George Springer and Jose Altuve both received All Star recognition
George Springer and Jose Altuve both received All Star recognition
Photo by Jack Gorman

How 2017's Sports and Weather Reports Showed Heart and Hell of Houston

Hurricane Season: The Unforgettable Story of the 2017 Houston Astros and the Resilience of a City
By Joe Holley
272 pp.
Hatchette Books

In his regular gig as the “Native Texan” columnist for the Houston Chronicle, Joe Holley usually spills his ink looking back upon the state’s history, memorable characters, and epochal events. But in this book, he brings things up to current times – very current times – recounting a year in which the stories of the city and people of Houston, Hurricane Harvey, and a World Series Championship baseball team all intertwined.

“The relationship between the suffering city and the successful team became symbiotic,” Holley writes. In the ultimate sports-as-metaphor approach, Holley shows how the Astros both inspired and were inspired by Houstonians in their quest for a first-ever World Series championship. He brilliantly alters chapters detailing the destruction of Harvey and its aftermath with summaries of each of the Series games. And the latter are written engagingly enough to engage the non-sports fan readers.

Sixty-plus inches of rain and 34 trillion gallons of water dumped on the city, causing $200 billion dollars in damage, made Harvey the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. More than 311,000 homes in Houston alone were damaged or destroyed, and for months streets in neighborhoods were lined with refuse painstakingly pulled out of flooded houses. Towering piles of wet carpet and moldy sheetrock look the same in rich and middle class and poor neighborhoods.

On the Harvey side, Holley is a reporter at heart, and mostly lets the facts and subjects speak for themselves. He discusses how the use of social media, the internet, and apps incredibly aided aid efforts, with rescuers and rescuees connecting online as an army of government, city, and – most notably – private boats with owners from all over the country sped through brown waters saving lives; including the storied “Cajun Navy.”

Former Houston Press music editor and current Texas Monthly senior editor John Nova Lomax sums it up to the Washington Post. “We have a lot of outdoorsy people down here and a lot of people with boats and lifted trucks and there’s a Texas machismo here that says ‘I’m not going to wait, I’m going to get out there and help people myself!’” And boat owners did. By the hundreds.

And while Holley’s stories of survivors and rescues are inspiring, the deaths he details are all the more harrowing. But above all (and not to sound maudlin), the resourcefulness and quick thinking and action of city and county leaders – along with an astonishing level of neighbors-helping-neighbors ethos – made for an incredible reflection on the people of Houston.

On the trail of the Astros’ quest - there’s always room for a walk down the corridors of the past. So readers discover both some Houston history as well as the origins and developments of the team (Judge Roy Hofheinz! The Colt .45s! The Astrodome!).

Many pages cover the personalities and practices of team owner Jim Crane, manager A.J. Hinch (who majored in Psychology at Stanford!), and General Manager Jeff Luhnow. The trio’s “Moneyball” approach to building a winning young team using data and analytics (and suffering years of big losses and growing pains in the process) is also recounting with plenty of Holley’s original interviews to go with previously-sourced quotes.

Sometimes, the system worked. Jose Altuve was rejected by seven Major League teams before the Astros snapped him up for a paltry $15,000 (the current American League MVP will now gross $151 million for five years). On the other hand, data failed the front office in 2013 when the Astros drafted pitcher Mike Appel (who never threw a ball for the team) over third baseman Kirk Bryant, the eventual Rookie of the Year.

Finally, Holley gives glimpses – often fun – into the personalities of no-first-name-needed players like Altuve, Correa, Verlander, Springer, Bregman, Keuchel, and Reddick. Mostly young players whose infectious enthusiasm for the sport and the city caught on (Houston Texan J.J. Watt even gets an “honorary Astro” nod for his relief effort and close friendship with Astros players). And who didn’t take lightly what a victory in a baseball game could do to uplift the spirits of a populace whose spirits were waterlogged and broken.

In the end, Harvey and the Astros are forever intertwined. Admittedly, it’s more difficult for any Houston-area reviewer to look at this book objectively and without a twinge of recognition. But Holley’s summation at the end speaks volumes about what Hurricane Harvey truly revealed.

“Houstonians young and old, native and new, learned they were stronger and more resilient than they might have expected. They discovered wells of compassion and kindness in themselves and their neighbors they might not have known about. At a moment of crisis, they did themselves proud.”

When that championship parade wound its way down the streets of downtown Houston as tens of thousands cheered in their orange for the sports champs perched high above on buses and trucks, it is likely the most cathartic mass event of sheer joy this city will ever witness.

Oh yeah, and that World Series Trophy that made a tour around the city like a rock star at the height of popularity? That looked pretty sweet too.

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