LOS ANGELES -- When Enrique Hernandez had that magic moment, hitting his historic third homer in the Game 5 victory that punched the Dodgers' long-awaited ticket to the Fall Classic, he rounded the bases thinking not about his personal place in postseason lore.
He thought about his native Puerto Rico, ravaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
"I hope people in Puerto Rico are watching this," Hernandez thought to himself, "because this is going to make them feel good."
This is the kind of heartfelt heroism that pumps so much passion into the World Series presented by YouTube TV. As is always the case when baseball's season reaches this peak point, the Dodgers and Astros are playing for their spot in October lore, for the Commissioner's Trophy and the parade party and the glistening rings. But in 2017, after Hurricane Maria and after Hurricane Harvey, for the players with the word "Houston" on their chests and for the Puerto Rican men on these rosters, this Fall Classic means even more than it ordinarily would. There is a story and a situation pervading this postseason that is bigger than them and their baseball dreams, and the platform this pivotal Series provides gives them the ability to affect lives in ways that go far beyond sheer celebration.
"It's a baseball game," Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said, "but then you realize there's a million moving factors behind the scenes that make the situation very real."
A million factors, including the more than $15 million raised through direct league and club donations, as well as fundraising pages, to assist individuals and communities affected by the hurricanes, as well as the earthquakes in Mexico.
After Harvey hit in August, MLB and the MLB Players Association jointly made a $1 million donation to various relief efforts throughout Texas, including the American Red Cross. Astros owner and chairman Jim Crane, the Astros' ownership group and the Astros Foundation also pledged $4 million to aid the victims of Hurricane Harvey. MLB's new crowdfunding partnership with YouCaring had an instant impact, and, across the league, players with Texas ties -- including Dodgers ace and Game 1 starter Clayton Kershaw, a native of Dallas -- made generous personal donations to efforts in the area.
"The Astros were a great story for what that city has been through," Kershaw said. "I'm from Texas. I have a lot of friends there. My wife went to Texas A&M. She has a lot of friends in the Houston area, as well. She has family there in Sugar Land. We have a lot of people that were affected by this, as well. It's something that we wanted to be a part of and we wanted to do our part."
This Astros story -- a 101-win season, and then an awesome run through October that included two momentous wins at Minute Maid Park after the Astros returned home for Game 6 of the ALCS facing a 3-2 hole in the best-of-seven series -- has been a welcomed distraction to those hit hardest by Harvey. When the Astros clinched their World Series berth Saturday night, the emotion behind the accomplishment was evident.
"A lot of guys are invested in Houston, because it's our home now," Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. said. "It's a very real scenario when you talk to people and they're telling you they lost everything they have. House, furniture, cars, nowhere to sleep, lost family. Some people died in the flood. And a lot of people don't have insurance for it. They have flood insurance but not national disaster insurance. These are people that don't have the means to pick up and go buy another house. So we can feel the emotion coming from the fans back to us and how much they're invested in our season."
The storm displaced 200 kids who attend the Stafford Boys & Girls Club in Fort Bend County daily, temporarily moving them to a building next door. The club took on 18 to 24 feet of water and sustained roof damage, and experienced mold and furniture problems. With donations from MLB, the Astros and Fort Bend County assistance, the club is 75 percent back to what it was before Harvey.
Harvey was, unfortunately, just the beginning. It has been five weeks since Maria's 155-mph winds hit Puerto Rico, and most of the island is still without electricity or clean water. In September, MLB donated $1 million to assist communities affected by Maria and the earthquakes in Mexico, and MLB has also funded travel for physicians and other medical personnel to help those on the island.
For Puerto Rican players like Hernandez, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Correa, the jubilation of a deep October run has been coupled with the frustration and concern about the painfully slow progress back home.
Beltran personally donated $1 million to relief efforts, and Crane let Beltran use his plane to deliver supplies to the island.
"My brother called me and said, 'Carlos, I'm in line for gas and I've been here for 27 hours,'" Beltran said. "The situation was not good. So when you hear that, you start appreciating things more. … We're doing good things. We have sent seven planes to Puerto Rico with supplies, we have impacted almost 20 towns in Puerto Rico. I'm sending about 20 containers 10 days from now that are going to impact another 20 towns. I'm doing the best I can as an athlete and as a representative of Puerto Rico. But at the end of the day, the island needs more help."
Crane also lent the plane in the immediate aftermath of Maria so that the families of various Puerto Rican-born players, including Beltran, Correa and Hernandez, could get to the mainland -- proving that when hardship strikes the MLB community, the community rises to the challenge.
"If you're a Major League Baseball player, we consider you family," Hernandez said. "Whenever there's somebody in need, somebody's going to have your back."
The players have made every effort to lend support where they can, including a "Sweep the Series" contest through which fans can try to pick the winner (with score) for every World Series game for a chance to win $1 million. For every download of the MLBPA's Infield Chatter app, the players will donate to hurricane disaster relief.
Hernandez's own fundraiser for Puerto Rico -- YouCaring.com/LosNuestros -- saw a huge surge in support in the wake of his epic Game 5 of the NLCS presented by Camping World.
"I was thinking about closing it a few days ago," he said with a smile. "I think I made the right decision by leaving it open. Having the game I had in Game 5, the fans' way of showing appreciation was donating. Hopefully I can have a few good games in the World Series to where the fans feel they can donate more and raise some more so we can help out a lot more people."
That's the spirit of this World Series. It's not just about the men on the field and their pursuit of a lifelong dream. It's about the impact their efforts can have on those whose lives and dreams have been adversely affected by Mother Nature's harshest.