ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — A.J. Hinch conceded it was difficult to concentrate on baseball.
Like the rest of the Astros and Rangers who traveled halfway across the country to play a three-game series relocated to Florida because of Hurricane Harvey, the Houston manager had mixed emotions about being at Tropicana Field on Tuesday night.
The intrastate rivals settled on meeting in St. Petersburg — home of the Tampa Bay Rays — after the Rangers refused to swap home series and stick themselves with a longer road trip next month.
“It’s hard to imagine playing. It’s hard to imagine not playing,” Hinch said.
“They’re going to be played at some time. Given that we’re safe and out of the area and out of danger, I understand. ... Obviously, it’s out of our hands,” he added. “We understand the magnitude of what’s going on back home. We know that we can only offer a little bit of a reprieve by playing, and trying to play well and trying to win the series, but it’s a distraction.”
Players on both teams talked about the difficulty of boarding flights Monday for the trip while so many people were suffering because of the storm.
Texas outfielder Delino DeShields took exception to some of the banter on social media that criticized the Rangers’ refusal to play the series in Arlington, where Astros players would have been closer to family and friends affected by the storm.
“We really can’t control where we’re at right now. Our hearts and prayers are with everybody in Texas,” DeShields said.
“Me personally, I want to be there to help everybody in Houston and be there for the state, but we’ve got a job to do,” he added. “We’ve got to play baseball. And we’ve got to play baseball somewhere where both sides agreed upon to play.”
DeShields said too much was being made about the decision to move the games to Florida.
Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. was among those criticizing the Rangers for not swapping home series, writing on Twitter on Tuesday that the organization “should be absolutely ashamed.” The nasty dialogue on social media “disappointed” DeShields and “kept me up” until the wee hours of the night, when he posted a lengthy statement on Twitter urging everyone to remember what’s really important.
DeShields said it took him nearly an hour to compose the tweet. By the time he reached Tropicana Field on Tuesday, his anger had subsided.
“Obviously everyone is sad for what’s going on, and people are using baseball for an excuse to disrespect each other and to make someone feel superior than the other, when it’s not about that,” DeShields said.
“It’s about Hurricane Harvey flooding the city of Houston and affecting the cities around it. I think people need to get their priorities straight. They need to realize what’s really important,” DeShields added. “And that’s doing whatever they can do to help the people down there deal with the situation that they’re dealing with.”
The Rays said it’s believed to be the fourth time in MLB history that games have been relocated to neutral sites because of weather.
The Astros also were involved as well in 2008 when two scheduled home games against the Chicago Cubs were moved to Milwaukee due to Hurricane Ike.
Three games between the Angels and Indians were played in Milwaukee instead of Cleveland because of snow in 2007, and two games between the Montreal Expos and Florida Marlins were moved from Miami to U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago due to Hurricane Ivan.
“It’s tough to sit here ... thinking of all those people at home while I get to go play a baseball game, while thousands and thousands of people have been stranded, stuck, they’ve lost their homes, they’ve lost everything that they have,” Astros outfielder George Springer said.
“It’s puts it into perspective how fortunate I am and how fortunate the guys in this room are that we weren’t there,” Springer added. “We’re playing a game as thousands and thousands of people are stranded. It’s sad to see, but our thoughts and our prayers are obviously there.”
Rangers manager Jeff Banister agreed.
“The video and pictures are one thing when you watch. It’s gut wrenching. Then you feel helpless of not being able to do anything that helps out,” Banister said.
“I can offer prayers and encouraging words but when the videos and pictures start coming out you saw areas I’ve been around my entire life in standing water,” the manager added. “It’s incredible for me to even wrap my brain around. I can’t imagine the fear that everybody in the community felt.”
Banister said he hoped the games here will provide fans of the teams at least some “momentary relief from what is going on in their life.”
“Throughout our history baseball has been a great distraction for different moments in time,” the manager said.
“That’s why I said I hope that both of these teams, team members from the front office and all the way down understand that this is not about us. This is not about who we are. ... We’re gonna play and put on the best show we possibly can and do it the right way for the right reasons.”
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