Saturday, October 21, 2017

Earn It

Earn it. This simple catchphrase was rolled out prior to the Astros 2017 season and was meant to be motto, hashtag and inspiration. But it also defined this young group of emerging stars anchored by a batting champion and a Cy Young winner, a talented group that was starting to really jell but still had to prove themselves on a national stage. With the phrase plastered everywhere, the team was reminded every day that they had to Earn It.

Earn It. Simple, elegant, descriptive. Earn It. But what exactly is "It?" The most obvious answer? Postseason glory. That's what the fans wanted and needed coming into this season and that's what was predicted following what was basically a total gut job and rebuild that started with trading off Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman in 2010 and went into hyperdrive when General Manager Jeff Luhnow took over in December 2011. With the Astros coming off three 100+ loss seasons from 2011 through 2013, Sports Illustrated published their instantly controversial June 2014 article and cover postulating where the Astros "Great Experiment" could be headed.

And Astros fans needed that hope even though that hope was still far off on the horizon. There were so many national sports pundits with their hair on fire over this rebuild, literally accusing the Astros front office of ruining the Integrity of the Game (I'm looking at you, Peter Gammons), that it was difficult to stomach at times. For Astros fans who hung in there despite abuse from so many corners, "It" also became national respectability for the franchise. With this team poised to be a contender for the foreseeable future, they have definitely earned that national stage once again.

But "It" is more.  Jose Altuve, Dallas Keuchel, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Chris Devenski and Lance McCullers also earned "It" in the form of All-Star honors. Altuve has already earned "It" through batting titles and an MVP Award (which he may or may not be given but which he definitely earned). Keuchel earned "It" with a Cy Young in 2015. Although none of these players will be happy until they earn the ultimate "It" for the team and for Houston, they will continue to work towards being the best at what they do and inspiring their teammates to do the same. The latest Astro, Justin Verlander, is there for the same reason ... to excel and to inspire with an eye toward the ultimate "It."

But there is one more "It" that I find equally important to the ultimate "It." This team, with 19 players on the 40-man roster having made their debuts in 2015, 2016 and 2017 and 13 other players who made their Astros debut during that same time, needed to earn the respect and trust of Astros fans who have been waiting for this moment for a very long time. And, for the most part, they've done just that.

But they did that particular "It" one better. Through hearing their stories; through watching their joy and energy on the field; through incredible clutch plays, catches, throws and at-bats; through picking each other up; through their good works off the field; through their generous outpouring of support for those affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Maria ... they have given the City of Houston a team to be proud of, a team to love, a team that we will be telling our children and our grand-children about for decades to come with family arguments erupting over our favorite Astros of all time. And maybe that's really the ultimate "It."