Along with the other 53,656 people, I held my breath as Nolan Ryan tossed his final first pitch in the Astrodome on April 1, 1993. None of us, save the umpire, could tell if it was a strike or a ball. At age 11, I was overwhelmed with the sound of disposable cameras shuttering and the sight of thousands of flashes going off at the same time. My father fixated on Nolan through the lenses of his binoculars that he occasionally lent my grandfather who was wearing a sharp suit as though he was sure to meet Babe Ruth after the game… or didn’t care at all, but knew the moment was meaningful, which was likely the case. Nonetheless, I sat there with the generations that preceded me unaware the Houston Astros would win their first World Series nearly two and a half decades later.
Many of us have memories such as this regarding the old ball club. Sports anchored moments in time. And baseball, with its superstitions and overthinking, doesn’t discriminate as leaves change color and the sport itself reaches out, grabs an innocent bystander by the arm to ask, “Hey! Do you like drama?” And if it was up to us, we would answer, “No!” But in 2017, it wasn’t up to us.
In the summer of 1995, the Houston Rockets brought the city it’s first sports franchise championship victory. We were crowned “Clutch City” in the papers and television, overcoming 7 games against the New York Knicks and OJ Simpson’s driving academy. The following year, the Rockets swept the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals. Houston wasn’t just a one time champ. We backed it up and won again. But those glory days in the middle of the 90’s felt like… “sports.”
Last night, the Houston Astros won a game, a big game, a championship game; and those Astros did so in the name of Houston. Not much more than 60 days ago, Houston battled to stay alive against a much more difficult opponent: Hurricane Harvey. It wasn’t a game at all. It was war and war is hell. Some were lost, some lost everything, and we all hurt together.
This victory in sports may seem trivial to you right now. It may seem like a fickle outlet for joy; silly or innocuous. For many of us, however, it was the kind of victory that brought us together. Every home run was the thousands of people in boats rescuing each other from rising waters. Every strikeout was the 3 seconds it took to put on plastic gloves before you served food to the ten of thousands of us displaced by Harvey. Bregman, Fisher and Altuve sliding across home plate wasn’t simply three grown men making a mess of the batter’s box… that was Keri Henry, Adam Brackman, Jonathan Beitler, Mark Austin, Claudia Solis, and so, so, so many others using social media and their resources to help a city that was drowning. That wasn’t just a double play to end the inning; it was a stranger you met from Michigan that had come down to help work in a kitchen for two weeks. It was your neighbor coming over to help you rip out the drywall. It was you walking across the street to help your neighbor toss detritus into the trash. All of it, everything “sportsy” about the last month or so, was the result of Houston holding itself together in a dark time.
Yeah, Carlos Correa hit a ball with a stick. But it feels so much bigger than that. It feels so much more meaningful now. You were standing at the plate. You hit the ball. You crushed it into centerfield. And this is the surreal reward that you didn’t want, but completely deserve.
In the absence of Hurricane Harvey, the Houston Astros winning the World Series last night would still be fun and exciting. But our world isn’t so straightforward. It’s complicated. We’re recovering. We’re putting our lives back together. And for two weeks we got to watch those players personify our efforts and our hopes. And we won. We made history.
Winning the World Series does not mean we’ve recovered; it just means we’re doing it right. The parade on Friday is not a self-indulgent victory lap, it’s a multi-million person high five. Lean into it, Houston. This is a big, beautiful moment; a fantastic interruption of tragedy.
Prior to last night, my favorite Houston sports moment was walking through the Astrodome with my father and grandfather, searching for our seats to watch Nolan Ryan pitch his final game in the 8th Wonder of the World. And maybe it still is. Maybe that’s still my dearest sports moment. Because last night wasn’t “sports.” Last night was Houston.
Congratulations to the Houston Astros. And thank you. Thank you for making all of us feel like we won for the first time in a long time. I love HOU. I love HOU all.