Commentary: What’s in the Astros’ secret sauce? Nothing but love

As an elated, exhausted and dislocated Houstonian living in my new hometown of Austin, I am grateful to the Astros for their inspiring World Series run this October — and especially for providing so much positive energy to a flood-ravaged city.

More than ever, our country needs baseball right now. It needs the values that are being taught by the Astros in the World Series: patience, humility, focus, resilience, dedication, commitment to team and — most importantly — love.

Make no mistake about it: The Astros thrive on love. Love for the game, which inspires us all. Love for each other as a team. And the mutual love felt between the team and its home city.

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Having grown up in Houston, I am as scarred as any Houston sports fan. The wounds of victories that almost happened — from Astros teams in 1980, 1986 and 2005 — are as painful as ever. Any Houston sports fans old enough to remember those teams carried the burden of what might have been. So many memories exist of great teams and great games in the Astrodome and Minute Maid — but no championships in the 55 years of the franchise. But this 2017 Astros team changed all of that with a uniquely different recipe: love.

Everyone who watches this team knows it all starts with Jose Altuve. Though the team is gifted from top to bottom, his presence — though small in stature — looms large in every way on the performance of this team. I agree with Justin Verlander: I literally love Altuve. You can’t watch the guy on a regular basis and feel any other way. His mere presence in the game at 5 feet, 6 inches is an inspiration, not to mention the fun he has on the field and his consistent savant-like performance.

Having watched Altuve and the Astros consistently for the better part of the last several seasons and listening to A.J. Hinch’s effusive praise, it is apparent that he spends as much time lifting others up as he does perfecting his own craft. When Altuve says he loves his teammates — which he says a lot — he means it. With all due respect to Carlos Correa’s vote for the fog machine as the MVP of the Astros, my vote would be for love.

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The Astros genuinely love each other as teammates and friends — and this glue has allowed the team to move mountains. The fans have seen it and responded with a maniacal level of support and a din of noise matched by few, if any, venues in the country. While attending Game 3 of the World Series with my 8-year-old son and seated near the Astros dugout, I found myself yelling “We love you, Marwin.” I cannot remember a sporting event in my life where I used the L word, but the feeling was unmistakable — and everywhere inside Minute Maid Park. Marwin Gonzalez had hit a crucial game-tying home run in Game 2 off Kenley Jansen — and I loved him for it.

As Houston continues to heal from Hurricane Harvey, the Astros have provided a much-needed source of pride for a great city. They are the toast of baseball and to be admired for many reasons. They have an outstanding manager who balances instincts and analytics and a prescient general manager in Jeff Luhnow. Though each of these advantages has been essential for the success of 2017, all of them can and will be replicated by other teams seeking baseball’s ultimate prize. What cannot be copied is the love-based chemistry on this team that has inspired the world.

Fleming is a co-founder of Pioneer Green Energy in Austin.

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