I attended the last three Houston Astros playoff games at home, and as a hardcore Democrat, I’ve wondered how many Trump supporters I’ve high-fived and embraced like my brother or sister. I’d venture to say dozens.
Sports do something for humanity that politics seems incapable of doing. They unite us under a singular hope with the people we share air with, regardless of our political leanings. Sports are capable of making us one, if only for a moment.
It was a beautiful, refreshing feeling to see the Astros win the pennant and clinch a World Series visit. It felt good to celebrate, to jump up and down like a kid and hug random strangers. It felt good to have permission to be happy.
I’ve felt guilty about embracing joy lately. Like thousands of others, I’m working in the trenches of neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Harvey, trying to do my small part. I’ve sat on the sidelines for hundreds of natural disasters, but this one happened to the city that gave my family opportunity, defined me, and gave me the Astros.
My first memory of Houston as a four-year-old was driving up to our new apartment home on Braeburn Glenn, nestled between the Bissonnet and S. Gessner exits off U.S. 59 on the city’s southwest side. We moved here from Elsa, a small town in the Rio Grande Valley.
I was scared of Houston when I got here, but thankfully my parents eased the transition by getting me familiar with people like Mike Scott, Hakeem Olajuwon and Warren Moon.
I have a very early recollection of sitting in the nosebleeds of the Astrodome and this haunting booing sound reverberating off the 8th Wonder walls.
It wasn’t booing. It was “Cruuuuuuuuuuuuuz,” the city’s way of paying homage to a Puerto Rican baseball legend in the making as he stepped to the plate. Jose was one of the first Latino players I took notice of as a kid, because he had a last name that sounded like mine. He had dark skin like my dad. Mexican-American Oilers placekicker Tony Zendejas was another.
Houston set the tone early on in my life that people who looked like me could be great and be important to the city and world I lived in.
I don’t know if we think about why we feel a certain way about sports teams outside of the fact that they represent the city we’re from, but I think we should, especially now.
For me, the Astros represent the first time I experienced the feeling of pride for something; something I could hold onto as mine; something that seemed great that not everybody could claim. That’s powerful. The cheers inside the Dome were the soundtrack to a new chapter in my young life, the one that began as a Houstonian. A member of a fully acculturated American family of Mexican descent, it wasn’t the Mexican flag that gave me goose bumps, but the ones that had the Astros rainbow, Oilers baby blue and Rockets red and yellow.
And it’s funny, because we take pride in so many things that are dealt to us, not things we choose. Had I grown up in the Rio Grande Valley, had my parents decided not to come to Houston, I might have been dealt the Dallas Cowboys and the San Antonio Spurs. God forbid.
They could have done what so many families from South Texas do – only go as far north as San Antonio because it feels and looks so much like their home near the border.
My father and mother chose something much more daunting: Houston. The big bad city, where kaleidoscope diversity and race car driving on the highways poke, prod and shove your senses and comfort zones, especially when you come from a place where everyone looks like you and people drive no faster than 50 miles per hour.
And by choosing that destiny in the early '80s, I was in turn dealt Houston. I was dealt the Astros, but I love them like I chose them.
Today, as a 38-year-old man, the Astros mean something more to me than just the molders of my early identity. They mean my father.
In October 2004, the Astros were playing the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series and I watched it on a small TV screen in a hospital room, where my dad was dying of cancer. It was ironic that the first scenes of my life were the Astros and the last scenes of his life were of them, too.
I wondered if the Astros would pull it out, go the World Series and win the big one for him in his last days, before he took his final breaths.
We lost the series in seven. My dad died the next month on November 6, 16 days after game seven, where the Cards beat us 5-2.
I don’t have any misconceived notions about fairy tales, because of that experience. Do I want the Astros to win because this city has suffered so much from Harvey and we deserve something as exhilarating as a World Series win to compensate or ease the pain? Yes, I do, but I know fairy tales don’t happen just because you want them to. They happen for grander reasons and it doesn’t always work out with your timing.
Still, in the last inning before the Astros shut out the Yankees in Game Seven, as I stood there with my brother surrounded by the jolting and deafening yells of 80,000 people willing their team to the World Series, I thought of my father. I wanted them to win for him. I wanted a fairy tale.
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As we got closer to the final out in the ninth, I thought of the choices, risks and sacrifices my father and mother made that allowed me to arrive to that moment. I looked at all the colorful people who looked as different from one another as the day I set foot in this city. I thought about all the potentially clashing political belief systems that existed in the crowd and how people who might bicker and fight on Facebook over Obama and Trump might be holding hands in suspense.
I thought about the stories that existed inside so many lives across this great city that give the Astros special meaning to them — ones only they could understand; or maybe resemble mine. I thought of the kids who maybe just got here from South Texas, Mexico or Honduras who see names like Altuve and Correa sprawled across jerseys, subliminally giving their subconscious permission to be great and important to the city and world they live in.
And I’ve come to the realization that as much as I want the Astros to beat the Dodgers, the fairy tale isn’t that. It’s what I’m living right now. It’s the story taking place this second. It’s the hope and inspiration running through my veins today as I write this. It’s what I’m feeling at this moment.
It’s this, right here.