On November 1, 2017, it was all worth it. The struggling, the long-suffering, the disappointment of the many years all made this moment sweeter. I was suddenly aware that I was glad for the struggle. Glad for the broken TV remotes, for the moments of absolute heartbreak. I savored the hurt now in light of the glory.
I suppose I should explain what I’m talking about: I grew up in Houston. That’s probably enough for you to understand what I’m getting at, but I’ll explain for those of you who grew up in, say, Dallas, or Pittsburgh. This means the sports teams I’d loved my whole life specialized in tearing my heart out. Oh, the Rockets had responded to the “choke city” label (placed on them by the Houston Chronicle after they’d gone down 0-2 to the Suns in the Semi-Finals) by brilliantly defeating the Knicks in 7 in the finals, and followed that up with a sweep of Shaquille O’Neal’s Magic the next year. Glorious days, those.
Still, though, the teams of Houston excelled at finding ways to lose when it really counted. Consider the Oilers, who came to the brink so many times, only to lose games they should have won (including blowing a 35-3 halftime lead to Buffalo in the AFC championship game). And then, to add deep insult to painful injury, Bud Adams moved them away before they could bring redemption. They barely lost the Super Bowl two years after leaving us bereft of a team. And don’t even talk to me of the Texans. Houston has a team playing professional football now, but it ain’t the Oilers. And so, real Houston sports fans who remember the constant heartbreak are reduced to rooting against the Cowboys. But I digress.
Then there were the Astros. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that, when they were swept by the White Sox in 2005, I counted it all joy. I didn’t care. They’d made it. They played in the big series, and they didn’t get blown out. There was heartbreak there, too, of course, not least of which was a cratering Brad Lidge who absolutely came apart in the playoffs. There was also the painful realization of how heartbreaking it was to have given the 2005 team an “A” for effort.
But after what we’d been through? 1980? 1986? I had grown up in the Astrodome, I went more times than I can count. I ate dome dogs while watching the real Nolan Ryan—not some cheap Rangers knock off!—pitch in the dome from the cheap seats. You’d see the dust come off the catcher’s glove before you’d hear the ball hit.
And that doesn’t even begin to consider the problem. My brother and I used to say that the Astros were actually a farm team for pitchers for other organizations. Consider just a few of those pitchers who started with the Astros and performed marginally well before being traded and turning into Baseball gods and series winners: Curt Schilling, Greg Swindell, Billy Wagner, and even Brad Lidge went on to get the final out (a strikeout!) in the 2008 World Series—for the Phillies!
I’ve heard from several commentators how Astros fans have endured three terrible seasons in which the Astros lost more than 100 games. Oh, no, we’ve endured much, much worse than that. For years we’ve had our hearts ripped out, stomped on, and bayonetted at any sign of life. Those three years? Those of us who’ve been around a little while sighed, rolled over, and went back to sleep.
And even in this series—I’m not going to lie—I kept waiting for them to do it, to find a way to lose. I kept asking “WHY, oh why, do they have to be playing this Dodgers’ team? Just once, couldn’t the Expos or someone have made the series to play against us?!” I should confess something else: I went to bed during game 5. I couldn’t take it. Not this time. I didn’t know about the brilliant comeback win until my wife came in giggling.
And then there was game 6. I know that the Astros’ management and ownership felt the same way that I was feeling, because they pulled out all the stops. Game 6 was our game 7. If we didn’t win game 6, we were going home. Well, we didn’t win game 6.
And then they did it. In looking at the game, it was really quite routine. It was like a regular season game. The Astros took the lead early and then finished a pretty ho-hum affair at 5-1. But I can promise you that Astros fans didn’t see it as routine. We were on fire with fear and anticipation. My brother and his wife watched the game from about the 5th inning on with my wife and me. By “watched,” I mean we sat on their back porch watching play-by-play on our phones, not being able to handle the stress. When the bottom of the 9th came on, the three of them went in to watch on TV. I stayed out until there was one out left. And then it happened. My daughter’s favorite player, Jose Altuve, fielded an easy grounder and tossed the ball to the first baseman. On the field, and I’m sure in many houses, there was much rejoicing.
In ours, there was a soft, hesitant giggle and then silence for a couple of seconds as we stared at the screen and then at each other. Not gonna lie. There were tears. So many years of so much hurt washed away in just a couple of seconds. No, that’s not right, not washed away—made sweet, turned beautiful, worth it, a part of it even. I was glad for the heartbreak, overjoyed by the overcoming of all that disappointment. Come on Cowboys fans, you know what I’m talking about ever since Jimmy left. Oh, never mind, you haven’t won since then. But I digress.
OK, so I know that I’m coming dangerously close to blasphemy. Sports-life isn’t the Christian life, and I don’t want to be flippant about human suffering in comparing it to the suffering of a sports fan. Nevertheless, something about considering this team’s win has provided an opportunity to meditate on texts like Romans 8:18 and Romans 5:1–5. There is something about suffering that makes the glory of final victory all the more meaningful.
Though I am not sure there is an ultimately satisfactory answer to the problem of human suffering, writ large, it seems to me that, on an individual level, we can understand that there is something about suffering—long-suffering—that builds character and makes overcoming much sweeter.
As silly as the opening of this blog is—and it’s really just an excuse to write about the Astros—I do think it’s always helpful to remember that adversity makes life sweet, and especially so for a Christian. For, while we are in the midst of times of struggle now, we know how this one ends. And that ending can make our current sufferings, if not sweet, survivable: redeemed through the joy of the coming victory.
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