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Kiss Our Astros Goodbye

Posted By Greg Prince On November 28, 2011 @ 12:45 pm In 1 | Comments Disabled

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 [1] to prove it [2]. 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 [3] 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 [4], 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 [5]. 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.


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URL to article: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2011/11/28/kiss-our-astros-goodbye/

URLs in this post:

[1] commemorative patches: http://www.sportslogos.net/logo.php?id=sjcpexh6o3uoteyti6kgmjpqv

[2] prove it: http://www.sportslogos.net/logo.php?id=hu4mere2gwshbkqrjfet81zuy

[3] identities were destined to morph: http://houston.astros.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20110922&content_id=25069234&vkey=news_hou&c_id=hou

[4] Bottom of the Ninth: http://www.michael-shapiro.com/bottom-of-the-ninth/

[5] Houston flips: http://blog.chron.com/ultimateastros/2011/11/16/astros’-impending-move-to-al-not-a-hit-with-fans/

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