From Houston, With Love (And Regrets)

Someone Else Will Disappoint Us Soon (but Please, God, Let Us Have Beyoncé for a Wee Bit Longer)

Carrie Willard / 1.22.20

Six years ago this week, when my family and I were huddled inside our Minnesota home to keep ourselves safe from the polar vortex, my husband was in talks with a church in Houston, Texas, which had asked him to consider working there. These might as well have been phone calls from the moon, because we had just re-committed ourselves to life in Minnesota and we had never been to Houston. But not quite six months later, we were Texans. Before we had spent an entire week here, we donned Houston Astros caps and cheered on the hometown team for “Episcopal Night at the Astros.”

We are not sports people. My husband accidentally scheduled an Evensong service during the Super Bowl when the Super Bowl was being played here in Houston just a few miles from the church. The only school tests that send us into panic involve the PE teacher’s annual pronouncement of the dreaded “Football Test,” where the instructions to study are simply to “go home and ask someone who knows about football.” (I know. There have been emails.)  We are Steel Magnolias’ Clairee of color commentary, when the rest of the world is the Ouiser who just wants to know about touchdowns and injuries. The fact that I am using football examples to write about baseball should tell you something. I went to a few Milwaukee Brewers games as a kid, and my only memories of the games are when my sister had to prevent my dad and uncle from getting into a fight with the parking attendants, and That One Time When There Was a Streaker. Otherwise, nothing.

And yet, when someone shows up at your doorstep in a new town with an Astros cap, you put it on. When it feels like your whole city is still reeling from Hurricane Harvey, when your kid is still taking the antibiotics he belatedly got for the infection that was our companion in the house during the storm and flooding, and then the home team wins the World Series right on the heels of all of that awful, it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement. When Jose Altuve features in your local grocery store ads, I dare you not to smile.

And so, even with our limited sports fandom, we were disappointed when the news broke that the Astros had been “sign stealing” (after we googled it to find out what it means). Here’s an article about it. Full disclosure: I don’t know what a solid three-quarters of that article means. So, good luck. But I do know that there was some bad behavior, and I felt sad about it.

See, we’ve already become Houston apologists. Houston doesn’t have a reputation as a particularly attractive city, and it is not a tourist destination. When people say “Houston…” it is very often followed with the words, “…we’ve had a problem.” There’s a whole website devoted to convincing people that Houston isn’t that bad. The website’s sub-headline reads: “I feel normal here. Maybe it is because I am imperfect like this city.” All together now: awwwwwwww.

My family feels perfectly at home in our imperfect city, and we were welcomed here with open arms. We (rather, I) complain about the potholes, the humidity, and the hurricanes like anyone else, but it feels more like complaining about a well-lived-in, beloved house. Houston has a vibrant restaurant scene, world-class museums, and green grass year-round. If I don’t like my doctor, I can pick a different one, because there are a million of them here. The less-than-great schools and the air quality just prevent Houston from having that too-good-to-be-true feeling.

The Astros scandal has us all more than a little embarrassed, though. We know Houston’s not on everybody’s list of favorite cities, but we felt like the Astros might have bumped us up a step or two in the world’s eyes. The sign-stealing scandal knocked us right back down, and took the shine off of the 2017 World Series victory that we keep in our back pocket to cheer us up on gloomy days. And yet, for me, there’s kind of this feeling in the wake of the scandal with echoes of “well, that’s more like it.” Houston was in danger of getting a little too high on its own fumes. We were a little too giddy at the sight of Altuve. This put us back in our rightful place.

This feeling of “well, that’s more like it…” is familiar to many of us. We wait for the other shoe to drop. We somehow know that we’ll pay for our good fortune later, even if it seems that it is coming to us with no strings attached. Our low anthropology protects us from the disappointments that follow high expectations. We are skeptics. We do not love wholeheartedly, because we have to keep part of our hearts in reserve, like an FDIC deposit. We do not trust windfalls.

I have faith that the Houston Astros will rebuild their reputation. I have a greater faith that they will then go on to disappoint us again in one way or another. This is the heartbreak of baseball, but it is also the heartbreak of loving a flawed team of humans. (By the way, for as little as I know about Major League Baseball, I happen to know that all of the teams are fully staffed with flawed humans. You can look it up.) The sign stealers did a bad thing, but that does not make them irredeemable jerks. (Has anyone checked on their families, though? Because that’s a rough gig.) These guys are in secular hell right now, but I think they have some dollar bills to keep them company through this trying time.

There has been a lot of talk in Houston this week about what we want to teach our children. How do we tell them that winners never cheat and cheaters never win when, in fact, the cheaters did win? I think the larger lesson here is that our beloved heroes will disappoint us again and again. They can’t help it, and the higher we put them on a pedestal, the farther they have to fall. The Astros will be replaced by another local hero, and we will put all of our stock in the goodness of humanity, or at least the goodness of that hero, because how else are we supposed to get through the work week? As tempting as it would be to give myself a self-congratulatory pat the back here for not being a sports person, I know that I will be equally disappointed when the flaws of Tina Fey, Julie Andrews, and Betty White are revealed.

So, Houstonians (and Bostonians, and gosh, who’s next on the list? take a number), take heart. Don’t burn your jerseys just yet. Someone else will disappoint us soon (but please, God, let us have Beyoncé for a wee bit longer). As for me and my house, we will continue to place parts of our hearts in the wrong places. We will pray for forgiveness for this misplacement of our love and affection. And we will continue to believe that neither sign-stealing nor our misplaced hero-worship will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Amen.
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3 responses to “From Houston, With Love (And Regrets)”

  1. DALE E KLITZKE says:

    Well said, girl, well said. By the way, that parking attendant needed a little training. Just trying to help out wherever we can.

  2. Linda Klitzke says:

    Great article AGAIN! The children of parents who talk about these things with care and thoughtfulness as this piece displays will be fine.

  3. Hey Carrie, thank you for the article. I believe that they ALL cheat, or try to. MLB has drawn a line between “ethical” sign stealing (picking up a sign minus video surveillance) and “unethical” sign stealing (using technological advancements). But stealing is stealing period. And when exactly did banging on trashcans become high tech?? One high-profile MLB player took a jab at the Astros by saying that his team “did it the right way,” which is total BS. Whether it’s unethical or ethical, the result is the same; the hitter has an unfair advantage that he should not have. All MLB teams will continue to try and steal signs. Low anthropology lives!

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