Astros Enter Brave-less New World

added 8/6/2012 by Bob Hulsey

Some Astros fans feel more hate for the Dodgers, the Mets, the Cardinals or the Cubs. For me, it is the Braves. The angst of five postseason series, the excruciating losses of 1999 and 2001 and the hard-fought victories in 2004 and 2005 that pushed the Astros to the limit will always be part of my feelings about them.

Mix in the annoying tomahawk chop they stole from Florida State, the strike zone a foot off the plate any time Tom Glavine pitched and the everpresent fans left over from the TBS years and you have lots to irritate the sensitivities of longsuffering Astros fans that even the 1980s can't mitigate. It seems like every time the Astros had a chance to wipe away the tears of so many playoff failures, the Atlanta Braves were right there to stand in their way.

So, as strange as it sounds, I'm going to miss them. The conclusion of this weekend series marks the last time Astros fans will see the Braves with anything meaningful to play for. Of course, they'll still be just up the road every spring training that we stay in Kissimmee and there will be the occasional interleague series but, unless it happens late in the season, it won't have the same intensity. It just won't.

Even at the end, the Astros had Atlanta fans worried. How damaging to their psyches it might have been had Houston won two out of three? I'm not sure they could recover.

It's only now that the reality is setting in for me this deal with the Devil that was struck to switch leagues. How badly it is going to suck watching series after mind-numbing series against teams Houstonians care nothing for, such as the Mariners, the A's, the Royals, the Blue Jays, the Twins, the Orioles, etc. The Astros should consider a No Doz concession at Minute Maid next year. The decibel level may need to be cranked up just to keep fans awake.

Of course, the American League is trying to keep our attention by offering us constant looks at Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. See, Houston? Nothing's really changed!

But everything will change except the name. In some ways, that's comforting. In five years, nobody will be able to remember the final disastrous season in the National League. Nobody will recall those record-setting losing streaks and oceans of empty seats. Brad Mills will be the answer to a trivia question. Enerio Del Rosario will sound again like a Spanish utility company instead of a bad reliever.

There will be new uniforms, a new cable channel, a new league and new rivalries. We will fit in just as well as West Virginia will fit into the Big XII. And when Lance Berkman waddles to the plate on his bad knees to DH, he'll be the final link to any National League glory Astros fans may remember.

Yet one can never truly forget those tight games on Astroturf when the Astros stole bases more often than trotted around them and where we could unleash horrors on opposing lineups like Nolan Ryan, J.R. Richard and Joe Niekro until batters couldn't wait to flee the Dome. Minute Maid Park will probably never intimidate AL rivals the way the Astrodome used to intimidate NL hitters.

Just like when they joined the National league, the Astros will be at a severe disadvantage when they enter American League play. We'll probably have deficits in the all-time series of every league opponent the way the Colt .45s did against everyone but the Mets. Who will this generation's expansion club have around for comic relief like the Mets were for us back in the 1960s? The Royals? Alas, we'll be the comic relief for the rest of the league, especially the Rangers.

Maybe someday a roster of Singleton, Springer, Correa, DeShields and Cosart will give us a winning record. The last expansion Astros needed ten years to beat the .500 mark. With any luck, it won't take these expansion Astros that long. Wake me up when we get there. I'm going to need a long, long nap.

(Edit: One of my favorite correspondents, Father Michael Lyons of Ganado, TX, sent me a noteworthy response to this column and I felt it worthy for you to read his comments, with his permission: )

Now that the 2012 season is post-All-Star break and post-trade deadline, we actually get a glimpse of the gate to the cemetery as the hearse takes the corpse of the Houston Astros National League franchise toward its final resting place. The long procession is bringing many people to bid farewell to a fond and dear friend who was a lively companion on many, many, many a spring and summer night and a few but very memorable autumn nights.

That the current season has played out like it has makes it even more to liken this year to an end-of-life situation for a friend or family member. I saw the Houston National League franchise develop from an expansion team into a middle-of-the-pack competitive team to a consistent contender and playoff team, on the cusp of greatness as a franchise, only to be ravaged with the disease of willful incompetence driven by greed, leading to its current state as terminally ill, with death imminent with two months.

Since the organization decided to make this a 50th anniversary celebration, plodding through this season has been bearable only because there are built-in moments to cherish the memories. I purchased the 50-year highlights video with DVDs of four complete games. I've taken the time to watch the highlight video and the no-hitters of Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott. I've yet to watch Game 5 of the 2004 NLDS or the 2007 game at Minute Maid Park when Craig Biggio collected his 3,000th career hit. (The highlight video is riddled with mistakes, and while any highlight of the Astros is fun to watch, Ryan's no-hitter would not have been anywhere within a top 4 of memorable Astros games. I'm digressing a bit here, so suffice it to say for now I am mulling around with a list of top 10 or top 15 days that it was especially great to be an Astros fan.)

While I remain firm in my decision to switch allegiances to a steadfast National League club, Houston will, in essence, have another expansion club next year. Starting in a different league than their baseball heritage with new rivals and new uniforms and extremely low expectations for the 2013 version of the team, Houston will be the equivalent of an expansion team. That makes it even easier for me when I go on mlb.com and order an authentic cap of my new favorite team come December or January.

As to the topic of this column, the reality of the end of Houston's cherished NL heritage hit me for the first time earlier this season, when the Astros finished playing the Los Angeles Dodgers. What battles we had with those guys in the 1980s! I recalled Tommy Lasorda famously saying, during the middle portion of the 1986 season, "The Astros are only renting first place." When the Dodgers, who barely avoided the cellar that year, came to Houston just before the Astros clinched the NL West in September, Lasorda was greeted with signs in the crowd such as "Hey Tommy, we're on the rent-to-own plan." Then my favorite sign, the day of Scott's no-hitter against the Giants that clinched the division: "Houston Astros. Address: First Place. WE RENTED IT. WE LIKED IT. NOW WE OWN IT."

All of things you mention in the column about the rivalry with the Atlanta Braves was written like a true Astros fan. The Cable Braves, I used to call them. When Tom Glavine goes into the Hall of Fame, I say the plaque should not be his bust in a Braves cap but a 21-inch-wide home plate, with an acknowledgment in the text to the umpires who worked the plate for his 300-plus career wins. When Rafael Furcal hit the game-winning homer in extra innings in Game 2 of the 2004 NLDS, I spontaneously added lyrics to the Tomahawk Chop: "Oh, how I hate those Braves, hate those Braves, just hate those Braves." And how delicious were those NLDS victories in 2004 and 2005!

Thanks again to all the crew at Astros Daily. I have been checking it daily for many years now.

God bless you and keep you.

Fr. Michael Lyons
Ganado, Texas