They’re a baseball team in a football-mad state. In their 55 seasons they have never won a championship. Just four years ago, they were the worst team in the majors.
But hey, no problem. The Houston Astros are going to the World Series.
Oddsmakers make them underdogs against the deep and tradition-rich Los Angeles Dodgers, who had the best record in baseball this year. But the ‘Stros, whose city is still recovering after Hurricane Harvey deluged southeast Texas with epic flooding less than two months ago, may be the sentimental favorite.
“If you understand what we went through with Harvey, to be able to give back to the fans — it’s incredible,” said former Astro Craig Biggio, now a special assistant to the team’s general manager, after his team’s dramatic Game 7 victory Saturday night over the New York Yankees.
“The people here needed this.”
The Astros’ postseason run has been a welcome diversion for residents of Houston, where Harvey’s floodwaters damaged about 100,000 homes. Thousands of Texans have been unable to return to their ruined houses and are still living with relatives or in motels, where they load up at free breakfast buffets to stretch their dwindling savings.
Those lucky enough to own two-story homes have retreated upstairs, eating microwaved meals in makeshift kitchens, while their ground floors are renovated.
Some streets and vacant lots still contain piles of debris from mucked-out buildings. And more than 834,800 people in Texas have registered for FEMA assistance.
The storm affected the Astros, too. Although their ballpark, Minute Maid Park, survived Harvey largely unscathed, the team was forced to play three “home” games in St. Petersburg, Florida, in late August as floodwaters crippled parts of the city.
After they returned to Houston, many Astros players spent a rare day off at a downtown convention center, meeting with Harvey evacuees. And at every game since they have worn a “Houston Strong” patch on their uniforms — a nod to the slogan the city adopted after the storm.
On social media, many Astros fans have rallied around the #HoustonStrong hashtag and credit the team’s success with lifting their spirits.
“After the devastation that Hurricane Harvey had brought Houston the Astros brought light & hope BACK …” wrote one suburban Houston woman on Twitter.
The team has no shortage of civic heroes, from pint-sized powerhouse Jose Altuve — at 5 feet 6 inches, he’s the majors’ shortest player — to ace pitcher Justin Verlander, who arrived via a trade from the Detroit Tigers a week after Hurricane Harvey hit. Earlier this month Verlander announced a fund, launched with $100,000 of his own money, to provide financial assistance to veterans and military families impacted by the hurricane.
In the wake of Harvey’s destruction, the Astros may also join other World Series teams that drew national sympathy after tragedy struck their cities. Fans everywhere also rallied around the 2001 Yankees after 9/11 (they lost) and the 2013 Boston Red Sox after the Boston Marathon bombing (they won).
Beating the Dodgers in the World Series, which starts Tuesday in Los Angeles, won’t be easy. The Dodgers have home-field advantage, a loaded lineup and arguably the game’s best pitcher in Clayton Kershaw.
The franchise hasn’t won a World Series since 1988, and its fans are starved for a ring.
But fans in H-Town are hungry, too. And some will tell you that after seeing their lives upended by a hurricane that dumped a record 51 inches of rain on their city, they deserve a title.
“Everywhere I go, the people who have been affected by this storm, they come up and say thank you. Folks really see themselves as a part of this club,” Reid Ryan, the Astros’ president of business operations, told Rolling Stone last month. “It really would be great if we could somehow catch magic in a bottle and win this thing for them.
“In a way we’ve become — to use a wrestling term — the people’s champ,” he added. “We’re the team that I think folks around the country are rooting for because of what we’ve been through.”