"LET’S GO RANGERS! *clap clap clap-clap-clap* "LET’S GO RANGERS! *clap clap clap-clap-clap*
It isn’t too surprising to hear chants for the Texas Rangers -- one of the preseason favorites to come out of the American League and make another trip to the World Series -- in Texas. What is surprising is hearing them at Minute Maid Park, the home of their soon to be division rival Houston Astros.
I have been to three different home stands this season and chants for the visiting team have been audible at all of them. Astros fans rose to the occasion and drowned out the trespassers the first two times. But this weekend, it wasn’t even close.
"Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes it rains." -- Bull Durham
The 2012 season has been a rainy one indeed for Houston. With recent changes in the front office, an impending move into the American League and a complete roster overhaul in the works, the Astros aren't just playing for 2013. Realistically, they're playing for 2014, 2015 and maybe even 2016.
The result has been a stark drop in attendance, with the low turnout for the games a running joke amongst the Houston faithful.
The Rangers are on the opposite side of Nuke Laloosh’s spectrum: fresh off back-to-back trips to the World Series, with one of the baseball's most popular players (Josh Hamilton) as well as an international star in Yu Darvish. They've completely revitalized interest throughout the state in what was a perennially cellar-dwelling franchise.
It wasn't that long ago that the Astros were the toast of baseball in the state. In 2005, they capped off nearly a decade of excellent teams with a World Series run. But no help for stars like Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman ever came up through the farm system, and that one World Series loss proved to be the last hurrah for the Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio era.
Wandy Rodriguez, a pitcher Houston has been more than willing to trade for several years, is the only holdover from those teams. Jim Crane, the Astros new owner, has already tried to distance himself from the franchise's recent failures: instituting new "fan friendly" rules at Minute Maid, lowering the price of tickets and testing fan reaction to a possible name/jersey change.
Despite grumblings from longtime fans, the move to the AL West will provide the fresh start of which the franchise is in desperate need. In the NL Central, the Astros have always been overshadowed by historic franchises like the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, and Chicago Cubs.
In the AL West, management can build upon the rivalry with the Rangers and expose the Astros to new media markets on the west coast. Isn't it better to be the new kid on the block rather than the forgotten child? Based on the drop in attendance this season (over 4,000 a game: 21,242 this year before the Lone Star Series compared to 25,518 last year) and the reoccurring perception that Astros fans are actually the minority in their own stadium (they were definitely the minority on Friday as Rangers chants often drowned out Astros fans), I suspect the Astros front office has already concluded that the move is a change for the better.
As of right now, Houston is caught in a lost season awaiting the forecast of next year from the front office. Hopefully, the rain delay won't last too long, and the state of Texas can finally have a legitimate baseball rivalry.