At its best, sports can serve as an embraceable diversion from disasters large and small. But with Tropical Storm Harvey pounding flood-ravaged Houston with a fourth straight day of rain on Monday, and showing no signs of relenting, the wounded city was prepared neither physically nor emotionally to resume the playing of games anytime soon. The Astros, Texans and Cougars, among others, were left to make alternate arrangements.
The Astros, scheduled to open a six-game homestand at downtown Houston’s Minute Maid Park on Tuesday against the rival Texas Rangers, instead will go back on the road, with the three games against Texas shifted across the Gulf of Mexico to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., the home of the Tampa Bay Rays. While MLB has yet to make a final call on the Astros’ three-game series against the New York Mets this weekend, those games, too, are likely to be moved to St. Petersburg, according to a source familiar with those discussions.
The Astros, currently in first place by 13 ½ games in the American League West and holding the league’s best record, had wrapped up a road series Sunday with a victory in Anaheim over the Angels and — with Houston largely inaccessible and under emergency evacuation orders — had been standing by in Dallas awaiting word of their next game.
“The safety of our fans, players and staff remain our main priority,” said Astros President Reid Ryan in a statement. “We are extremely grateful to the Tampa Bay Rays organization for allowing us to use their facility. We’ll make a decision on this weekend’s series vs. the Mets in the upcoming days as we continue to monitor the conditions.”
Because they had been home before heading to Anaheim last Thursday night, the Astros’ players had packed for a three-game road trip, but because of Harvey, will now be away from home for at least 19 games, not returning home until Sept. 14. The shifting of the Astros’ home games to a neutral site is reminiscent of Hurricane Ike in 2008, which forced MLB to move two Astros home games against the Chicago Cubs to Milwaukee’s Miller Park.
“Baseball is secondary right now,” Astros Manager A.J. Hinch told reporters on Sunday. “Our schedule, our flight times, where we’re going to be, the buses — all that stuff is meaningless compared to what everybody is suffering through.”
Harvey made landfall near Houston on Friday as a Category 4 hurricane and has been dumping record amounts of rain on the area since, leading to catastrophic flooding and at least eight deaths as of Monday afternoon. More rainfall is expected throughout the week.
The Texans have also been hunkered down in Dallas since the weekend, and on Monday, announced that the preseason finale against the Cowboys, scheduled for Thursday night in Houston, has been moved to Dallas. The game now is to be played at 8 p.m. Eastern on Thursday at AT&T Stadium, the Cowboys’ home in Arlington, Tex.
The Texans have been practicing this week at the Cowboys’ facility in Frisco, Tex. Players have spoken about their concerns about their family members in Houston dealing with the historic flooding.
“It’s like a punch in the gut,” cornerback Johnathan Joseph said, according to the Houston Chronicle. “You want to be back there for your city, your family, of course your kids. They’re obviously young, so they don’t really understand exactly what’s going on so you try to explain to them. Talk to them as much as you can and keep them at ease.”
It is not clear when the Texans will return to Houston. Their regular season opener is scheduled to be played at home Sept. 10 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Texans and their owner, Robert McNair, donated $1 million to the United Way’s disaster relief efforts. That contribution was matched by the NFL Foundation, the league announced. Texans standout J.J. Watt raised $500,000 online within 24 hours, beating his original goal of $200,000, and increased his fundraising target to $1 million.
“I think that the most important thing right now is the family and friends and the city of Houston back home,” Watt told reporters Monday. “Making sure they’re safe, making sure they’re taken care of. And if there is something played this week, I think we should definitely involve some sort of fundraiser, some sort of way to benefit the people back home. Because … this is a much bigger issue than just a football game.”
The Houston area’s college football teams were also displaced by Harvey, with the Houston Cougars temporarily headquartered at the University of Texas in Austin — where former Cougars coach Tom Herman now presides — as they prepare for their opener, Sept. 2 at Texas-San Antonio.
The Rice University team spent the past week in Sydney, where the Owls lost to Stanford, 62-7, and had made their way on Monday to Fort Worth, where they will set up shop at TCU’s facilities in preparation for their next game, Sept. 9.
The biggest collegiate game scheduled for this weekend in Houston was the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff between LSU and BYU on Saturday at NRG Stadium, but that game, too, will now be played elsewhere. ESPN, which owns the rights to the game, announced Monday that it will be played Saturday night at the Superdome in New Orleans.
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