What the Astros World Series title means to me

Two weeks ago today, the Houston Astros won the World Series.

14 days ago, I tried my best to process that my team, my hometown team, was the last one standing. For the first time ever, the Astros and their fanbase were not included in the 29 that spent the winter unhappy.

Two weeks later, I’m still not sure it has completely sunk in. I still get chills every single time I see, I think, I write these magical words: “Houston Astros: 2017 World Series Champions.”

I don’t remember the first time I ever went to the Astrodome—my family went to Houston Oilers and University of Houston football games frequently. The Astros snuck into our rotation infrequently, but we were a football-first family.

Growing up, the modest three bedroom house in Northwest Houston that my parents still live in today was packed to the brim. My parents, my uncle and aunt, my grandparents, and sometimes even my great uncle and aunt all lived under the same roof. I don’t remember much about those days, but I remember falling in love with sports. It just felt like everyone seemed to get along when a game was on TV.

The first Astros game I remember attending in the Astrodome was with my mom and one of my best friends at the time, Stephen Marks. Jeff Bagwell homered to center field, and we marveled at being able to hit a ball that far. For the rest of my childhood, I spent hours on end crouching like Bagwell, trying to figure out how to hit like him. The closest I got was smashing tennis balls over my house with a yellow foam bat.

When I started to play organized baseball, I found myself modeling a different Killer B: Craig Biggio. I wanted to wear number seven. I wanted to play every position but somehow kept ending up at second base. More than anything, I just wanted to make contact at the plate.

At every stage of my life, there was an Astro to root for. There was pitcher Jose Lima and his trademark rally cap when I was in elementary school and trying to adjust to real school, showing me that standing out wasn’t the worst thing in the world. There was Roger Clemens powering through the playoffs exuding confidence during my awkward middle school years. There was Hunter Pence when I was in high school with his unorthodox swing and endless fountain of energy leading the way and paving his own path in life like I was trying to do in a new school. And in college, there was Lance Berkman, winning a World Series with the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, the first professional sports team I ever worked with, and demonstrating the power of persistence and hard work and where it could take you.

I remember hating the Atlanta Braves growing up because Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Kevin Millwood always bested the 90’s Astros. I remember watching in awe as Carlos Beltran cranked homer after homer in the 2004 postseason. I remember the infamous tombstone cover of the Houston Chronicle, when the 2005 Astros were 15-30 and struggling mightily. I remember leaving a demoralizing Texans loss and getting in the car as Brad Ausmus homered to tie Game 5 of the NLDS against the Braves and rushing home for no reason, because nobody would score again until Chris Burke’s walk-off in the 18th inning. I remember the feeling of moral victory at the prospect of reaching the 2005 World Series, even though the Astros were swept handily by the Chicago White Sox.

What I didn’t realize was just how good I had it as an Astros fan growing up in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Dark times were ahead.

Losing wears on you, and the Astros lost a lot. This Astros fan was lucky to spend the 2010-13 MLB seasons in St. Louis watching a winning team go to three NLCS and two World Series, but I never lost track of the Astros. I live-streamed the unveiling of the Astros new color scheme, picked up Jose Altuve on my fantasy baseball team, and religiously read every scouting report on Carlos Correa. 800 miles away, I still knew every player on the roster of some terrible Astros teams.

The 2015 Astros surprised me; I was excited to get back home to Houston, buy dirt cheap tickets and move closer to the action, but the Astros’ winning ways foiled that plan. Not that I was complaining of course. George Springer, Correa and Altuve injected energy into a slumbering fanbase and brought playoff baseball back to Houston. That year, my friend Emma worked at the Houston Food Bank and would often text us with free tickets to games that she couldn’t give away. We ended up with tickets to Mike Fiers’ no hitter, a Jason Castro walk-off homer, and a few Dallas Keuchel gems during his Cy Young season.

Game 4 of the ALDS against the Kansas City Royals fell on Columbus Day, which I got off at work. My friend Julia and I got cheap tickets the day of the game since the first pitch was in the afternoon and raced over in time for the start of the third inning. After Correa and Colby Rasmus hit back-to-back homers to give the Astros a 6-2 lead going into the 8th inning, happy tears were trickling down my cheeks. Those happy tears turned into sad ones by the end, as the Royals stormed back to force a Game 5 and would eventually go on to win the World Series.

That single game brought back the worst kinds of memories. Albert Pujols’ moon shot off Brad Lidge. Jim Edmonds’ ridiculous diving catch in center field. Geoff Blum and Scott Podsednik during the World Series. Houston’s tortured fanbase had yet another horror to add to its list in my lifetime.

2016 did nothing to help. Literally nothing. But it set the stage for a year I’ll never forget.

I travel a decent amount for business and pleasure, and every time I leave Houston, I’m asked nonstop about how the city is doing since Hurricane Harvey.

For many Houstonians, Harvey is a partition in our memory—there’s a before and an after.

Before the storm, I’ll remember Springer leading off the season with a home run to left field. I’ll remember another Springer Dinger two games later that was a walk-off winner in extra innings over the Mariners. Marwin Gonzalez announcing his arrival as a hitter with a huge grand slam against the Rangers. Jake Marisnick gunning a runner at the plate to end a game at Yankee Stadium. Alex Bregman hitting a grand slam and pointing to the number 2 on his jersey on Derek Jeter day. The offensive explosion in Minnesota.

After the storm, I’ll never forget the smell of flood, the anxiety of not knowing what was happening to your house or your friends, the inability to move from the wall outlet where your phone was charging just in case the power went out or you missed an update, the sight of giant mounds of drywall and personal belongings lining the city streets once the water receded, and the feeling of hopelessness and despair that gripped the city of Houston.

More than anything else though, I’ll never forget the Astros pulling us all up and out.

I have relatives and friends who still have not moved back into their homes. Some haven’t even hired contractors yet to rebuild. Some schools didn’t resume until late September. Some business won’t reopen. One and all, the Astros pulled Houston together.

It began with the first game back in Houston. My friend Kelsey and I resolved to go to the game against the Mets, no matter what. That first game of the doubleheader represented a normalcy that was so far away that it was tough to remember. AJ Hinch grabbed the microphone pregame and gave a speech thanking Houston for its strength and letting us all know exactly what the Astros were playing for. The enduring visual of that first game for me was George Springer crushing a homer to left and pounding the Houston Strong patch above his heart as he touched home plate.

From that point on, it was a series of highs. There’s the Justin Verlander trade. The train of high-fives around Minute Maid Park after clinching the AL West. Jose Altuve hitting three home runs in Game 1 of the ALDS. Alex Bregman tying Game 4 with a shot over the monster in Fenway and roaring like a madman in the dugout. Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran providing the extra cushion, and Ken Giles closing out that first postseason series in the rain.

There was Dallas Keuchel mastering the Yankees in front of a raucous crowd at Minute Maid Park. Jose Altuve scampering around the bases to give the ‘Stros a 2-0 lead. The Justin Verlander game. Lance McCullers and his string of curveballs.

And then came the greatest World Series of my life. I’ve seen some remarkable sporting events in person, from the David Freese game in the 2011 World Series to the 2016 NCAA college basketball national championship buzzer beater. This World Series took the cake.

Kick things off with Marwin going yard off Kenley Jansen in the top of the ninth to force extra innings in Game 2. Then Altuve and Correa hitting back-to-back homers in the same game. And then Springer mashing the game-winner the inning after that. Chasing Yu Darvish after just five outs in Game 3. Literally everything about Game 5. And the last batted ball hitting Yuli Gurriel’s glove to close out Game 7.

I sat on my couch for the entirety of Game 7. This series made me lose all sense of faith. I honestly don’t know if I can trust again. The tears began as soon as the game ended.

My favorite memory of the 2017 season came as soon as it ended. It was 11:30 p.m., and my friends and I decided that we needed to go out and celebrate with the rest of the city. It didn’t take long to find the party.

The cars driving down the street were honking. The buses rumbling were honking. The garbage truck was honking. Every patio or pedestrian we passed greeted us with a “WHOOOOOOO!!!!!” I gave out more hugs and high-fives than I could count. I’ll never forget that night.

What does the Astros’ World Series title mean to me? It means spending hundreds of dollars on t-shirts and commemorative baseballs and a cheeky magazine cover from 2014. It meant meeting up downtown with over a million of my best friends to celebrate a team like none other. It meant having a reason to smile, when reasons to smile have been tough to come by in recent months.

This championship was redemption for the Killer B’s, for Bagwell and Biggio and Berkman, for Clemens and Pettitte, for poor Brad Lidge. It was vindication for the perseverance of and deserved faith in general manager Jeff Luhnow. But more than anything, the 2017 World Series title was the perfect corollary for the city of Houston.

Houston is a city of do-ers, of no-nonsense action teamers. When faced with biblical flooding, Houston came together and rallied around each other. We took in our neighbors, donated blood and clothes, and volunteered thousands of hours. We collected school supplies for damaged schools, we took turns reading our favorite books online, and we fed the hungry. Houston made it through because we are strong.

These Astros were the best representation of the city of Houston that we could possibly have asked for. They fought until the end of each game. They played with heart and passion and energy. They embraced their community and neighbors and stepped up when their fans needed them.

I’m proud of this team.

Houston Astros: 2017 World Series Champions.