HOUSTON - Every time the Astros suit up, they wear a simple patch as a reminder of what Houston lost to Hurricane Harvey and its catastrophic flooding.
The city is determined to rebuild, and the Astros are careful to honor Houston with every game as they chase a second trip to the World Series in the franchise's history.
"I hope we're representing the city well and for our fan base and even non-fans that are in our community, that we can be something positive for the city and be part of the message that we're still rebuilding," manager A.J. Hinch said.
The Astros have worn the patch each game since returning home. It sits on the upper left side of their chests and features the word "STRONG" in white block letters between an Astros' logo and a rendering of the state of Texas.
It's a nod to the "Houston Strong" slogan the city adopted after the storm, and it's become a catchphrase in the area. A woman in the crowd at Minute Maid Park held a sign with those words on Saturday as she cheered on the Astros in their 2-1 win over the New York Yankees that gave them a 2-0 lead in the AL Championship series.
"We're doing this for the city," shortstop Carlos Correa said. "We want to bring a lot of joy and happiness to the fans out here in Houston, especially after everything they've been through this year. It's been a tough year for the city. So if we can bring something through baseball, we're going to do it."
Though the Astros take pride in being a bright spot in a difficult time, Hinch doesn't want to make too much of their role.
"We all need to keep it in proper perspective, we're a baseball team," he said. "We play a game and we provide entertainment and a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of agony along the way, too. But it does bring some exposure to a community that needs as much support from around the country to rebuild itself for months to come, not just days to come."
The Astros have been active in supporting the city's efforts to return to normal. Owner Jim Crane and the Astros foundation donated $4 million to relief efforts, and a number of players donated to various charities and helped collect supplies for those affected.
AL MVP contender Jose Altuve is one of the few players remaining on the roster who was around for the lean rebuilding years when the Astros had 100-plus losses in three straight seasons from 2011-13. He remembers the support he got from fans when the team was the worst in baseball and feels like he owes it to the people in Houston to help the Astros win as much as possible.
"After the hurricane I love the people from Houston even more," Altuve said. "They've been supporting us all the time, since 2011 when we lost 100 games and they have a lot of heart and are encouraging us to keep playing. And now that we are playing really good we want to finish it up for them, for us and for our families."
Altuve has more than done his part so far, becoming a star of this year's postseason by going 13 for 23 (.565) after going just 4 for 26 (.154) in the 2015 playoffs. He added two hits and scored the winning run on a bold dash from first base in the ninth inning Saturday.
The Astros were among the best teams in baseball throughout the season but were boosted by the trade for six-time All-Star pitcher Justin Verlander on Aug. 31. He's been brilliant since joining the team, going 8-0 in eight appearances, capped by striking out a postseason career-high 13 in a complete game on Saturday.
Though Verlander wasn't yet with the Astros when Harvey made landfall on Aug. 25, he was quick to jump in to help in the rebuilding effort. He announced before the playoffs that he was donating $100,000 to start a fund called the Harvey Patriot Grant Foundation that will donate up to $2,500 each for military and veteran families affected by the storm. He also pledged to donate his playoff share to the cause at the end of the postseason.
"It's going to be something special if we can win a World Series and to have the country rally around Houston and go hand in hand and give back and help the families that need it is of the utmost importance," he said.
Verlander believes if the Astros keep winning, it will not only be a bright spot in a difficult time, but that it could help keep the plight of the city in the nation's consciousness.
"A lot of people in this city ... are still struggling and still have a long way to go before they're back and on their feet and living a normal life in their home," he said. "So ... I think that this could go a long way in helping people kind of forget and give them something to be happy about when it's really hard on them right now."
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