'Baseball is secondary right now' for distracted, distraught Astros, who can't return home

Evacuees walk along a median of Interstate 610 covered in floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Evacuees walk along a median of Interstate 610 covered in floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

ANAHEIM, Calif. – There are people filling and hoisting sandbags and paddling dinghies and breathing against their fears and wondering what’s next in Houston, and some are their wives and children and neighbors, and in a clubhouse 1,500 miles away the Houston Astros are watching on their phones.

The city that is their baseball home is under water and taking on more, and people are dying, and people are being heroic, and people are telling their kids it will be all right, and Lance McCullers turns away from his locker and says, “It’s scary. We’re not there. It feels awful …”

And then his phone rings.

“Sorry,” he says, “Gotta take this.”

He puts the phone to his ear and in a tone that is part concern and part apology, says, “Hi … ”

They awoke Sunday morning under a gauzy sky, the off ramp to Disney Way already clogged, the details of the rest of the day hazy. They’d play the Los Angeles Angels sometime after noon, board a plane for Dallas, then wait out conversations between Major League Baseball, their team, the Texas Rangers, and Houston leaders to learn where the baseball would be next, and how far from home. They were scheduled to host a three-game series at home against the Rangers starting Tuesday night, and you’d have a hard time finding anyone – player, team official, league official – who’d believe that game, even that series, would be played at Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston. The New York Mets are scheduled to arrive Friday, and that series also could need a new home. The traveling secretary held a phone between his shoulder and cheek, tapped at his computer, and fielded questions from players as they shuffled past in their shower shoes. It seemed just so unsettling, having to turn away from the calls and texts and weather reports for another few hours, or another few days for, well, who knows for how long?

The easy solution appeared to have the Astros and Rangers swap home series, the upcoming three games being played at Globe Life Park in Arlington (where there’s a chance of rain midweek), a late-September series moving from Globe Life Park to Minute Maid Park. But, according to league and Astros officials, even that has its complications. That also won’t solve the issue of where to play the interleague series against the Mets, for which, if it comes to that, they’d presumably require a neutral site.

The residue of Hurricane Harvey, by Sunday a tropical storm, settled hard and gray over East Texas. While Minute Maid Park is undamaged, already 24 inches of rain had fallen in the Houston area and that much more could be coming in the next several days. Hundreds of thousands in Texas are without electricity. Schools canceled classes. The airport closed. Baseball games – both in logistics and appearances – seemed a distant priority.

“It’s scary,” Astros outfielder George Springer said. “It’s obviously tough for us to be our here where it’s 80 degrees and blue skies and there’s a lot of people at home in serious jeopardy. We’re human beings too. We have houses and families and belongings there too.”

Like his teammates, Springer sought constant updates on the television. He slept hoping to wake up to good news and found the situation at home only more dire, the photos and videos more frightening. Asked about his own home, Springer shrugged and said, “For the time being [it’s safe], but it doesn’t look good. A few more hours, it might not be good. Whatever happens, happens. You just have to trust in the plan and hope everything’s OK.”

The manager, A.J. Hinch, called the baseball element of what’s coming “hollow.”

“It’s a pretty empty feeling to be away,” he said. “Baseball is secondary right now. Our schedule, our flight times, the business, all of that is meaningless.

“We’ll just play where they tell us, when they tell us.”

The Astros were to fly Sunday night to Dallas from John Wayne Airport in Orange County. The Rangers, who finished a road trip Sunday in Oakland, also would fly to Dallas. Both teams are scheduled off Monday. There, they’d continue to consider their options for their series and, in the case of the Astros, the coming week.

“Our primary concern,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said, “is for the safety of people in Houston.”

They’ll spend those hours – or, perhaps, days – in a place other than home, where they otherwise could help their families and communities. That was the news they bore in phone conversations in the hallways outside a loud clubhouse, that they wouldn’t be home tonight after all, and maybe not tomorrow or the day after. The river swelled and the bayou flooded and the choice to stay or flee would be made without them, which was the worst of it all.

“Hopefully,” McCullers said, “everyone is being safe as possible.”

They’ll be home when they can.

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