Shortly before 11PM central time, Houston Astros’ second baseman Jose Altuve fielded a grounder by Dodgers’ shortstop Corey Seager. One crisp toss to first, and that was it: the Houston Astros are your 2017 World Series champions. As the players rushed the field to celebrate, the city of Houston erupted. From the 17,000 fans watching in Minute Maid park, to fans drinking around the corner in East Downtown, to those all the way in nearby Sugarland, Katy and Spring, the Houston area was overjoyed.
Tears and beers were spilled in equal numbers, as the city won its first Big Three championship since the mid-90s Rockets teams that won back-to-back titles and earned Houston the moniker of Clutch City. Emotions that were already running on high after the final out went into overdrive when homegrown superstar Carlos Correa proposed to his girlfriend on live TV; anyone holding back on crying let the waterworks flood out after that.
Texas Street was a party outside of the Juice Box, and bars in the Heights and down Westheimer were at capacity with happy revelers. The local news channels were all running interviews with incomprehensible but overjoyed Astros fans across town. Katy-based Academy Sports and Outdoors was the first to have championship gear in the Houston area, keeping their stores open all night to serve the fans that were lined up by the hundreds across the metro area. For one night, Houston was the only champion in the sports world.
It’s been quite the journey for the Astros. Before the NBA’s misunderstood genius, Sam Hinkie, left the Rockets for the Philadelphia 76ers and inspired the phrase “Trust the Process,” rebuilding was well underway for the Astros. When Jeff Luhnow took over as general manager in 2011, he immediately made moves to get young players with potential, building up an impressive group of prospects. Despite several 100-loss seasons in a row, it was clear to anyone watching that the team was building a strong core. Players like Altuve, Correa, Dallas Keuchel, and World Series MVP George Springer were among the players brought in to help Houston end its title drought. The now infamous 2014 Sports Illustrated cover naming the Astros 2017 World Series champions turned out to be less a feature and more of a prophecy.
Looming over the win and the arduous rebuild of the Astros is the city of Houston itself, which is currently going through its own rebuilding process. Many residents in and around the city are still living out of hotel rooms or federal housing, after their homes were destroyed by Hurricane Harvey this summer. Since the hurricane tore through the region, the city–ravaged by rains and flooding– adopted a phrase used before by recovering municipalities: Houston Strong. The motto was a tribute to the city and its citizens’ resilience in the face of disaster. The strength from the community saved thousands of lives, and it’s not over yet: Houston residents continue to help each other through volunteer efforts and fund-raising campaigns.
After the win and champagne showers, many of the players celebrating in Los Angeles were asked about Houston’s recovery after Harvey; the Astros have worn a Houston Strong patch on their jerseys since August. Many of the players expressed their love for the city that they now call home, and their desire to win the World Series for Houston and its diverse citizens.
These kinds of platitudes are all too familiar in sports, but for once, they truly felt sincere coming from this group. Part of that is due to the very real circumstance facing the Astros’ Puerto Rican players, like Correa and veteran Carlos Beltran. While their adopted hometown was recovering from Harvey, their homeland was getting hit by the devastating force of Hurricane Maria. For them, and their teammates, this was about more than a ring; it was about community.
Correa told ESPN as much on Wednesday night, as Houston fans celebrated the title: “obviously a lot of stuff is going on over there, but we’re able to bring a little bit of joy and happiness through baseball to the fans in Puerto Rico, and that really means a lot to us.”
The road wasn’t easy for the other Latino players on the Astros, either. Rightfully maligned after his actions in game 3, Yuli Gurriel had to defect from his home country of Cuba to get to the majors at all; he first played in Japan before making it to the Astros. Unofficial team leader–and likely AL MVP–José Altuve carries the weight of his home country of Venezuela, currently dealing with political and economic strife; cameras caught the “pequeño gigante” and his countryman Marwin González waving the flag of their country after the game, alongside Correa, who had the Puerto Rican flag draped over his shoulders.
After what was surely a very late night in Los Angeles, the Astros are headed back to Houston. On Friday, the streets of Texas’ largest and most multi-cultural city will be united as one, a sea of orange-clad fans lining the streets to greet their team and the Commissioners Trophy’s first visit to the state. At the heart of the celebrations, alongside Springer’s home runs, Altuve’s manic energy, and Correa’s romantic glow will be two words that have taken on a new meaning since the dark days of summer: Houston Strong.