded houses and cars being swept away. To guys like Victor Takacs, a teacher at St. Pius X High School, it’s nice to see it be known for something else, too.
For winning — and setting a new standard.
“I think the biggest thing now under (owner Jim) Crane and (GM Jeff) Luhnow is that you know that every year they have a chance,” Takacs says. “Winning a championship, especially a World Series, is really hard. But you know they have a real chance every year now.
“Even with the Killer B’s in the ’90s, they’d flame out in the first round of the playoffs, with Bagwell and Biggio hitting like .150 in the series, and you were never quite sure what was going on or if they could do it. But now you know. Every year they have a chance.”
In many ways, these 2019 Astros are a dream team, baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole’s version of Cy Young roulette growing into a national fascination, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa competing to be the new face of MLB for a decade to come and new phenom Yordan Alvarez defying home run physics.
But these Astros are still Houston’s team, too.
They’re the team of the city that keeps flooding, doing their little part to brighten a few days. As someone whose house completely flooded during the now largely forgotten Tax Day Floods of 2016 (for years my now 6-year-old daughter would seemingly randomly ask, “Remember the day it rained inside?”), I’m well aware that sports are no one’s cure. Flood victims — and there are hundreds if not thousands more in the region after Thursday, some who were leveled by Harvey and then cruelly leveled again — do not recover because the Astros win another game.
Or another division. Or even a second World Series.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t matter. “I’m just glad they’re about Houston,” Bernardo Vazquez says of his favorite team, the one he shows off to his visiting family, on a Friday night in the Bayou City.
Many parts of the Houston area are hurting. Again. Nothing that happens at Minute Maid this weekend — champagne showers included — will change that. Still, for many in this city, it’s still nice knowing there is a fun, festive place to go, where the screams are almost always about joy.
That’s a different type of home-field advantage — one that has little to do with win totals and who gets to host who.