Astros’ return may lift spirits in wake of tragedy

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But what we are going to do on Saturday is also important. People in this city need a reason to stand and cheer and go completely wild a time or two. We need this badly. We need to gather as a community and reassure one another in the wake of a storm that took so much.

What it did not take was our pride and sense of community. Neighbors reached out to neighbors. Strangers to strangers. We were reminded that we may not be as divided as a nation as some would have us believe.

How could anyone think otherwise after seeing cops from New York, truckers from Oklahoma and carpenters from Louisiana pour into the area with boats and food and equipment asking, “What do you need?”

Merchants have turned their businesses into shelters, restaurants have opened their doors to rescue workers and folks have showed up from all over to prepare meals, make beds and at times do nothing more than listen.

The Astros were reluctant to play these home games so soon after Hurricane Harvey for fear of interfering with the city’s cleanup. They have been good citizens in all of this.

Even as they worried about their families, friends and homes, they’ve used their good names to raise money and to encourage rescue workers. Astros manager A.J. Hinch has been a powerful voice of reason and, more importantly, perspective.

Again and again, he struck a perfect tone in focusing on the real world of victims and rescue workers and the like. Against that backdrop, his baseball team knew its place.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told the Astros on Wednesday that what they do is still important, and that he thought it was a great idea to have them return this weekend and give us something resoundingly positive to rally around.

Jose Altuve and George Springer and the others just might hear cheers like they’ve never heard before. Sometimes the best way to understand something’s importance is to have it taken away.

This baseball team plays with such joy and energy that it’s impossible not to get caught up in its magical ride atop the American League West that has positioned the Astros for their first division championship in 16 years.

This weekend, they’ll give us something happy to rally around for at a least a little while.

“We feel that the Astros playing this weekend will provide a much-needed boost for our city,” Turner said. “… the games will provide an opportunity for families to start returning to some aspect of normal life.”

The Astros will use these games to honor first responders and volunteers, and to raise money for relief efforts. There will be stories that bring you to tears and stories that inspire you.

Beyond that, it’s a chance to simply be together again and to take a break from the surrounding heartache.

We’ve seen baseball play this kind of role again and again through the years. Remember the Red Sox returning home after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013?

There were cheers and tears for heroes and victims, and finally there was David Ortiz taking the public address microphone, and after thanking the work of police and medical personnel, speaking for an entire city with words that became his legacy in New England: “This jersey we wear today doesn’t say Red Sox. It says Boston. This is our [bleeping] city. And nobody’s going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”

No baseball moment has been more powerful in my lifetime than President George W. Bush standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium before Game 3 of the 2001 World Series.

He said he had never felt anything like all those New Yorkers chanting, “USA! USA! USA!” From that emotion, he said he drew strength for the days ahead.

Sometimes, these are the moments that endure after tragedy. Whether the Astros provide anything that memorable or not is beside the point. Simply being able to go to a baseball game and being normal for a few hours is enough at this point.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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