Alyson Footer

Emotional pregame unites, empowers Houston

Emotional pregame unites, empowers Houston

HOUSTON -- As soon as the skies cleared and the roads became passable, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner let the Astros know it was time to play ball -- in Houston.

With those words, the Astros quickly fell into line to make that happen. They opened the first doubleheader in Minute Maid Park history with a 12-8 victory on Saturday, a week after Hurricane Harvey stormed through the Texas coast and wreaked historical havoc on everything in its path.

"The Astros asked me whether or not we should play this weekend," Turner said. "I told them, 'We are not going to engage in a pity party.' We recognize we went through a major storm. But we can do more than one thing at a time. Quite frankly, after the week that we have gone through people need something to cheer for."

The coming weeks and months will be dedicated to healing and recovery. On Saturday, the Astros contributed their first step in the efforts, opening their doors to displaced families, and giving Houston, if nothing else, a much-needed distraction from what will be a burdensome, stressful time for thousands of residents of the Bayou City.

"I think it means a lot if it means the city can take its mind off a little bit of what's happening around here," Astros owner Jim Crane said. "Baseball doesn't really matter much when you have something going on like this, but I think it could unite the city and give us something to cheer for. You've seen this happen in the past. We hope to use that as a benefit to the team."

A unique pregame ceremony preceded Game 1 of the doubleheader. It began with the unfurling of the United States and Texas flags, carried by volunteers from the Astros foundation. Mayor Turner, so vocal in making sure the Astros returned after their brief dispatch to St. Petersburg, Fla., during the worst of the storms, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

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"This is a city where, regardless of our challenges, we play ball," Turner said. "We are a can-do city. A lot of the people who are here are people who are in our shelters. They need something to cheer for. A few years ago, people counted the Astros out. Now they are contenders for the World Series. A few days ago, the people counted the city of Houston out. Well, no better symbol than the Astros. That's why we are playing ball today. Let's play ball."

The Astros played a video tribute that focused on the efforts of everyone through Hurricane Harvey -- not only the heroic first responders who have been working around the clock rescuing residents of this ravaged city, but also the everyday citizens who jumped in -- literally, on boats -- to help those who needed it. Strangers helping strangers; neighbors helping neighbors.

There was also a moment of silence for those who lost their lives during the storm. A special mention was directed toward Houston Police Sergeant Steve Perez, who died in the flooding on his way to assist with rescue efforts.

Astros hold moment of silence

The ceremony concluded with words from Astros manager A.J. Hinch. He thanked everyone in the city of Houston "who is doing something good for somebody else," and he also thanked the Mets for granting the team this doubleheader, allowing the Astros to spend Friday on community outreach.

Hinch also lauded the Mets for their selfless volunteer work, for "being out in the community, doing things for a city that they rarely come to."

Hinch addresses crowd

The Astros donated 5,000 tickets for each game with the Mets this weekend to the Mayor's Office, distributed to city shelters, first responders and volunteers. And donations to relief funds have been pouring in, from Jim Crane's Astros ownership group, to dozens of Major League teams and fans who have contributed to the Astros fund, as well as to the food drive at Minute Maid Park organized by Astros wives and volunteers.

The Astros will wear a patch on their jerseys for the remainder of the season depicting the Astros logo and the word "strong."

"We will wear this patch the rest of the year to represent you," Hinch said to the crowd. "Stay strong. Be strong."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.