Transporting Astros no easy task
Club manages to escape Ike's aftermath and land in Milwaukee
MILWAUKEE -- Leaving a city that is largely lacking in electricity, water pressure and passable streets is no easy task, as the Astros -- and more specifically, traveling secretary Barry Waters -- painstakingly discovered this weekend.
Once the decision was made by the Commissioner's Office to have the Astros-Cubs series played at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Waters was single-handedly responsible for taking care of all of the logistics involved with transporting the traveling party -- 80 strong -- from point A to point B on Sunday morning.
Usually, this isn't much of an issue, seeing Waters does this 13 or 14 times a year for normal regular-season road trips. But Hurricane Ike changed everything after it whipped through Galveston and Houston in the wee hours on Saturday. Houston was, by all accounts, non-functional. That goes for all three airports, Intercontinental, Hobby and Ellington, all of which were closed for business until at least Monday.
"I got a call from [club owner] Drayton [McLane] [on Saturday] morning, wanting to know if we could get a plane," Waters said. "I said, 'The airport's closed and Continental doesn't have one plane in town. Let me see what I can do.'"
Waters made some phone calls and the answer was what he expected: "There's no way we're going to get a plane here."
Waters took that back to his higher-ups. The response? "Get us a plane." So Waters continued to press, hoping the Astros' strong business relationship with Continental Airlines would eventually sway the airline to help.
He also couldn't help but wonder, why are we doing this in the first place?
"People don't have electricity, trees are down, houses are broken, and we're worried about playing this game?" Waters said.
Few, if any, planes were sitting at Intercontinental Airport, so the airline had to locate one in another city, Eventually, arrangements were made for a plane in Newark, N.J., to leave at 6 a.m. ET and arrive to Houston sometime around 9.
With that piece of the puzzle out of the way, Waters moved on to arranging for bus transportation. They needed two buses to take the traveling party from Minute Maid Park to the airport.
Again, this is usually as easy as 1-2-3 under normal circumstances. Such was not the case in the wake of Hurricane Ike. Houston had become a virtual ghost town, with businesses shut down indefinitely, at least until power was restored to the nearly 2 million residents who lost it Saturday morning.
Waters, working without electricity from his home and getting dangerously close to running out of battery life on his cell phone, frantically tried to contact the Houston bus company he works with, but to no avail.
"All the buses were out of town," Water said. "They had a couple at the yard, but there was nobody to be found. I was panicking."
At 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning, four hours before those buses were supposed to leave Minute Maid Park carrying 80 travelers, Waters finally located two. Getting those buses to the ballpark, however, presented another challenge. Four more inches of rain fell overnight, adding to the watery mess that had already inundated the city. The buses could only get so close to downtown before they were halted by feet of standing water.
After taking several routes around the downtown area, the buses found a path to the ballpark, and at approximately 11 a.m, the Astros left Minute Maid Park. Intercontinental, one of the nation's largest airports, was empty and silent, occupied by only a handful of workers from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) who flew in from other cities to help out when the airport opens to the public on Monday.
The Astros took off close to noon CT and arrived to Milwaukee -- where they were met with yet more rain -- just before 2 p.m. By a little after 4, everyone was assembled in the clubhouse at Miller Park ready for their 7 p.m. start time with the Cubs.
From the outside, the process appeared to come off without a hitch. Inside, however, the feeling was much different.
As Waters recounted the last 48 hours from a side room in the clubhouse, he shook his head in partial disbelief.
"I was biting my nails," he said. "I didn't think any of this was going to happen."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.