HOUSTON — Terry Collins spent part of Friday talking with the first responders that have converged on Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and people displaced by the storm. Mets players fanned out and visited three sites throughout the ravaged city, including the George R. Brown Center, where 10,000 evacuees are being housed after the catastrophic flooding that devastated the area.
“Everybody is working hand in hand and they certainly appreciate all that’s being done. It takes tragedies to bring people together,” the Mets manager said of talking with the first responders and victims. “That’s what’s going on here.”
Saturday was billed as a return to normalcy for Houston and the Astros, the first big event after the area was deluged with catastrophic flooding. It was clearly a return for some. The ballpark and most of downtown has been largely untouched by the storms, though thousands displaced by the storm are living in the city’s convention center.
With a small crowd in the ballpark, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who pushed the Astros and Major League Baseball to return to town as a way of getting back to life as normal, threw out the first pitch.
But there is little that was normal playing in what is basically an island in a devastated area in a ballpark that was less than half full.
Before the game, the Astros and Mets took the field with first responders and there was a moment of silence for those who were killed in the storm, including Houston Police Officer Steve Perez, who drowned in his patrol car attempting to make it in to work.
After the national anthem, Astros manager A.J. Hinch talked about how important it was for the team to return home and play the first game after the natural disaster in the city of Houston.
“We were all very fortunate to survive this storm and for those who didn’t, our thoughts and prayers are with their families,” the Astros manager said.
And then he thanked the Mets for being accommodating. The series was originally scheduled to begin on Friday and the Mets agreed to play their second doubleheader in a week, and come into what has basically become a ghost town in the middle of a disaster zone.
Friday players went out and met with first responder and victims of the storm quietly, shunning television cameras and reporters. Hinch thanked them for that as well.
“I want to thank the Mets for allowing us to have a day off yesterday for a day of service,” Hinch said speaking to the small crowd from in front of home plate. “Not only did they give us a day off, they were out in the community working for a city they rarely come through. We appreciate that.”
The Mets-Astros doubleheader is the first in the history of Minute Maid Park.
“You hope you consider yourself part of the whole system, when they ask you to do this, for the reason they asked, you just do it,” Collins said of agreeing to the doubleheader. “You don’t question it, you don’t complain about it, you just do it. So that’s what we are going to do. Nobody in the game today really enjoys doubleheaders like they once did, but we’ll be here. A fast in and fast out.”
The experience coming into Houston in the wake of a disaster has been odd. Flying in, there is some obvious flooding and damage seen on the route into downtown from the airport. But the downtown area near the ballpark and the hotels are dry and quiet, having clearly avoided the brunt of the damage.
Collins, of course, spent three years in Houston as the manager of the Astros and seeing it was troubling.
“Flying in, like I am sure you guys did, we saw a lot of water, certainly downtown was great and fine. We saw some remnants of what you would expect to see, piles of stuff,” the Mets manager said. “The hardest part is the ghost-town feel. I was in Houston in downtown for three years. Now, you can walk right down the middle of the street hardly.
“That was tough.”
Saturday the Mets tried to help the Astros and Houston get back to some semblance of normal. Playing the games was easy, what the area has ahead of them is what will really be tough.