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Jones: Major League Baseball strikes out by forcing Houston to play

By Tom Jones
WILL VRAGOVIC | Times
Katie Churchwell of St. Petersburg holds a sign with her daughter, Addison, 4, while her son, Crawford, 3, and husband Logan look on before the game at the Trop.

ST. PETERSBURG — The rains continue to pour. The flood waters continue to rise. People have died. Many are missing, almost certain to be found drowned in the days to come.

Homes that provided comfort and security and a lifetime of fond memories have been swept away from their foundations, leaving their owners with nothing. Businesses have been destroyed. Those fortunate enough to still be alive will never be the same.

And while the people of southeast Texas suffer through this unimaginable nightmare, a team from Houston is playing baseball at Tropicana Field.

Baseball. A game. It's absurd.

Tampa Bay and the Rays and their employees have generously opened up their home to allow two teams from Texas — the Astros and the Rangers — to play there this week. Tropicana Field is the site after a petty feud about where the games should be played.

But the real question is not where the games are being played, but why are they even being played at all?

Why hasn't Major League Baseball postponed these games? Why isn't Major League Baseball doing the right thing by allowing the Astros players to be home with their loved ones at a time when frightened people want to be surrounded by loved ones?

"I wish we were back in Houston," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I wish we could lend a helping hand to our families and to our friends. I don't know what that means or what that entails or what we could possibly do."

As Hinch said, what Houston and the surrounding area need more than anything else is for the rain to stop. But until it does and as long as the horrific storm continues to ravage the area, the last thing we should be asking is for these men to be 1,000 miles from their home playing baseball.

Houston players were careful not to criticize Major League Baseball for the decision to go ahead with Astros games this week. They also were quick to point out that they have it easy. They are safe and dry while so many are staying in shelters, wearing the only possessions they have left.

"Obviously, it's hard to imagine playing," Hinch said. "(But) it's hard to imagine not playing."

We're often quick to say that during difficult times, sports can be a much-needed distraction from the life's harshest realities. Maybe if fans can escape all their troubles, even if it's only for a couple of hours, then we should carry on with otherwise frivolous activities like baseball. But it's doubtful that anyone in Houston is paying attention to baseball right now. They're more concerned with no electricity, nowhere to go and 3 feet of water in their homes.

"That's kind of out of my realm," Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel said when I asked if Major League Baseball should have postponed this series. "I don't know if we should've canceled these games. … At this time, I know a lot of guys' minds are so far away from baseball. It might have been beneficial to cancel these games and scheduled a couple of double-headers."

Keuchel eloquently and compassionately talked about what is going on back in Houston. At times like these, you're reminded athletes are a part of a community, too.

"Those guys who have families, it has been weighing heavily on them," Keuchel said. "It's tough to see these guys kind of stress out with not knowing what is going on around the city with their families."

The Rangers are taking criticism for refusing to swap home games with Houston, and deservedly so. They could have earned tremendous respect for putting Houston above their own interests but took the selfish route instead. It's a bad look.

But it's a worse look for Major League Baseball. I fully understand the hassle of postponing games and trying to re-schedule them. And MLB is not completely cold. It is donating money for hurricane relief. The money from the games at the Trop this week will go to charity, and that's why you should go and root for an Astros team that really doesn't want to be playing ball at the moment.

"It's my job to be out there and play the game," Astros outfielder George Springer said. "We understand our job is to go out and compete, but we're human beings first. We have families there and this all puts it into perspective that it truly is a game and there's a lot more to life."

Too bad Major League Baseball doesn't fully understand that.