On Sunday, August 13, the country was still transfixed by the murder, a few days prior, of a counterdemonstrator at a white nationalist march in Charlottesville, and the political firestorm that erupted following it. President Trump’s first remarks about the incident, in which he blamed “both sides” for the violence in Virginia, were variously denounced for “placating white supremacists” by the New York Times editorial board, or praised for holding accountable “alt-left antifa thugs,” as one alt-right activist put it.
In other words, August 13, not unlike most days last summer, seemed to exist only to tell a story of hostility and discord. On that very same day, though, off the west coast of Africa, a new narrative was struggling to be born, one which wobbled around the Cape Verde Islands and for a time seemed destined to take a northerly path. In the days to come, the tropical disturbance would drift westward and the story would acquire a name, Harvey, although its precise meaning would not be known until many days afterward.
Meanwhile, the Astros had been in the midst of their longest losing streak of the season when, on August 13, they prevailed during an afternoon contest against the Rangers in Arlington. However, other than the victory—and the fact that Dallas Keuchel pitched six-plus solid innings, winning his first game since returning from the disabled list—game 117 was fairly unremarkable. Its meaning, too, would not be discernible for some time.
Over the next dozen or so days, even as the stories that would come to define Houston’s year had barely begun, the nation remained gripped by tales of destruction and divisiveness. “When will this dreary news year end?” asked the Huffington Post, even as a terrorist drove a van into a crowd in Barcelona, killing more than a dozen people; even as, during a speech, the president drove a wedge between the American public and the press, declaring the latter an enemy of the people; even as a man in St. Louis drove his car into a crowd holding a candlelight vigil for a transgender woman who’d been killed by police. And as Harvey made its way across the Atlantic, growing from a disturbance into a Category 4 hurricane during its 4,000-mile journey to the doorstep of Texas, the mood of the country grew angrier, gloomier and more apprehensive by the day.
The mood in the Astros clubhouse on August 25, just as the storm first made landfall, was also gloomy and apprehensive. For one thing, the team had just suffered a heartbreaking 11th-inning loss at home to the Washington Nationals the night before, its tenth loss in the past 16 games. For another, the Astros were about to embark on a road trip, which meant that the players’ and coaches’ family members would be forced to face Harvey alone. “It’s pretty terrifying to think of what’s possible for our city,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch told the AP during the team’s series that weekend against the Los Angeles Angels, noting that every TV in the clubhouse was tuned to the Weather Channel. “Our families are there, our friends are there, our fans are there.”
What happened to Houston once Harvey made its way up the coast was beyond terrifying. Precious lives were lost, property was lost, an entire town submerged. The scenes witnessed were shocking, horrible, unimaginable, scenes that will live on in the city’s mind forever. And taken together, they at first told only a single story, and an awful one at that. It seemed that Harvey would forever be remembered as one more tale of terror and death and woe, one more dreary interval in a dreary news year.
As it happens, that was neither the only, nor the most important, story to spin from the storm. Even as the heartbreaks were ongoing and the losses still piling up, a counter-narrative began to emerge—that of a city deftly, desperately mobilizing to save itself. In an instant, millions looked into the eyes of strangers and saw only themselves, sparking a relief effort that astounded the world. On every street, ragtag armies formed as Houstonians of every shape and size came together. Accidental soldiers all, they had little in common save the desire to rescue, protect, recover and restore, but that little bit in common was all it took. That little bit saved an entire city.
The story of that city—a place where, in the blink of an eye, Houstonians of 145 different languages and cultures assembled into the strongest of teams—was a moving and beautiful one, and it resonated deeply with the Astros, who after all are something of a complex cultural stew themselves. Following a painful period of exile during which they played home games in Florida, fretted about loved ones from afar, and wondered if they should even play baseball at all, the team came back to Houston just days after the storm, offering to do whatever it was the city most needed. Soon enough it became clear that what the city most needed was a moving, beautiful ending to the Astros’ own story, so that’s what the city got. Upon returning home, the Astros won 21 of the season’s remaining 29 games, they won the American League Division Series, they won the American League Championship Series, they won the World Series.
And so it was that on a glorious November day in the center of town, a crowd of 750,000 came to scream with joy for a few dozen baseball players committed to screaming back at the crowd with equal joy. In that instant, it was impossible to tell who had drawn more strength from whom, which needed the other more, whose achievement was more unlikely, which tale the most compelling. Indeed, the two stories were now so intertwined, it was impossible to speak of them separately. Later, they would be remembered as a single tale with a single message, one of hope and perseverance that inspired all who heard it, and one which no Houstonian would ever forget.