“It means a lot,” Altuve said of the award. “It’s a dream come true.”

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“For myself, personally, to share it with Jose and the Astros is great,” Watt said. “I think it’s also great to be able to share it with the 200,000 people who donated and everybody back in Houston. This award is bigger than me, it’s bigger than Jose, it’s bigger than both of us; it’s Houston. It’s this whole movement of people helping people. That’s what’s really special.”

Among the other athletes honored at the event was Carlos Beltran, the Astros’ recently retired designated hitter. Beltran, who hung up his spikes in November following a 20-year career, was named the winner of the 2017 Hope Award for his work raising money and creating awareness not only for the Houston-area victims of Hurricane Harvey, but also his native Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

“You don’t want anyone to go through those types of situations, but I got to see people get together and gather to help as much as they could,” Beltran said. “I always say that out of something negative, you can bring something positive. The positive part is that a lot of people got together and we were able to see the city of Houston recuperate.”

Beltran on winning Hope Award

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz was on hand to present Beltran’s award.

“When people like Carlos Beltran take time off from winning a World Series — which is hard enough — to open their hearts like so many of the American people have done, it’s just incredible for us,” Cruz said. “Just to be here among athletes that use their voice and use their strength to help others … it’s very important.”

As Harvey approached Houston and the city braced itself for potential devastation, the Astros were on the West Coast, ultimately forced to play “home” games at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

The Astros knew they would be coming home to a surreal scene, but the reality was even more distressing than many of them had imagined.

“We got to Houston, and we saw a lot of people that lost everything they had,” Altuve said. “It wasn’t easy for us, but we had to stay there and keep playing. We had to do everything we could to steal a smile from every single fan that was going through a tough time.”

Hinch on continued success

Altuve, Beltran and the rest of the Astros did their part in the community, volunteering around town. But it was their play on the field that provided an emotional boost for the people of Houston.

“The fact that we were able to bring joy through the games to some of the fans going through tough times, that was a good feeling as a ballplayer to be able to do that,” Beltran said.

The Astros knew a lengthy postseason run would further lift the spirits of the storm-ravaged city. Houston defeated the Red Sox in a four-game AL Division Series, then outlasted the Yankees in an epic seven-game AL Championship Series, winning the final two games at Minute Maid Park to stave off elimination and advance to the World Series for only the second time in franchise history.

Altuve on receiving SI honor

As intense as the ALCS was, it paled in comparison to the World Series, which featured five games decided by two runs or fewer, including a pair of classic extra-inning contests in Games 2 and 5 before the Astros won their first championship with a decisive Game 7 victory.

“That cured a lot of people’s hearts that were going through very tough times,” Beltran said. “As a team, we battled throughout the year, but we showed as a team and a city that sometimes you go through ups and downs, but at the end of the day, if you stay together, you’re going to be able to overcome a lot of things in life. Seeing the city stay together, they’ve really overcome a lot. I’m very proud of being able to do what we did for Houston.”

Watt, who raised more than $37 million for hurricane relief after starting a fund with an initial goal of $200,000, was widely praised for his tireless work on behalf of Houston. But he believes the Astros’ championship march did something entirely different for Houston, providing a much-needed distraction during the difficult aftermath of the hurricane.

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“It was unbelievable to watch as a fan, to be able to see how it affected the city,” Watt said. “To be able to see a city going through such a tough time, [for people] to have a smile on their face because of what the Astros were doing, Jose and the Astros have done an unbelievable job, and they deserve every honor coming their way.”

“Houston is a big, big sports city,” Altuve said. “We knew that if we won the World Series, we would give them that smile and that hope in the middle of the disaster that was going on.”

Watt, whose own season ended when he suffered a fractured left leg on Oct. 9, got to take part in the Astros’ run himself, taking the field with the aid of crutches before Game 3 at Minute Maid Park.

“It was incredible; I’ve thrown out a couple first pitches there before, but nothing like a World Series game and nothing like that situation,” Watt said. “I’m thankful to the fans who made an incredible atmosphere. I’m disappointed in myself for not getting it across the plate, so I’m hoping they invite me back so I can throw another one across the plate. And I’m disappointed in Dallas Keuchel for dropping the ball.

“Let’s do this whole thing again next year, except I’ll be playing and I’ll be walking and I can throw 75 miles per hour across the plate. That would work.”

As memorable as that experience was for Watt, the defensive end recalled a different moment that stuck with him during the Fall Classic.

“More than ever, I saw what sports can do and how sports is so much bigger than just a game, just a win,” Watt said. “I saw a photograph during the World Series of a family who was in their home, but they had no walls, stripped to the studs, they had no floor, just plywood. They had a TV somehow rigged up that they had plugged in and they were sitting on five-gallon buckets — and they were cheering after a home run.

“You sit there and think, ‘They don’t have walls, they don’t have floors, they don’t have anything, but they’re happy.’ Why are they happy? Because Jose Altuve just hit a home run. That’s unbelievable, the power that sports can bring to a community and lift their spirits. Even if it was just for that day, even if it was just for that hour, that’s pretty incredible.”

SI’s Sportsperson of the Year Awards Show will be televised nationally for the first time, airing on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET on Dec. 8 and on Univision Deportes Network at 8 p.m. ET on Dec. 9.

“We will remember 2017 as much for what athletes strove to achieve off the field as for what they achieved on it,” said Chris Stone, editorial director of sports at Time Inc. “While J.J. and Jose represent two very different paths, they both led to the same destination: #HoustonStrong.”

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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