CINCINNATI – The visitors’ clubhouse in the Great American Ball Park has two televisions in the middle of the room. Usually both are turned to the MLB Network or ESPN, but Thursday morning only one was showing baseball highlights.
The other was tuned to CNN and showing live reports from Houston. There were the unbelievable images of devastation after Hurricane Harvey had ravaged the city. There were the shocking pictures of the flooding, rooftops of houses above what looks like a murky lake, cars sunken in the water and families camped out in cavernous rooms of the George R Brown Convention Center, in the hallways and wherever else they could put some cots or pile up some blankets.
A Met sat and stared at those images Thursday morning.
“This just doesn’t feel right,” he whispered to himself and another near him. “It just doesn’t.”
The Mets left here Thursday night heading to Houston to play a doubleheader against the Astros at Minute Maid Park on Saturday. It will be the first ballgame in Houston since the natural disaster struck. It is something that Houston’s mayor Sylvester Turner had pushed to get the series back as “start returning to some aspect of normal life.”
But there was nothing normal about this.
As of Friday, 51.88 inches of rain had poured down on Houston in five days, a historic downfall that contributed to the deaths of 46 people according to local officials. The storm destroyed or damaged 93,942 homes across the region, according to the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
And as of Friday morning, the Red Cross estimated it was housing around 42,000 people in their shelters across Texas.
So when the Mets traveling party pulled into Houston Thursday night to check in, there was more than one person in that group wishing MLB had moved or delayed the series and the team had just donated those rooms to families who will be sleeping in shelters this weekend.
Authorities had relocated about 1,800 people to local hotels as part of a transitional program to reduce strain on the shelters as of Friday. Many other hotels had opened their doors to victims and first responders at reduced rates in the emergency.
It was just one of the resources many did not want to see diverted for baseball.
“It just feels like it’s too soon to go in there,” another member of the Mets traveling party said. “Yeah, it will be a nice moment for baseball, but after this weekend what will it really mean? What are the workers at the hotel and the ballpark going to have to put themselves through to get into work?
“I just feel like a baseball game isn’t worth it right now.”
And it isn’t.
Sure sports can help. Just look of the impact that Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has done with an emotional plea on the internet. His fund for Southeast Texas has eclipsed the $10 million mark. And as of Friday morning former Met Jay Bruce, a native of Beaumont, Texas, had nearly reached his goal of getting $100,000 in donations that he and his wife plan to match.
And the Mets were hoping to do as much as they can. The repeatedly said they hoped to volunteer with the off day on Friday and wanted to support the Astros players however they could. The group plans to volunteer were still up in the air as of Thursday afternoon. They declined to give specifics Friday.
Even on the field, sports can help a community breathe again after tragedy.
No team knows that better than the Mets. Their Sept. 21, 2001 game against the Braves was a moment America had waited for after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Mike Piazza’s home run that night was one of the first times the area felt that normal life would go on. After Hurricane Katrina, the Saints return to Louisiana on Sept. 26, 2005 was something for a devastated community to rally around.
But the Mets’ game against the Braves after 9/11 was 10 days after the shocking attacks. The Saints, who could not play in the destroyed Super Dome until the next year, did not return and host a game until a month after Katrina hit.
So heading into Houston, with people still being sought in the flood waters, a chemical plant still burning in the area and families settling into their new normal – shelters or moving to different areas – there were many Mets who were uneasy Thursday night. They went to Houston with good intentions, hoping that they would not be too much of a burden on the resources that should be directed to getting the residents of Houston back on their feet.
But they went there feeling “not right,” to be going to play baseball so soon amidst tragedy.