HOUSTON (Reuters) – The Houston Astros returned to their home baseball field on Saturday for the first time since Hurricane Harvey dumped deadly floodwaters on the city, providing a welcome diversion for those fans fortunate enough to have escaped the devastation.
The team honored emergency responders before and during the games and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner threw out the ceremonial first pitch as the Astros swept the New York Mets in a double-header, 12-8 and 4-1.
Saturday’s games came a week after one of the most costly storms ever in the United States swept through Texas, killing at least 47 people and displacing more than a million.
The Astros were on the road when Harvey made landfall on Aug. 25 and played in California and Florida before coming home, a distance that outfielder George Springer said weighed on the team.
Springer’s second-inning home run in the first game gave the Astros a 6-0 lead and he tapped his fist to his chest as he scored in what he called a gesture to flood victims, saying, “I want so badly to do well for these people.”
“This is a thing that’s been on my mind since it started,” Springer said. “It’s very hard to go out there and play a game and not think about everybody out there that’s trapped, everybody here that’s trying their best to help somebody that they don’t know.”
Sports have helped other cities rebound from catastrophe, such as when the 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.
With a sparse crowd on hand for the start of the first game at Minute Maid Park, Saturday’s event appeared to lack the same level of drama as those other post-disaster games. The team announced 30,319 tickets sold for a game originally scheduled for Friday, a change that forced some ticket-holders to miss it.
The Astros reported 34,904 tickets sold for the second game.
Fans also said many of their fellow Houstonians were too busy recovering from the storm to attend.
“A lot of people from our school are still evacuated. They haven’t even been able to come home and rebuild and clean up,” said Miriam Janda, 48, who attended with her husband and son.
Still, many fans supported bringing the games back as soon as possible.
“People need a break from 24-hour news and the flooding,” said Tim Spalding, 47, a credit union loan officer who was with his son and nephew. “We had to get the kids out of the house. They’ve been cooped up, unable to go to school.”
Matt Corbett, 34, a hedge fund analyst who became a minor Twitter sensation with his informative posts during the storm, said he spent the morning before the game volunteering to help with flood-damaged homes.
“Even if people didn’t get flooded, they know someone that did,” Corbett said.
The Astros, who have the best record in the American League, have played a role in helping the city recover, pledging at least $4 million through their foundation. On Friday players visited evacuees housed at the George R. Brown Convention Center.
Astros Manager A.J. Hinch said he hoped his players would remain involved with the recovery for months.
“I don’t want it out of their minds,” Hinch told reporters before the game. “I want them to think about it.”
Astros pitcher Collin McHugh said he expected the disaster to help galvanize the team.
“We’re playing for something bigger,” McHugh said. “We’re playing for our city.”
Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Mary Milliken and Bill Trott