Passing through downtown Houston’s Minute Maid Park on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening, an unsuspecting tourist might have believed the Houston Astros were playing a World Series baseball game at home.
For four hours and 19 minutes, thousands with orange and navy-blue towels, jerseys and “10-gallon” hats — emblematic Astros swag — cheered, groaned, and cheered again as Houston battled for 11-innings in Game 2 of a best-of-seven game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Texas team was, in fact, playing at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California, some 2,500 kilometers (1,554 miles) northwest of Houston. But along the lower seating section behind third base, thousands of fans gathered for a watch party under their familiar stadium’s fluorescent lights and a 16.5-meter (54 feet) high by 38-meter (125 feet) wide jumbotron video screen called El Grande.
Fans of both franchises have waited long for this moment. The six-time world championship Dodgers haven’t won a World Series title since 1988, but don’t tell a Houstonian it’s Los Angeles’ turn to end a drought. Astros fans, who endured a 4-0 sweep during their only previous World Series appearance in 2005, feel the city has waited long enough. And with Hurricane Harvey’s devastation still fresh on everyone’s minds, emotions run even higher.
“Being in the World Series after all these years, it gives the people hope and more drive,” said New York-native Astros fan Norman Rucker.
“They need to be able to cheer for something and just be happy about something,” added Houstonian Raymond Cook.
A welcome distraction
If only a momentary distraction, diehard Astros fans feel a championship victory would lift the city’s spirits, just two months since floods from Hurricane Harvey affected Greater Houston’s roughly 6.5 million residents.
But as the series, tied at one game apiece, shifts to Houston over the weekend for Games 3, 4, and 5, not every fan feels their heart is fully into it this time.
“There’s a lot of hurt taking place,” said Jaime Garcia, lead pastor at Bethel Baptist Church.
“There’s a lot of people that are not even able to be part of [the celebration] ... because they’re not able to get back into their homes. Or if they are in their homes, they’re not in a position to even watch the game, because they don’t even have a TV.”
Residents of low-lying areas who were hardest hit continue to struggle to remove mold from their walls and find suitable shelter, a reality that has made the Astros’ ambitions a bittersweet experience for many.
Garcia, who leads Harvey donation and volunteer efforts in the city’s poorest areas, hopes a Houston victory might translate to greater transparency of the problems that persist.
“I hope the Houstonians can see, as we’re in the World Series — and I believe we’ll win the World Series — that that will translate into, ‘You know what, we’ve got a championship, now let’s go and be a champion for the people,’“ Garcia said.
Good luck charm
Home game prices for a World Series seat in Houston’s 42,000-capacity Minute Maid Stadium run more than $700 apiece, an unaffordable dream for most. But when the team is away, Houston fans relish the opportunity to enter the stadium for free. Lifelong Houstonian Brenda Davis, who lost nearly everything she owned to Hurricane Harvey, is one of them.
“I just keep thinking of all my belongings on the side of the road, just gone,” Davis said. “But as I’m going through my closet, I found my Astros finger and my Astros hat, and I said, I gotta take that with me, wherever I go, I’ve gotta take it with me.’”
For Davis, the hat and finger she proudly wears in attendance amount to a good luck charm.
“God is good,” Davis said. “We’ve had to relocate, and we’re rebuilding, but the Astros are gonna win!” she exclaims, laughing, “and it will be OK.”