As reliever Donnie Hart rejoins Orioles, his heart is heavy for his hometown of Houston

Reliever Donnie Hart had just been summoned back to the big leagues on Monday morning, but on his drive to Baltimore from Triple-A Norfolk, the Orioles left-hander has other things on his mind.

Hart is from the Houston area, and his entire family found itself in the middle of Hurricane Harvey, which has devastated the country’s fourth-largest city and its surrounding areas with massive floods.

So on his way to Camden Yards to report for Monday night’s series opener against the Seattle Mariners, Hart was on his phone most of the time, talking to family and friends who had been affected.

“I’ve been pretty distracted,” Hart said. “My parents’ house is full right now.”

Hart’s home in Katy, Texas — west of Houston — is safe, but Hart’s twin sister, Donna, was forced to evacuate her home as massive flooding shut down the area and forced rescue efforts. She lives in Richmond, Texas, and saw a bayou next to her house steadily fill up. Her backyard started to flood Saturday night and by Monday morning, the water was at her calves.

By midafternoon Monday, as Donnie was making his way to Baltimore, the water at Donna’s house reached about 4 feet, and she, her fiancée, and her fiancée’s parents packed up two Ford F-250 pickup trucks with essential belongings and their five dogs and fled to higher ground to their parents’ home in the west Houston suburb of Fulshear.

“We knew if we didn’t leave we’d be trapped,” Donna said. “So we loaded up our vehicles and said a prayer and made it to my parents’. … We had water coming in our cars and for about 10 minutes we were a little unsure about whether we’d be those people who were stranded in our cars, but thankfully we made it out. But it’s just so much anxiety about when you get back to the house, what it’s going to look like.”

Hart’s other sister, Tammie, lives in another west Houston suburb, but despite the roads in her neighborhood flooding, her home was still safe from water, Donna said.

“I’m safe, my fiancée is safe and my family is safe, and at the end of the day, the items in the house are just stuff,” Donna said. “It can all be replaced. You just want to know what it looks like and don’t know and you just sit here and worry and wonder. You just don’t know.”

Hart’s parents’ home served as a safe haven, but with more rain expected to hit the area overnight as the storm makes a second approach on Houston, it still makes for uneasy moments for Hart.

“When you get that much rain in a short period of time, there’s no high ground,” Hart said before Monday’s game. “The water’s moving where my parents are at, but they’re dry for the most part. So that’s probably the best place, but my sisters’ houses are probably going to take on some water tonight, but hopefully they can catch a little window of opportunity where it can stop raining and the water can move out. But they’re supposed to get 12- to 20-some inches [Tuesday]. You just cross your fingers and hope that everybody get out and be safe for the night.”

Monday night offered some respite for the Harts as the family watched Donnie pitch a scoreless seventh inning in the Orioles’ 7-6 win over the Mariners in his first game back, needing just seven pitches to record three outs and earn the win. Hart was recalled from Norfolk for the third time this season Monday to join the team’s seven-man bullpen after four straight scoreless appearances spanning 5 2/3 innings at Triple-A, including two that covered two innings each. He was optioned back to Norfolk on Tuesday when the Orioles reinstated right-hander Dylan Bundy from the bereavement list.

“We turned the game on and it was good to see,” Donna said about Monday’s game. “We were watching Donnie and it was kind of bittersweet to see him get the win and all that, so that was a good break from watching the news. But that’s all that there is to do. Watching all this devastation, it’s so sad. In some instances, we’re still fortunate with what we’re going to return to. Some houses are completely underwater and we can’t forget about the people who lost their lives already.”

Being 1,500 miles away from his hometown, watching the images of the city’s highways flooded, homes halfway underwater and footage of helicopter rescues wasn’t easy for Hart, especially being so detached from home. But he’s tried to do his part to help from afar.

“I just got off the phone with one of my friends and he’s trying to find a way to leave but he can’t.” Hart added. “So to say the least, I’ve been pretty glued in on the Weather Channel for the last two or three days. Just trying to find ways to help people out and make phone calls to friends. I have a friend who has an airboat. Just trying to get him with people who need help and need a way out. It’s kind of scary right now, but I can honestly say that my family is safe for the most part.”

Before Monday’s series opener against the Mariners, there was a moment of silence for the nine people who have died and more unaccounted for in the flooding spawned from the hurricane. On Monday, Major League Baseball and the players union donated $1 million to the relief efforts in Texas. The Houston Astros’ home series against the Texas Rangers starting Tuesday was relocated to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., the home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

eencina@baltsun.com

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