HOUSTON -- Jose Altuve smiled as he watched a group of children who were victims of Hurricane Harvey trying unsuccessfully to score a goal in a soccer game against Orbit, the Houston Astros' furry mascot.
Houston's All-Star second baseman should have been just yards down the road on Friday, preparing to start a series against the New York Mets, but widespread flooding in the wake of the storm pushed the start of the series to Saturday. Altuve and about half of the Astros spent a chunk of their day off at a shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center, trying to spread cheer to those who lost it all in the storm.
"We need to do everything we can to help," said manager A.J. Hinch, who brought his wife and two daughters. "It's our humane obligation to make another person smile today."
The Astros returned to Houston on Thursday night after their scheduled home series against the Texas Rangers was moved to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, because of the storm. There was talk of playing the series against the Mets there, too, but Houston mayor Sylvester Turner wanted the team back this weekend as the city begins the long road to recovery.
The AL West leaders will play the first professional sporting events in Houston since the city was ravaged by the storm with a doubleheader on Saturday, hoping to provide a few hours of distraction at the end of a terrible week.
"It's going to be emotional for sure," catcher Brian McCann said. "I think it will only bring everyone closer together. What this city's gone through is devastating and we want ... for three hours for people to not have to think about their tragedies as much and put a smile on people's faces."
The Astros did plenty of that Friday at the convention center, which is the city's main shelter, housing more than 9,000 people, according to the Red Cross. They posed for pictures with first responders, played with children and even helped victims pick out groceries and other supplies at a makeshift Walmart on the premises. Pitchers Collin McHugh, Brad Peacock, Charlie Morton, Joe Musgrove, Tony Sipp and Chris Devenski, infielder Marwin Gonzalez and outfielders Jake Marisnick, Derek Fisher and Josh Reddick joined Altuve and McCann in the visit that lasted more than 90 minutes.
"We know we're entertainers. That's what we're there for," McHugh said. "We're nothing without the fans. We're nothing without the community, so we want to help. We want to be there while the city recovers."
Ace Dallas Keuchel and fellow pitcher Lance McCullers volunteered at other locations. Keuchel served food to police officers and McCullers helped out at the Humane Society.
"All we can do is help," Hinch said. "Some of it's financial, some of it is your time, some of it's your energy, and I'm going to make sure our team knows that this is just the first day we've been back. They're going to need our help a month from now, six months from now, probably a year from now until the city really gets rebuilt."
The Astros joined with Turner to provide tickets to this weekend's game to storm victims staying at the convention center. Team president Reid Ryan said the Astros have donated 5,000 tickets to each game this weekend and that they'll provide more if Turner's office runs out.
Hinch hopes Houston's return to the field will be a small step in returning things to how they were before the storm.
"I think what people probably want right now is normalcy. And what's normal on a Saturday in September is college football ... and major league baseball pennant races," he said. "The only way to feel normal is to do normal things, and we can provide a little bit of that. But it doesn't make the problem go away. It just delays what needs to be done."