Dodger Stadium is quiet now, the only sound coming from a tractor raking the infield clay in an endless loop. In just a few hours, the attention of the whole country and much of the world will be focused on this hot, very hot cauldron, which sits atop a bluff overlooking downtown Los Angeles on the edge of the continent. For this plot of earth, a few moments without self-consciousness are all that remain, just as we ourselves have only a few moments left to reflect on how very far the boys from H-Town have come. Theirs is a tale of three Hs, really—Houston, Hollywood and, last but definitely not least, Harvey. None of these has been far from the Astros’ minds over the past few days. Indeed, somewhere in the City of Angels, they are doubtless thinking about those Hs at this very moment.
Yesterday afternoon, for exactly 45 minutes and not one minute longer, the Astros met the media. The Astros have never stopped meeting the media, of course, but this was a frenzy of a new order, a bizarre combination of the Oscars and speed-dating. Each player had his own cocktail table, his own name emblazoned on a curtain behind him, and stood ready and willing to answer questions both serious and inane (“Justin, how would you describe Jose Altuve in three words?”). It was all marvelous, nutty, and to a man the Astros handled it with customary and exceptional grace. The team’s formula of funny-yet-serious, modest-yet-confident, cocky but soulful was never more potent—and they were never not themselves. Which is something of an achievement amid all this L.A. lunacy.
What they wanted the journalists to know, especially the Houston journalists, it seemed, was how very much they hoped they could bring us a World Series championship, how they would indeed do everything they could. They hoped, they said, that their winning might help our city recover, just as that winning has helped it in the past, and they were not wrong. And then, moments later, those same players would turn silly, giddy and awestruck.
“I still can’t believe we’re here,” said the usually reserved Marwin Gonzalez. “Not because I doubted we could do it but because it’s a dream, a dream I had since a little kid to be here in this moment.” As everyone knows, Gonzalez is also a new father, his son Blake having been born mere minutes after a recent playoff game. How’s life as a father-of-three, we wondered. “It’s like living with the bases loaded,” he replied without a moment’s hesitation.
The longer you talk with the Astros these days, come to think of it, the more they sound like lots of other Houstonians. They’re determined, they’re indomitable, and they love a good laugh. Is that why we’re so proud that they’re playing for us?
The Dodgers are playing for their city too, of course, and more than once we have heard it said that there would be a “nobility” in bringing the championship back to their own long-suffering city. There is nothing noble in the Astros’ approach. Their project is too urgent to be handled with nobility.
Exhibit A: During a brief chat with Alex Bregman, we tell him how much we enjoyed his recent Yahoo! Sports piece about how different a game-winning home run actually feels from how he imagined it in childhood. How does this, the World Series, compare with how he imagined it?
“If we go 4-0 and kick some ass, then it’ll be just how I thought it would be,” he said with a laugh.
Always light, always deadly serious.
“Just because things have gotten better doesn’t mean they have gotten better, if that makes any sense,” said George Springer of post-hurricane Houston. “There’s thousands of people that don’t have anything, that lost everything that they’ve worked for, everything that they’ve earned.….As an athlete, I’m not a first responder, I’m not an EMT, but I can go out and play as hard as I possibly can, and try to provide people with a momentary break from the reality of the situation at hand.”
He stabs a finger into the table to emphasize again how crucial Astros fans are to the efforts of him and his teammates. “The enthusiasm, the passion, the energy in [Minute Maid Park] these last months has really been indescribable. That’s a testament to the people. And for them to come out and watch us play when they’re facing a greater reality than I could ever imagine is…” His voice trails off and shakes his head. “It’s been very humbling.” And with that, he sits back in his chair: “And am I missing them here? Yeah. Ohhh yeah.”
Before the 45 minutes ends, there’s just time for one more interview, with Evan Gattis, whose Horatio Alger-esque personal story has played in an endless loop among the media here. “I think the hurricane kind of shook everybody up,” he said with a knowing smile. “Sometimes in baseball you get trapped in a kind of Groundhog Day, and it’s like the outside world doesn’t exist…. You’re only worrying about the next pitcher you’re facing. And then this happens, and we all kind of take a step back and realize that real lives are getting changed—for the worst, for the most part.
“A baseball team doesn’t make a hurricane go away but it can make them forget one for a while. That’s why we’re here, to help them forget.” That, and to hopefully bring home a World Series championship. “It’s incredible,” said Gattis. “I’m just happy to be here and trying to enjoy the ride.”