HOUSTON (Reuters) – The Houston Astros return to their home baseball field on Saturday for the first time since Hurricane Harvey devastated the city, providing a diversion after a week of unprecedented rain and deadly flooding.
Sports have helped other cities rebound from catastrophe, such as when the New York Mets played the first baseball game in their damaged city 10 days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, or when the New Orleans Saints returned to the Superdome in 2006 for football a year after Hurricane Katrina.
Those games provided memorable drama credited with lifting spirits, such as Mike Piazza’s eighth-inning home run to lead the Mets to victory and a blocked punt by the Saints that led to a touchdown early in the first quarter.
The Astros were traveling when Harvey made landfall on Aug. 25 and dumped 50 inches (125 cm) of rain on the flat, low-lying region over four days, creating floods that have killed some 50 people and displaced 1 million.
Rather than return to Minute Maid Park as scheduled three days later, the team moved three “home” games to St. Petersburg, Florida, to relieve the burden on police and fire departments.
The Astros then took another day off on Friday, when many players visited evacuees at a shelter, and the team scheduled two games on Saturday against the Mets for 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. Central Time (1800 GMT and 0100 GMT Sunday). They play again on Sunday before returning to the road.
Already holding the best record in the American League, the Astros added a marquee name to the roster on Thursday by acquiring Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander, creating more buzz ahead of the team’s return.
“I know there are a lot of people suffering out there, so we want Saturday and Sunday to be something that can bring joy to people’s hearts here in the Houston area,” Reid Ryan, the team president of business operations, told reporters.
The Astros had planned to give away 10,000 replica jerseys of all-star shortstop Carlos Correa as a promotion to fans but instead donated them to the shelter, Ryan said.
Players’ wives will collect food donations from fans, and the team is promoting fund-raising efforts for victims, Ryan said.
Another leading Houston sports figure, J.J. Watt of the National Football League’s Texans, said he has raised more than $15 million online after he had originally set a goal of $200,000.
Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Mary Milliken