By Ernie Palladino
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Let’s put one thing out there right away.
The Astros playing a game against the Mets a day after the rains stopped in Houston is in no way reminiscent of Pete Rozelle’s decision to play football the Sunday after John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination in Dallas.
The circumstances are just different, that’s all. Kennedy was a world leader mourned as an entire country struggled to make sense out of the situation. It put our country in peril on political, military and moral levels, and ordering that games go on like nothing happened proved the NFL commissioner’s greatest mistake of a long tenure.
Hurricane Harvey, which killed more than 50 people and created nearly $100 billion worth of damage, was ultimately a localized tragedy triggered by natural disaster.
And yet, it seemed so unwise of the city fathers to allow Minute Maid Park to open for Saturday’s doubleheader. Not sinfully unwise like Rozelle’s decision. But a little more tact could have been used, if only to show respect for Harvey’s thousands of victims.
Cities move on from tragedies of all types in time. It’s called returning to normalcy. But most wait a respectable time before getting back to regular business, especially if said business involves the fantasy world of pro sports. Houston would have done well to take a beat — or two, or even three — before reopening a stadium situated just blocks from where a reported 10,000 storm-displaced citizens were holed up in the convention center.
The original thought was that the Astros would play the Mets series in Tampa, a Florida city untouched by the deluge that dumped 50 inches of rain on those Texas coastal cities. That would have been appropriate, especially since the team executives had no intention of opening Minute Maid’s gates free to displaced survivors. In fact, they ran the doubleheader as a day-night deal, the better to recoup gate receipts from Friday’s postponement.
A lot of seats were empty, understandably. A flood like that generally keeps the citizenry occupied with cleanup far different than that power hitter in the No. 4 hole. Which is why the team should have stayed away another week or so. Let the minds settle. Let the waters recede and the fires burn themselves out.
And then get back to regular business.
Give them credit, though. However they reintroduced baseball, they did it the right way. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner threw out the ceremonial first pitch in Game 1, surrounded by cops and first responders. Manager A.J. Hinch urged those who did come — 30,000 was the announced but overstated attendance for the opener — to “stay strong, be strong.” The players wore a special patch. And nightcap starter Joe Musgrove wore a special pair of white spikes signed by evacuated children and volunteer workers.
It was all very nice, the attempt at a return to normalcy. But it was just too soon. Even in an area relatively unscathed by the rains and winds, normal did not come to Minute Maid Park on Saturday.
Again, the decision to play was more a question of taste. There was no assassination, no 9/11-type attack that rocked an entire nation and shut down the NFL for a week.
They just could have taken a bit more time to move baseball back into the area.
They could have swept the Mets elsewhere just as easily.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino