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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Kiss Our Astros Goodbye

In practice, I might not notice the Houston Astros’ disappearance from the National League all that much. With 162 games and oodles of non-divisional opponents on your dance card, what’s one home series and one road series in the scheme of things? But in theory and sentiment, I will surely miss our fraternal twins when they are snatched from our midst and set down in some foreign land.

The Mets and the Astros came into this world together. They have the commemorative patches to prove it. Their strongest bonds of commonality are their 1962 birthdate and their bloody 1986 civil war pitting expansion brother against expansion brother, but their paths have crossed 561 times besides. In the mind’s eye, the Mets and Astros are forever enmeshed, perhaps inside the Astrodome where each team is trying to push one lousy run across the plate as the innings pass through the teens and meander into the twenties…

Or the Astros are trotting by the Mets so relentlessly in the second game of a futile doubleheader at Shea Stadium that Cleon Jones loses interest, which isn’t a good idea when Gil Hodges is around…

Or Tom Seaver is flying out Art Howe to deep left before catching the next flight himself to Cincinnati…

Or Mike Piazza and Todd Hundley are making you wonder what might have been had they managed to stay in the same lineup through September…

Or Pedro Martinez is taming every Astro save for Chris Burke…

Or David Cone is doing the same, except the role of Chris Burke is being played by Brooklyn’s own Benny DiStefano…

Or Brooklyn’s own Nelson Figueroa is pitching the game of his life for the team of his (and Benny DiStefano’s) childhood, which turns out to be the last real chance the Mets will give him…

Or Dwight Gooden is climbing a fence so he can get on with the business of his major league debut…

Or Carlos Beltran is climbing a hill as he silences catcalls…

Or Ron Darling, Bobby Ojeda, Rick Aguilera and Tim Teufel are getting sprung on bail after a misguided trip to Cooter’s.

Or Lindsey Nelson is speaking into a microphone while embedded in a gondola…

Or Ralph Kiner is noting the thickness and blackness of the mosquitoes infesting Colt Stadium just in case he needs something to talk about on a future trip to town…

Or Casey Stengel, after a harrowing night of travel and 71-plus years on earth, is issuing orders to his traveling secretary that that if anybody at the hotel is looking for him, Lou Niss can “tell ’em I’m being embalmed.”

Or whatever private Met-Astro/Met-Colt .45 memory you carry with you from the Mets’ 50-year, 260-win, 306-loss, 1-tie relationship with the team that got on the field one day before the Mets did (it rained on the Mets in St. Louis, while it stayed dry if buggy in Houston), stayed out of the cellar on account of the Mets’ iron grip there (Colts’ first-year record: 64-96, two places and 24 games ahead of the maiden Mets) and have yet to be remotely as transcendent as the Mets have been (Championships: Mets 2, Astros 0; Myths: Mets countless, Astros fewer). To say it’s a rivalry might be pushing it, yet they are siblings in a way the Mets aren’t with any of their longtime National League East compatriots. Together they made the Senior Circuit modern.

From eight ancient franchises to a nice, round ten, the two newest were soon playing in pens that were harbingers of a slick, sleek future just up the road if you squinted purposefully enough. Shea Stadium gleamed with nary a pillar or post to block your vision of tomorrow. The Astrodome made the atmosphere outside irrelevant, except when the sun couldn’t shine through the glass ceiling to sufficiently grow the grass. The heck with that, Judge Roy Hofheinz said. The roof got painted and a carpet was laid down.

Indoor baseball! Astroturf! All the colors of the rainbow populating every stitch of polyester the Astros wore! The Houstonian version of tomorrow died out prematurely — except as nostalgia — and a franchise that paid homage to the space program moved into a throwback facility built on the site of an old train station. Maybe identities were destined to morph a little too easily in Houston. They, like us, were conceived in the Continental League. They, unlike us, could have started in the American League.

George Kirksey, their rough approximation of Bill Shea, “never stopped looking for wealthy men who could help him bring a major league team to Houston,” according to Michael Shapiro in Bottom of the Ninth, the illuminating tale of how baseball came to expand in the early 1960s. Kirksey and his conspirators weren’t necessarily picky about where they wound up. During the 1960 World Series, with matters still unresolved, Kirksey ran into Yankee co-owner Del Webb, chairman of the A.L. expansion committee. “I thought for a minute he was going to invite us to join the American League,” Kirksey recounted, but Webb kept mum.

Too bad, George thought, since the Yankees would be a swell draw in Houston. But major league was major league to Texas, so Kirksey reached out to Walter O’Malley. After telling the N.L.’s grand poobah that “Houston was prepared to commit to the National League, if the league would commit to him,” Shapiro wrote, O’Malley “looked at him for ‘what seemed like hours’ before he finally replied, ‘All right.’”

And with those words, Houston became what New York had been in spirit and was waiting to become again in fact: a National League town. That lasted 50 years — 51 counting next year. Then, per whatever sweet nothings Bud Selig whispered in Jim Crane’s ear, Houston flips. The Astros will set up camp in the American League West starting in 2013. They’ll get their visits from the Yankees. They’ll get their visits from the Mets in due time, too, as the 15-on-15 realignment scheme will likely allow for more Interleague play and definitely unleash more regular Interleague play. It has to, once you do the 30-team math.

One more barrier between the leagues has been knocked down. Nobody really talks about National League towns anymore. There are no more league offices. If Fall Classic combatants are unfamiliar to one another, as Texas and St. Louis were after not facing off since 2004, it’s a fluke, not the norm. Sooner or later, Selig’s successor will probably infect Citi Field and 14 other proper shrines to the game with the DHV, or Designated Hitter Virus.

On paper, it’s nice and logical that everybody playing baseball plays by the same rules and under the same tent. It goes on in the NFL all the time. Nobody blinks when the Giants draw the Bills or the Jets take on the Redskins. It goes on in the NBA all the time as long as they have their usual 82 games. East meets West as a matter of course. Baseball is on its way to becoming just another sport in that regard. Larger playoff fields, common jurisdiction, cross-pollination of the schedule just like they have in football, and the Houston and Dallas franchises in the same division, just like they have in basketball.

Yup, just another sport. We who were created by modernization as it was defined in 1962 maybe shouldn’t throw stones at the contemporary house it has wrought on the eve of 2012. Baseball didn’t freeze in 1952 with eight teams competing for one pennant in two leagues, anchoring the Braves in Boston, the Browns in St. Louis, the A’s in Philadelphia or the Giants and Dodgers forever in the five boroughs. If the last pair doesn’t leave, we don’t arrive with Houston in tow. Then there are no Mets, no Astros, no certifiable classic NLCS in 1986.

For which, unless the descendants of those participants — slated to play their final National League HOU-NYM game on August 26 in Flushing — effect a sharp turnaround immediately, there will never be a rematch…unless it’s in a Mets-Astros World Series in an extremely distant future.

20 comments to Kiss Our Astros Goodbye

  • JoAnn

    Enjoy this year because I suspect it will be the last time you will see MLB games played without the DH. I just don’t see how they go into 2013 with different rules for each game.

    I’ll miss real baseball, with bunting and double switches and stuff. But then, I suppose there were fans back in the 1920s who missed seeing the spitball as a legitimate pitch.

    In time, I suppose I’ll get over it.

  • Jon Shafran

    I say get rid of the DH and make these guys play the field. Keep the strategy in baseball even if it means a pitcher attempting to hit the ball

  • WalterA98

    Please please no DH. Eliminate the DH in the AL.

  • Dak442

    This whole thing stinks. Year-round interleague games, too many playoffs, the spectre of the DH leering over the league which plays actual baseball… thanks for nothing, Bud.

    And this new owner – what is he thinking? How many of his games are now going to be played in his own time zone? I’m sure the fans will enjoy regular 9 PM or later starts.

    I won’t particularly miss the Astros; other than a week-and-a-half in October 25 years ago, they largely evaded my baseball consciousness. Well, that and their spectacular rainbow uniforms, which were infinitely better than the bland, focus-grouped dreck they sport now.

  • Rob D.

    The only league in America (I think the world, too) that DOESN’T have the DH is the National League.

    • Dak442

      All the more reason to hold out for all that is good and right and true.

    • Alin Japan

      Japanese Central League still plays without the DH. Gary Cohen would always say Hisanori Takahashi didn’t bat in Japan, when he had played his entire career as a starter for the Yomiuri Giants.

  • Will in Central NJ

    I recall also that incredible game on 8/30/1999 when Edgardo Alfonzo went 6-for-6 in dismantling the Astros, 17-1, in the Astrodome. Good times, man.

    Personally, I will also remember that the Astros were the opponent at Shea on 6/16/91, which was the only baseball game that my Grandma (now aged 96) ever attended in person, with my dad, my brother, and myself present. Sweet Music Viola wasn’t so that Father’s Day, blowing a 3-run lead and losing, 5-4.

  • open the gates

    When I think Mets-Astros, I think of the one guy whose career kind of sums up the whole relationship.

    His name is Mike Scott.

  • Schneck

    My most distinct Houston related memory is looking at Rusty Staub’s baseball card in the mid-70s and being struck every time when I saw his team as the ‘Houston Colt-45s’ for his first few seasons. It made it look like he played so, so long ago with this long defunct (in my perspective since the Astros were born the same year as me) team name.

  • Kevin From Flushing

    If Bud does what he undoubtedly wants to do (bring in the DH to the NL, realign the league so it’s east vs west, shorten the season to 120 Games and allow 16 teams in the playoffs), can we start a Continental League with pre-1994 mlb rules?

    Or maybe just let everyone continue to use steroids so everyone keeps making money and we can stop changing the rules to line the owners’ pockets. I’d honestly prefer it that way.

    And good riddance to Houston. They helped provide some CLASSIC postseason drama (1980, 1986, & 2004 NLCSs, 2005 World Series), but thankfully lost out each time. I’m probably inviting some bad karma with that comment, but as a Met fan, would I even notice?

  • Joe D.

    Baseball lost it’s glorious heritage in 1994 due to both the strike and the introduction of the new playoff system. Up until then, it distinguished itself from all other sports not just in being the greatest game in the world but by that one was either a champion or not.

    Being a division champion today is hollow. You have just four other teams to finish ahead of,not six. One (now two) can finish second and still have a shot at a world title. Back then in the National League you played teams in your own division nearly sixty percent of the time (the AL, always in need of gimmicks to draw, went by a balanced schedule which meant winning a division depended upon which division one was placed).

    There are no true champions anymore and as we learned in 2006, being the best team in the league means nothing since post season has become a tournament. Winning the eastern division in 1988 means more than winning it 2006 and facing the Dodgers in league championship series two days after the season ended 25 years ago was more dramatic than having to play them in the first round of a playoff.

    And Houston still belongs in the national league – return the Brewers to the AL where they started. And, of course, get rid of the DH all together.

  • March'62

    I think the problem is too many teams. With 28 teams, there’s no need for constant interleague play which I hate immensely. As long as the AL has the dreaded DH (nice initials but that’s irrelevant), interleague play is just a glorified exhibition that carries way too much weight for the regular season. They need to contract Tampa and Florida (or is is Miami?) and eliminate interleague altogether. If people in AL cities want to watch NL players (and who wouldn’t?) let them visit a man cave. Otherwise, get off of our schedules and we’ll see you in October.

    • Or too few. Seeing what a third rail contraction is, I’d favor going to 32 and getting the same result.

      If I could get rid of one franchise it would be the Marlins. Horrible franchise, horrible baseball town, and now they have horrible uniforms and that horrible Vegas thing in center field. I just loathe everything about them.

      • Dak442

        Another franchise I have no use for is Washington. Sure, they have some up-and-coming young talent, but they are otherwise pointless. Was there really a great clamor for baseball across the street from the Orioles? Everything about them bleats “meh”: their cookie-cutter stadium, bored fans, dull-as-dishwater uniforms, and especially, their name. The Nationals? That’s really the best they could come up with? (Yeah, Metropolitans is just as mundane, but there was a history behind it.)
        It’s a shame baseball couldn’t identify a Canadian buyer with deep pockets that could have tried to make a go of it in Montreal. I guess the fans their voted with their pocketbook.
        On the plus side, there’s 9 or 10 games a year that will always be in the “value” tier at Citi.

  • Andre

    I have a few comments.
    1. Regarding the DH.
    Get rid of it. Seeing as how the union would have a fit about it don’t get rid of the position but add a roster spot to the NL teams.
    2. Regarding Houston
    Besides being Bud’s team is there any reason that someone can explain to me why the Brewers just don’t move back to the league that they are from to begin with?

    • March'62

      It was Houston that moved so they can have the natural rivalry with the Rangers. Milwaukee was originally an NL city with the Braves, so they (the powers that be aka Selig) are claiming their rights of return.

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