The Houston Astros clinched their first World Series title in franchise history Wednesday night. The Dodgers never quite matched the Astros energy in Game 7, perhaps because they weren’t just facing a team that was playing for a championship. They faced a team carrying the hopes of a devastated city on its back.
“This is a dream come true. That ‘Houston’ on our chests means a lot. They have endured a lot,” said Astros center fielder George Springer, who was named World Series MVP, talking about his city and everything it has battled because of Hurricane Harvey. “We’re coming home a champion, Houston!”
The Astros, like the Red Sox in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing or the New Orleans Saints after Hurricane Katrina or the New York Yankees and Mets after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, played under the burden of terrible tragedy befalling their city, Houston. As Hurricane Harvey was devastating the area in late August, NFL star J.J. Watt did his part to lift the region, raising over $37 million and becoming the face of rebuilding. On and off the field, the Texans are offering little else to cheer for, though, with a 3-4 record and an ugly narrative surrounding their owner. The Astros, like the 2013 Red Sox and others, offer a bit of hope and distraction.
“That’s our city,” Watt had said in a video shared to social media as he watched helplessly from a hotel on the road as Harvey arrived. It probably was unintentional, but he echoed David Ortiz, and the precise moment, when the Red Sox won the World Series. Ortiz grabbed the microphone in the first game in Fenway Park after the marathon bombing and said, “This is our [expletive] city! Nobody’s gonna dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”
Ortiz later apologized, but the moment was bigger than the f-word slip. Bostonians appreciated its fiercely protective sentiment and even the FCC publicly declined to take action over the swear, which was broadcast live. Ortiz, the World Series MVP, flashed back to that after the Sox did what the NHL’s Bruins earlier in the year could not: win a Game 7. This time, he was just as emotional, although more discreet. Addressing the crowd, he smiled and teased, “Should I keep it clean?” He did.
“This is our bleeeeeeeeeep city!”
John Farrell, the team’s manager at the time, spoke afterward of a season that really wasn’t about wins and losses. “There’s, I think, a civil responsibility that we have wearing this uniform, particularly here in Boston,” Farrell said. “And it became a connection initially, the way our guys reached out to individuals or to hospital visits. And it continued to build throughout the course of the season. I think our fans, they got to a point where they appreciated the way we played the game, how they cared for one another. And in return they gave these guys an incredible amount of energy to thrive on in this ballpark.”
For the Saints and the New Orleans area after Katrina struck, the crowning moment was delayed. The team’s future in the city was in doubt, the Superdome was unusable for the 2005 season and many parts of the city needed to be rebuilt. But the team and many of its players stayed and their return to the Dome for a 2006 Monday night game was unforgettable. “I think it symbolized not only maybe the resurgence of our football team, but the resurgence of the city and the recovery and the rebirth,” quarterback Drew Brees said.
In February 2010, the payoff was a Super Bowl victory that carried more emotional freight than most. “A lot of fans would explain to us that this was their break from their reality,” former Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said in 2016. “So they wanted to go and get there early, tailgate, get away from whatever problems that they had going on.”
The New York Yankees and Mets offered the same kind of anchor for New Yorkers and the nation after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. “When we started playing, I didn’t see the sense of it,” Bernie Williams said. “We were playing games and resuming our season, and it seemed ridiculous to me.
“It started making sense when I saw the faces of people who had lost loved ones, people who needed something to take them away for a few minutes and see something else. We helped bring some sense of normalcy to the whole thing.”
Baseball was, former Yankees manager Joe Torre admitted, “the furthest thing from our minds, but then we realized how important it was.” The Yankees went on to play in the World Series that year, losing to the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 7.
The Mets, wearing New York City fire and police department hats, bore the emotional burden of being the first New York team to play a home game after the terrorist attacks. Players visited Ground Zero before the Sept. 21 game and the team honored first responders, with fans chanting, “U-S-A.” Mike Piazza delivered the eventual game-winning home run in the eighth. “We talked to about 1,000 people, and 90 percent knew of the game or how many games out we were,” Bobby Valentine, the Mets manager at the time, said. ” . . . I don’t know, win or lose, if we are symbols. That is a heavy load to carry on the field, but I think we’ve been an inspiration.”
The Astros carried a similar mantle for Houston into Game 7. And they’re coming home champions.
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