From tragedy to triumph

Rice U. lecture features Houston Astros staff members discussing team’s historic World Series victory following Hurricane Harvey

Only nine weeks after Hurricane Harvey devastated the Bayou City, Houstonians were hungry for something to celebrate — and celebrate they did, when the Houston Astros beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of the World Series last November.

Sport management panelists

Panelists Jose Enrique Cruz ’13, Giles Kibbe and Justin Wolin ’15. Photo by Kerri Barber.

On April 12, the Rice University Sport Business Society, an organization of the Department of Sport Management, hosted “From Harvey to History: How the Astros Won More Than the World Series.” Astros employees Justin Wolin ’15, Jose Enrique Cruz ’13 and Giles Kibbe spoke to a crowd of approximately 50 Rice students and staff about how the Astros rallied around the city in the days and weeks following the storm’s devastation and the road to winning the first World Series title in the franchise’s history.

Clark Haptonstall, chair of the Department of Sport Management, said it made sense to host a panel on this topic because Hurricane Harvey and the Astros’ World Series victory are two of the biggest events in the history of Houston.

“Because both happened within a short span of time, they will be intertwined in the minds of Houstonians,” he said. “It made sense to get perspectives from Astros staff members on the two events and their impact on one another.”

Just days after the storm hit, the Astros were scheduled to play a series against the New York Mets. Cruz remembers that there was some question as to whether the series should be played, but ultimately it was decided that the games would go on.

“If there’s one thing I know about sports, it’s that entertainment and getting people’s minds off of the disaster and issues they are going through is definitely welcomed,” said Cruz, who played baseball at Rice and had a six-year professional career prior to joining the Astros as a corporate sales manager.

World series ring

2017 Houston Astros World Series ring. Photo by Amy McCaig.

Wolin, a senior analyst of business strategy and analytics for the Astros, was asked to volunteer to hold the American flag on the field during the first post-Harvey game.

“Out there on the field with the first responders, it was just incredible to see how people came together,” Wolin said. “Hearing firsthand the stories of people impacted by Harvey, seeing how the city and people came together and the perspective of being on the field holding the flag with all the people in the stands was a powerful experience.”

Wolin said that following the storm, the Astros’ employees seemed to share the belief that the team’s success was critical to the city’s recovery.

“Even people who were impacted by the storm stepped up to help out,” Wolin said. “And sometimes this meant taking time away from their personal lives, but there was an understanding that [the team’s success] was really important for the city. People really came together.”

“It was extremely long hours for everyone,” said Kibbe, general counsel for the Astros, of the days and weeks following the storm. “But even the employees who had trouble at home didn’t miss a beat. It was double time for everyone — everyone was doing things they didn’t normally do. But at the same time, we had a great season going on and a lot of excitement at the ballpark, and we knew if we could execute our jobs and give Houstonians a place to go to get away from everything going on, that was really important, especially to people impacted by storm. It really motivated everyone to keep working harder and harder.”

Panelists pose with their World Series rings. Photo by Kerri Barber.

Panelists pose with their World Series rings. Photo by Kerri Barber.

“Following Harvey, we were all asked to step up in whatever way we could,” Wolin said. “And even if you’re doing this work for the greater good, it reflects well on yourself and the organization for which you work.”

And as the Astros continued to shine in the final weeks of the season, it wasn’t just winning games that motivated the team, Wolin said. It was hearing the impact that the team’s success had on Houstonians.

“Hearing people say things like, ‘The Astros are winning and having a great season and that’s helping me get through a tough time and motivating me as I rebuild my house,’ or ‘helping lift my spirits as I volunteer in Houston,’ were really powerful things to hear,” Wolin said. “I think we all realized we were part of something that was really bigger than ourselves.”

And it wasn’t just the employees behind the scenes helping out — the players were anxious to pitch in as well, Kibbe said.

“Everyone was wanting to help out,” he said. “We were getting supplies from all over the country, and getting them faster than they could go out. The players were actively helping out, visiting evacuees at the George R. Brown [Convention Center] before games and more. Everyone wanted to do more, but it took some time to roll things out and figure out the best way to help people.”

The Astros acquired Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander just days after the storm, and Kibbe said Verlander immediately wanted to do a fundraiser for the area.

“Even if the players weren’t originally from Houston, they were doing everything they could to help out and gathering together,” Kibbe said.

Wolin said flexibility and the ability to step outside his comfort zone were skills critical to navigating his job post-Harvey. He said they’re also important skills for Rice students seeking jobs in sport management.

“I recommend that students seek to develop these skills in college and not to be afraid to take risks,” he said.

Cruz said adaptability, relationship-building and just “being good to one another” will help Rice sport management students immensely as they navigate the professional world.

“Treat others how you want to be treated,” he said. “That’s something you can use as a child, through college and in your workplace.”

Wolin, Kibbe and Cruz all remarked on how thankful they are to work for an organization like the Astros.

“Our organization has the unique opportunity to create special moments in people’s everyday lives that not every company can create,” Wolin said. “Even if just for a moment you can create positive memories for people, it can be very powerful and uplifting. We’re very grateful to be able to do this on a daily basis.”

Taylor Scott, a sophomore and president of RSBS, said she was very pleased with the turnout for the panel.

“It’s great to see a lot of young SMGT students and prospective students so eager to learn about the great opportunities Houston has to offer and be willing to ask insightful questions for our panelists,” she said. “We are so grateful to have the relationships with these panelists that we do, and for being able to learn from and hear about their experiences during such a crucial time in the lives of Houstonians. Being able to engage with our panelists is one of the greatest opportunities that an event like this provides, and as we have seen with SMGT’s proven track record of placing students in internships and jobs with the Astros, the maintenance of these connections can open unbelievable doors for our students.”

“As a Sport Management student, I am incredibly privileged to have access to these influential playmakers that have helped rebuild the city of Houston through sport,” added Simon Bergsrud, a junior and secretary of RSBS. “The Astros did more than just win the World Series; they provided a sense of hope and a united front after the storm. Cruz stressed the importance of adaptability and I will always keep that tenant in mind as I navigate my own career and learn to move efficiently against the obstacles of life beyond Rice!”

For more information on Rice’s Department of Sport Management, visit For more photos from the event, click here.

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.