By Andrew Kahn
Houston is ready for the Astros and the Astros are very much ready for Houston. The team will play at their home stadium, in a doubleheader Saturday against the Mets, for the first time since Hurricane Harvey made landfall. Even a pair of dramatic walk-off victories won’t undo the storm’s damage. But the games can certainly give the healing process a jolt.
We’ve seen it before. The Marlins canceled their game the day of Jose Fernandez’s death last September but somehow played the next night, beat the Mets in an overwhelmingly emotional game in Miami. The Red Sox embodied “Boston Strong” in 2013 after the marathon bombings, playing a series in Cleveland before returning to Fenway and winning in dramatic fashion. In 2001, playing in the first pro sporting event in New York since the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Mets took the field with police and fire department hats and beat the Braves with a late home run.
Those goosebump- and tear-inducing moments were positives for the residents. That is not to say they are identical to each other or the current situation in Houston. Playing a baseball game arguably helps send a message to terrorists. There is no target after a player’s tragic death or Mother Nature’s wrath (though it is fitting that Matt Harvey will pitch against the Astros in the first game on Saturday, giving Astros fans extra reason to boo him).
Astros players and coaches have been in St. Petersburg, Florida, in the Rays’ stadium, playing a “home” game against the Texas Rangers and talking about how they’ve been distracted. Now it’s time for them to be the distraction, in a positive way.
The Astros have all but locked up a first-place finish for the first time since 2001. They’ve given their city and fans loads of excitement this season. Harvey’s devastation shouldn’t put additional pressure on the team; it just adds to their importance. The last few days, the players and coaches have wanted to aid the relief effort, not play baseball games 800 miles away. This weekend they’ll get their chance to help in the best way they can, by taking the field in front of their home crowd and boosting morale.
Houston’s mayor thinks the games “will provide a much-needed boost for our city.” The Astros president hopes they will be a “welcome distraction.” Sports have that power. Other forms of entertainment—movies, music, etc.—can’t match the personal investment or unpredictability of sports. New Orleans Saints fans had to wait 13 long months after Hurricane Katrina before their team returned home in 2006, but listening to what they had to say about that game sheds light on sports’ impact.
As Astros manager A.J. Hinch told ESPN on Wednesday: “You never know what home means to you until you’re not allowed to go home.” Saturday, he’ll get a sense of what his team means to their home.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local. He writes about baseball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at andrewjkahn@