Baseball Community Answers CallColumns
HOUSTON — Sometimes, even the earliest of warnings won’t prepare you for the reality and wrath of Mother Nature.
Houston coach Todd Whitting, Houston Baptist coach Jared Moon, Texas A&M Corpus Christi coach Scott Malone, Lamar coach Will Davis and many friends and fellow Texans now know that all too well.
As Hurricane Harvey put a bulls-eye on the Texas coast late last week, the storm was expected to go ashore a couple hundred miles Southeast of Houston, slog back into the Gulf of Mexico and cause an unprecedented rain event in Houston. I remember meteorologists saying last week that the area could receive around 50 inches of rain. My thought? No way. Reality? It happened and the city and state-wide destruction was worse than expected. This was the worst flood in United States history, and the cost is expected to exceed $200 billion. That’s staggering to me. To put the storm into perspective, over 51 inches of rain fell in the Houston area over a four-day span. Furthermore, the amount of water that fell in Harris County during that time is enough to put less than an inch of water on the surface of all the lower 48 states.
Though some Houstonians had lengthy notice that severe flooding was expected in some areas, many were blindsided by the sudden rise of the water. Whitting was almost one of those people. The UH skipper, who lives in Bellaire on Houston’s west side, didn’t have water enter his house. He was fortunate, as it only went halfway up his driveway. But his street was under several feet of water and some friends weren’t so lucky. The ferociousness of this storm and the flooding that accompanied it was best illustrated by Whitting, who was at a friend’s house a couple of blocks away Saturday night watching the Mayweather-McGregor fight. When he and his kids arrived at the friend’s house, it was raining and the road was wet, but there was zero flooding. Their car was almost in danger of flooding by the time they left to go home. Those types of stories were widespread in Harris County.
“It’s crazy to see what’s going on, and to see how quick the water went up,” Whitting said. “I have some friends who got flooded out, and I know Meyerland, which is close to my house, was under several feet of water. It’s just unreal.”
Others aren’t so lucky to have dry homes today. Over 30 percent of Harris County, Texas, which is home to $4.6 million residents, is under water and this disaster has hit close to home for Whitting and others. While most of Houston’s team is in good shape, at least one player had to be airlifted out of his home and another is from Rockport, Texas, where Hurricane Harvey made its first landfall last week. Meanwhile, Moon, the HBU skipper, tweeted out of a picture of his family evacuating their flooded neighborhood. In Beaumont, the apartment complex that houses many of Lamar’s upperclassmen has flooding throughout the first floor and many players had to be evacuated. Meanwhile, Davis, who is headed back to Beaumont from Baton Rouge, said at least six players have lost their homes to floods. And at Texas A&M CC, team equipment manager Jordan Lucks’ house is flooded in Kingwood, Texas, while others throughout the program have been affected. Those stories in and around Houston and Southeast Texas are ongoing and heartbreaking. But in these challenging times, the greatness of the human spirit, and fellow Texans and many Louisianans, namely the Cajun Navy, has been on display for the world to see.
The stories of heroism down here will be told for a long time. Thousands of personal boats were and are still being used to evacuate flood victims, and yesterday, Steve Perez, a Houston police officer, lost his life responding to a distress call. He’s a hero. San Jacinto (Texas) CC assistant coach Eric Weaver used a boat to help rescue those looking to evacuate their flooding homes. Texas A&M CC’s Dustin Lacaze has been involved in rescue operations with a boat. Texas A&M pitcher John Doxakis’ family mobilized boats for rescue operations. And in Beaumont, east of Houston, Lamar lefthander Ryan Johnson’s house flooded, but he insisted on helping out rescue operations around his neighborhood. Incredible valor and strength.
Everyone, it seems, has felt the need to answer the call for action.
While Whitting didn’t have flooding in his house, he was unable to leave over the weekend because of treacherous waters. He wanted to be out helping, not sitting at home. But he couldn’t. It wasn’t safe, it was almost impossible and he had kids to tend to at home with his wife out of town.
So, he had an idea – get involved in other ways. UH basketball coach Kelvin Sampson put out a call to action to other college basketball programs on social media. He wanted schools to send UH any team gear they could spare, especially new shoes, to disperse throughout the community. The response was overwhelming, as Sampson’s original tweet now has over 6.2K retweets and 7.7K likes on Twitter. Whitting carried over that same approach to college baseball, and as expected, the response has been overwhelming. In addition to 100 or more Division I programs reaching out to Whitting to commit gear, some professional organizations, high schools, junior colleges, summer travel programs and some baseball-related companies also have answered the call. The baseball community, as expected, has responded in overwhelming fashion.
“Honestly, the response in baseball as a whole has been unbelievable. I think the thing that has surprised me a little is the outreach from all over the country. It’s not just the South, there’s been a desire to help from all over, including California, Connecticut, New York. It’s been from all over,” Whitting said. “I thought it was a great way to reach out and get some help. It will help lift the spirits of some people in Houston to have new t-shirts and new tennis shoes, especially when they are coming directly from a university.
“What I’m really trying to emphasize to people is that we’re looking for new shoes,” he continued. “What better way to help people who may not have anything than to give them a new pair of shoes, and shoes that came from someone who cared? That’s pretty special.”
Whitting and Houston aren’t sure when they’ll be able to start delivering the apparel that will soon arrive from across the country, though the UH head coach suspects the mail manager for UH athletics will be a little busy over the next couple of weeks sorting things out. But he promises the clothing and shoes get in the hands of the right people and those who clearly need it the most.
The time to deliver in that way will soon come. But in the meantime, Houston’s players are delivering in other ways. Whitting said he has groups of players out in the community Wednesday ripping out walls and removing furniture and other items from homes where water has already receded. Others around the area aren’t so lucky, as rescue operations continue in Northeast Houston and other affected areas. It’s truly devastating.
“I think when you represent the University of Houston, you have that name on your jersey and you represent this entire community,” he said. “There’s no doubt this event will affect our team, but I’ll have a better feeling for how much after I meet with the team and a few days pass. But it’s time to start some recovery efforts and I think people in the City of Houston have done a terrific job.”
At some point, Whitting and Houston, Lamar, Rice, other programs, and the people around the region will return to normalcy. But for now, it’s all about helping the fellow man or woman, no matter the cost. And that’s the way it should be, contrary to what the environment of our country might have been the weeks before this disaster.
At different points in life, you are asked to answer the call. And this week, with so many people hurting — some of these people I’m thankful to call friends – the college baseball and baseball communities have answered the call in amazing fashion.
I’m not remotely surprised.
UPDATE: The Cougars should have an opportunity to start distributing the apparel at some point in the next week. UH officials ran into some issues this past week when NCAA rules dictated the clothing and more couldn’t go to organizations or people that were of “recruiting or prospect age”. However, the NCAA said it was reviewing the policy in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Not surprising, the NCAA granted a waiver for the apparel to be sent around as UH sees fit. Kudos, NCAA and UH for getting this done.
Speaking of the apparel, UH head coach Todd Whitting tweeted a picture of all the schools that have donated thus far, while also tweeting a photo of one day of shipments. To say it’s impressive is an understatement.
— Todd Whitting (@toddwhitting) September 9, 2017
— Kendall Rogers (@KendallRogers) September 9, 2017