Mandatory Credit: Photo by Maria Lysaker/UPI/Shutterstock (13457639ae) The Houston Astros mascot urges fans to cheer in the sixth inning against the Seattle Mariners during game one of an American League Division Series at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas on Tuesday, October 11, 2022. Alds Astros Mariners, Houston, Texas, United States – 11 Oct 2022
When things are at their worst, they are at their best. And the same could be said of the Astros.
As a baseball story alone, what Yordan Alvarez and the Houston Astros reignited this week was a testament to the indefinable something that this ever-remarkable team possesses. As a baseball story, Alvarez’ bottom-of-the-ninth blast Tuesday was unlikely, mythical, magical and exhilarating.
All hope seemed lost – and would have been for most teams. Mighty beloved titans named Justin Verlander and Jose Altuve had been dispatched. The odds seemed insurmountable. The opposing upstart Mariners were confident and grooving. And the only thing standing between the Astros and a devastating Game 1 division series loss were 60-feet, 6-inches of Brace Yourself For What Is About To Happen.
A fingers-crossed pall that settled over Minute Maid Park. There was the pitch. A swing. And then an unmistakable crack coursing through the air, as Houston collectively lost its freaking mind and a group hug among seven million friends and family ensued.
It was a baseball story that was rare in the game, yes. It was a hero stepping to the plate and etching his name into history. But if you think it was just a baseball story, you clearly don’t know the Katy Freeway from the Gulf Freeway, how to pronounce Kuykendahl or the First Ward from the Sixth Ward.
On this evening in this city, on this team, in this stadium, Yordan Alvarez did not just hit a home run. He struck a chord.
These Astros are Houston. And this city is the Astros.
In more ways than one and in ways that are eerily similar, one is the other. That’s the difference with these Houston Astros and most anywhere else.
This is a sleeves-rolled, no zoning-laws, just-watch city in every way. It always has been. Houston has been deluged with doubt, beaten down with controversy and devastated with natural and other disasters.
It has seen oil and energy crashes, been displaced by hurricanes, flooded to its neck, frozen stiff and had power grids fail for days and weeks. It’s been bigger than life, crippled, and rebuilt. It’s worked hard, lived hard and cried hard.
It’s had big personalities and big tumbles – from Enron, to housing scandals, Ponzi schemes, Anna Nicole-Smith gold-digging her way to headlines, an astronaut’s wife driving cross-country in a diaper and a cheerleader mom putting out a hit on the competition.
It’s a different kind of place, alright. But every time, Houston has said, just watch.
And then there are the Astros. The no-zoning laws of baseball teams.
When this city sees this team, it’s like looking dead into the mirrored glass among the skyscrapers that surround Minute Maid Park. There goes us.
It started in earnest in 2015 when a ragamuffin kind of team so beaten down by three consecutive 100-loss seasons suddenly began fighting back. Those Astros dared to be something no one expected, looking like few teams before them. That team featured a little ballplayer named Jose Altuve, some bold 20-somethings named Springer and Correa and an assortment of has-beens and never-weres.
There was a connection, but it wasn’t until 2017 when the city and the team began to meld into something that won’t be duplicated any time soon, if ever.
Hurricane Harvey flattened and affected millions of lives. Somehow, the show went on and miraculous moments began happening one after another. As the city dared to build back, the Astros grew up and played in the World Series.
Across Houston, some families listened on the radio because their TVs were flooded. Others watched on TVs plugged into bare sockets in rooms that were gutted to the studs because of flooding. They wore Astros gear and caps. Still others sat in motel rooms or among family in other cities as they tried to piece back together lives and deal with insurance adjusters and new schools.
The Astros won that Series. Everything changed.
Sure, other cities have formed bonds with this squad or that one. From the Pirates’ “We Are Family,” to the Angels’ “Rally Monkeys” to the old Miracle Mets and more recent Atlanta Braves Tomahawk Chops, sports always connects communities.
But what these Astros built was a relationship as impossible to explain as it is to break.
Then came the crash. That 2017 team found itself embroiled in a cheating scandal. The manager and general manager were fired. Outsiders pointed at the Astros, mocked them, doubted them. This bigger than life team crashed and was rebuilt, just like Houston. There was more Series heartbreak in 2019 and more in 2021. In the midst of it all, Houston experienced the most devastating freeze the city ever has seen. More families displaced, more furniture dumped onto curbs.
And so there were the Astros and Houston this week, together again. Things seemingly were at their worst, again. There were the Astros, of course showing their best because that’s what they do. That’s what Houston does.
“I asked (Alvarez) if he had a little bit of a sore back,” Astros catcher Martin Maldonado said. “And he said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Because you carry us as a team.’ But I would say probably 41,000 people, the fans, too. So he’s got a lot of weight on his back.”
This team and this series continues. There will be challenges and crashes and adversities to overcome, rest assured. In this series there will be, much less in a possible match against the powerful Yankees and dominant Los Angeles Dodgers down the road.
But this is Houston and these are the Astros. Work hard, play hard, cry hard. And then find a way. Just watch.