More than a game

Former Dayton Dragons manager Alonzo Powell avoids Hurricane Harvey

By Marc Katz

That pitcher, Alonzo Powell was saying, “doesn’t really care if you have a situation. He wants to get you out.”

The “situation” is in Houston, where Powell works as an assistant hitting coach for the Astros, the best team in the American League West and other than the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team with the best record in baseball.

You may remember Powell. He was the friendly guy who managed the Dayton Dragons in 2004-05 and was hitting coach for the team in 2006.

Players flocked to him even though he managed parts of only two seasons as an outfielder in the majors, saving his best play for Japan where he once led the Central League in hitting three straight years.

Since 2002, he has been in coaching, working mostly in the major leagues the last 11 years, with Seattle, San Diego, and now Houston.

I have had terrific relationships with most of the Dragons’ managers – including the current one, Luis Bolivar – but Powell is the only one I asked to ride home with from Spring Training.

I was so boring on that trip, I fell asleep.

Anyway, as Hurricane Harvey was pummeling Texas, it reached inland to Houston, which I hadn’t been expecting. I thought it was just going to be a coastal thing.

And I thought of Powell. He had to know what was coming. Even though the Astros were on the road, I knew he would be affected and would have some commentary.

“I’m okay,” Powell e-mailed me back when I inquired. “I’m living in Spring, about 40 minutes north of Houston.”

Now, it’s more than a week since the storm hit, and Powell was answering a phone call with more detail.

The Astros were finishing a three-game series at home with Washington on Thursday, Aug. 24, and opened a short three-game road trip to Anaheim the next day.

“We knew the storm was coming,” Powell says. “It was supposed to be a tropical storm, maybe a (level) two. It got over the Gulf and gained power.”

By Aug. 25, the level two became a level four.

The Astros won two of their three games in California, then had a home series scheduled with the Texas Rangers. That obviously wasn’t going to happen in Houston, although the Astros’ stadium suffered no major damage.

Plans to move the series to Dallas where the Rangers play didn’t work out, although that’s where the team flew. Tampa’s stadium, home of the Rays, was available so the Astros and Rangers headed there.

In one day, the Astros moved coast-to-coast. They considered themselves lucky they weren’t in the eye of the storm.

Then Houston was supposed to open a series against the Mets on Friday, Sept. 1, leading to two decisions. The team would play at home even though the Rays’ stadium was still available, and Friday’s game would fold into a day-night doubleheader on Saturday.

“It’s a game,” Powell says. “You have human things that happen to you in life. When I got home, the place I’m staying had some roof damage. I was lucky.”

Some of the Astros had much more home damage. All moved their families to safety. One player, Powell says, has yet to get to his home. A bridge leading to it “disappeared.”

But there was also baseball to be played and it could be argued that the game contributes to the recovery, the way it allegedly did in the dark beginning days of WWII.

Baseball asked then-President Franklin Roosevelt if it should shut down the game beginning in 1942, just a few months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Roosevelt’s type-written answer was a timely poem to diplomacy.

“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going,” Roosevelt wrote. “There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before…

“Here is another way of looking at it. If 300 teams (counting the minor leagues) use 5,000 or 6,000 players, these players are a definite recreational asset to at least 20,000,000 of their fellow citizens. And that, in my judgment, is thoroughly worthwhile.”

In 2001, seven weeks after the 9/11 attacks on New York City, the World Series was delayed but was played  some of it in Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees lost in seven games to Arizona, but American gained a back-to-normal boost.

Now it was time for baseball to step up again.

Houston staged three games against the Mets in two days, drawing more than 30,000 a game. The Astros won all three games, profusely thanking the fans for caring and disbursing a pile of free tickets.

Many of the Astros (and Mets) went to shelters the day before the games to help where they could. Powell was on concussion protocol. He had been hit in the head by a batted ball during batting practice.

“I wanted to help, but I wasn’t allowed to do much,” Powell says. He praised his team, and his city.

“Sports has a way of healing different things around the country.”

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Marc Katz
Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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