For the first time ever, the Houston Astros are World Series Champions. The New York Times wrote that people listened on radios, in gutted rooms without carpet, in motels where they’d been made refugees in their own city.
The sound of winning a World Series is rare but unmistakable. It’s not something you hear often. In fact, if you’re an Astros fan, you likely never heard it until Wednesday night.
There are baseball sounds that are more common. Cheering on your team, for example. And then there’s the sound you make when 56 years of baseball futility comes to an end and, for good measure, the spirit of a city still rebuilding from an unprecedented natural disaster is lifted.
“One more out… then lots of screaming.”
Those cheers came from hundreds of Astros fans in the HTX Fan Tavern. It’s a sports bar right across the street from Minute Maid Park – ground zero of Houston’s World Series victory celebration. If ever there were a moment when the whole city was united, it was right then, with all those people screaming in unison at the top of their lungs. But within that collective scream, there were individual voices with individual stories.
“Never thought I’d see it, never thought I’d see it,” says Jim Callam.
He’s been going to Astros games since before they were the Astros. When the team was established in 1962, they were the Colt 45s, which remained their nickname for three years. Callam wasn’t even a teenager during that first season. But he watched then, and he kept watching, through promising years, and through bitter disappointment.
“I’ve had so many hopes for so many Houston teams, and been so let down before, and it’s just like…remember you’re from Houston,” Callam says.
He means remember that, from a sports perspective, you’re part of city that – with few exceptions – has come close, but typically comes up short.
So when you’re once again close to that bitter taste of defeat, like the Astros were Wednesday night, it can feel a bi. “The first word that comes to mind is nauseating,” says Sarah Wolviss. She’s from the suburbs just north of Houston.
“Minute Maid Park was basically my second home,” Wolviss says. “My parents have been season ticketholders since ’04, when Roger Clemens came back to Houston. And like I said, I grew up here. The security guards knew me, the ushers knew me. My parents let me and my sister just run around the park.”
There’s a sense of home in that, a sense of normalcy. That’s the opposite of what many Houstonians experienced just a couple months ago when Hurricane Harvey hit. Now watching baseball might not seem like a remedy to restore order in the wake of a storm that killed dozens of Texans and caused over $180 billion in damage. But for some, to see the way the team played when its city suffered…
“It made you feel so good to be from Houston. It felt normal again,” Wolviss says.
And that, Houstonians say, is the real value of this championship. It’s always a big deal for a team to win a title for its city. Maybe it restores some former glory, maybe in some way it validates the town and its citizens in some deep-seated way.
But when I asked about what the Astros’ playoff run meant in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, this is what people told me:
“It gives life to the city, like we did this,” says Preston Budshefski. “We put the city on our back. That’s what the Astros are saying – ‘we’re going to put you on our back and we’re going to rebuild. We’re doing it, we’re doing it with a championship.’”
“It feels a lot better, feels a lot better. We were down low, but now we’re up high again,” says Patrick Gonzalez.
“Oh my gosh, we needed this for sure. Houston, we needed a win. Sports for sure, we love our sports in Houston so when we win, it affects the city. I mean look at this, it’s going mad. I love it, I love it,” says Jared Gibson.
I spoke to Gibson outside Minute Maid Park, just after the Astros had clinched the title. He was born and raised in Houston, but lives in Austin now. He busted his budget just to come watch the game in his home city. Around us, people were dancing, crying, yelling, honking car horns, high-fiving strangers, high-fiving policemen. And I noticed an orange streamer wrapped around Gibson’s neck. It had been fired off inside Minute Maid after the Astros won.
“It was raining streamers everywhere,” he says. “People were grabbing them off the ground, people were tearing them out of each others’ hands. It was great. A couple of people have come by and broke off a little themselves so they can have a little memorial So uh, I’m happy to give it to them. Everybody needs a memory of this, man.”
Not that they could forget it any time soon. But in a city whose citizens have shared so much tragedy lately, it only makes sense they’d share a little joy too.