Major League Baseball forced a move from the National League to the American League upon the Houston Astros as a condition of approving the purchase of the team by a new ownership group and now MLB is trying to convince the rest of us to get excited about it.
The Astros have been around for 51 years and the baseball world at large has been excited about them for probably a month total, so it’s going to take a little bit of work to rev us up. The big news (drum roll) is that as part of this plan the 2013 season opener on March 31 will pit the Astros against the Texas Rangers.
This is supposed to be the new rivalry, but I don’t think it has quite the pizzazz of Yankees-Red Sox or Dodgers-Giants just yet. For the last few years when the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians met in an interleague series much hyping went on about the so-called Battle of Ohio. A real rivalry, say Alabama-Auburn football, is something that you feel in your soul. Let’s just say that the Battle of Ohio is a work in progress and it doesn’t seem like the Don’t Mess With Texas Series even reaches that level.
By placing that game on the opening night of the season and televising it nationally the sport’s administrators are telling us that it is important. Probably the only people who will watch outside of Texas are fans starved for baseball.
The Astros were moved to the American League to balance the number of teams in each league. The Astros were the team chosen because they have limited tradition and the majors had the potential new owners over a barrell. For a half-century old team Houston hasn’t done much to imprint its best days on the rest of the country with few exceptions. Those were the Astrodome, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Nolan Ryan and a 2005 World Series appearance. This switch resembles the shift of the Milwaukee Brewers from the American League to the National League in 1998. Baseball fans didn’t get exorcized by that because the Brewers also had limited tradition. And at least they wanted to make the move.
It’s interesting that as part of the Astros interleague schedule this year they will still play former NL Central Division compatriots the Pirates, Cubs, Brewers and Reds. Those teams are going to miss having Houston around for a full-blown, same-division schedule because they were so easy to beat up on the last two seasons, so this is their consolation prize. In 2011 Houston finished 56-106 and 40 games out of first place and in 2012 Houston fnished 55-107 and 42 games out of first place. You could hear the cries of “Please don’t go” echo in those other Central cities. Who are they going to beat up on now?
The Astros are trying to start fresh in several ways. Not only will they have a new league, but they will have new uniforms (at blue and orange they could be hideous), and a new manager that few have heard of before. Bo Porter, 40, had a cup of tea or two in the majors with the Cubs, Athletics and Rangers between 1999 and 2001 and batted .214.
But Porter has worked his way up the coaching ladder with various stops in the minors and then with the Marlins, Diamondbacks and Nationals. Good for him. He could be one of those guys who makes it the hard way. Of course, what we all know the Astros need more than anything else is new players. If the Astros were any good that would help jump-start a rivalry with the Rangers.