Championship teams are sometimes referred to as “teams of destiny.” In a sports context, the 2017 Houston Astros were certainly that. They won one of the most dramatic World Series in memory, seven games that seemed like 12 rounds of heavyweight boxing, over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Astros played not merely for themselves. Their city was still reeling from devastating, record-setting floods spawned from Hurricane Harvey.
The Astros’ Game 5 victory—a 13-12 thriller that took 5 hours, 17 minutes—is considered among the most exciting baseball games ever played. Noted veteran sportswriter Mike Lupica marveled: “It was only the best and craziest and loudest and most exciting World Series game I have ever seen in my life.”
The Astros, with the solid core of their team back, have a title to defend and a bull’s-eye on their backs this season. And more than halfway through the 162-game grind, they are contenders once again—and still winning the hearts of their fans through good deeds, a contagious team camaraderie and a substantial number of professing Christians.
In the aftermath of the May 18 school shooting at Santa Fe High School in Galveston County, southwest of Houston, which left eight students and two teachers dead, the Astros organization quickly responded.
That evening, during a three-game home stand against the Cleveland Indians, flags flying at half-staff, the Astros organization asked their fans at Minute Maid Park to pause for a moment of silence for the victims and their families. At the annual Faith & Family Night the next evening following the game, local Chick-fil-A proprietor Jon Goolsby led in prayer for the Santa Fe community. In a two-game series the following week, all proceeds from a raffle went to benefit the Santa Fe Strong Memorial Fund.
In the Bayou City, with ubiquitous orange and blue jerseys bearing the names of players like Altuve and Springer and Correa and Verlander, Astros baseball looms larger than ever.
A subtle yet significant faith narrative is also there to the astute observer: Team president Reid Ryan, the son of Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, is a Christ-follower who is open about his faith. Last year’s American League MVP José Altuve, a 5-foot-6-inch second baseman, has boldly spoken about his devotion to Christ.
In fact, four of the team’s All-Stars are professing Christians: Altuve, shortstop Carlos Correa, outfielder George Springer, and pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., who has shared his pro-life views on social media.
Altuve, Correa and outfielder Marwin Gonzalez are among the regulars at a Bible study for Latino players, hosted by the team’s Spanish-language chaplain.
Altuve, a fan favorite, told the Houston Chronicle last year in a video interview translated into English: “I grew up in a family that always told me that to achieve success, we needed to have God first. To achieve success wasn’t to get into the major leagues or to have the best season in the world. The best success is to live your life the way God wants you to.”
Relief pitcher Will Harris, a 2016 All-Star, and Springer, last season’s World Series MVP, along with their wives, spoke briefly during a May 19 Faith & Family Night event. Another hurler, Charlie Morton, also shared his testimony via video.
The influence of these believers in the organization only added to the role the team played in helping make good on the motto that emerged from the floodwaters: #HoustonStrong.
Greg Matte, pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church, which had a banner ad hanging conspicuously along the right field wall during the series, has six church members who work for the Astros organization. He says the team’s success last fall offered a welcome diversion.
“We were all so tired,” Matte recalled. “We had Harvey stress and then you would stay up late watching games. But it was a shot in the arm. … And the Christian influence on the team was great as well, because you felt like these guys understood not just the seriousness of the flood damage, but they understood that we need the Lord in the midst of this.”
Matte said he and Reid Ryan became friends several years ago and that Ryan has spoken to the church staff several times on leadership and service.
Ryan is a fan of the Baseball Chapel ministry that Major League clubs offer players both at home and on the road. The Astros’ primary chaplain, Kevin Edelbrock, is there for the players as a listening ear any time they need him, while also leading chapel devotions. Baseball chaplains serve not only the home team, but also the visiting team. The Astros’ Spanish-language chaplain, Juan Alaniz, also serves as Spanish-language pastor at First Baptist Church.
Ryan told Decision: “What is nice about Baseball Chapel is that it gives the players an outlet, through God’s Word, to handle the ups and downs of playing professional baseball. … The game of baseball is filled with emotional ups and downs. There is lots of failure, doubt and temptation, all of which make it tough to succeed at a high level.”
Harris agrees. The right-handed pitcher was introduced to Christ at a young age, but says he really didn’t begin to grow in his faith until being immersed in the Word by his team chaplain at Louisiana State University. The demands of Major League baseball, marriage and children have led to a deeper dependence on God, Harris told Decision.
He also knows the game he loves is temporary. “There’s one day coming when they’re going to tell me I’m not good at baseball anymore. That day comes for all of us. If I’m struggling or I’m feeling anxious or whatever, I will turn to Scripture. It definitely helps me keep things in perspective.”