Friday, October 5, 2012

Change Is Good?

Change is good. At least that's what they keep telling us. And this is, after all, Houston. A city that has reinvented itself many times over. A city where buildings that are thirty years old or older should automatically get historical designations. A city where, it has seemed at times in years past, no one is actually from. We have very little sense of history in this city.

So I suppose it was natural that Allan Huber "Bud" Selig crammed the Astros move to the American League down our throats with the ownership change. Who cares? It's just Houston. Never mind the 50+ years of history with the National League which, quite frankly, is the equivalent of 100+ years in a city with so little stability. But water under the bridge. No use crying over spilled milk. What's done is done. Pick your platitude.

Enter Jim Crane. Long-time Astros fans (and, yes, there are still many of us) were still reeling from the impending move to the American League. What does Crane do? He casually drops a bombshell that he's thinking of changing the name of the Astros. It was a completely tone deaf move that generated enormous pushback as well as enormous angst by the fans.

What ensued were more and more changes, some good, some bad. Despite conducting focus groups and surveying people to death on many, many topics, Crane throws up hideously ugly advertising signage (you can call it community leaders all day long, but it's still advertising) in left field with nary a word ... on taxpayer owned property. Yes, Houstonians are allowing our view to be spoiled by this blight even though we actually own Minute Maid Park. When does the billboard go up in my backyard? This would be an example of a bad change. As was dismantling the terrific social media presence that Alyson Footer had established.

On the baseball side, the Astros cleaned house, dumping all of the big contracts and trading for a good number of high upside prospects. This would be an example of a good change. The Astros have also done a good job of giving season ticket holders a little more bang for their buck with season ticket holder events and access to front office staff.

But what about the average fan? Not someone that lives and breathes this stuff everyday like me. Not even someone like my sister who has partial season tickets and knows just enough to be dangerous. What about the fan that goes to five to ten games a year, doesn't read the newspaper beyond an occasional boxscore and definitely doesn't read any of the blogs. You know, the person who turns a 13,000 attendance figure into a 30,000 figure. What is that person seeing?

Mr. or Ms. Average Fan saw yet another record losing season. They saw 50 different players wearing an Astros uniform, most of whom they don't know from Adam. They saw the same old tired in-game promotions from last year. They saw an ugly sign go up in left field to block their view of downtown and the fireworks show. They saw a new manager take over. And a new first base coach. And a new hitting coach.

Next year, they're going to wonder why we're playing Oakland so much and when the next Cardinals series will be. And who is Bo Porter? And who are all those new coaches? They're going to turn on their televisions and they may or may not see Jim Deshaies and Bill Brown. No one will say definitively yet, but it doesn't sound good for Bill Brown. And they'll turn on their radio and wonder whatever happened to Dave Raymond and Brett Dolan and Milo. And what happened to the train? Didn't there used to be a hill out in centerfield? It's a wholesale dismantling of everything that Mr. or Ms. Average Fan find familiar and comfortable. There is not even a hint of continuity for them.

Some of these changes will ultimately prove to be good and some ultimately bad, but I am hard pressed to think of one single change thus far that an average fan would wholeheartedly like other than being able to bring in food and drink.

The latest of these changes happened last night when it was announced that the contracts of Brett Dolan and Dave Raymond would not be renewed. Yes, the long-suffering duo who have propped up Milo Hamilton for the last several seasons won't get a chance to see what life without Milo might be like.

I'll be honest. I didn't like Brett and Dave at first, mostly because they had no history with the team. But after seven years with the team, they had built that history and they had built a following. And Dave, in particular, was incredibly generous in his interactions with Astros fans which made the broadcasts even more fun for many of us who follow him on twitter.

But at this point, I was still trying to keep the move in perspective. I know that not everyone liked their style. Perhaps the Astros front office is bringing back Larry Dierker or Alan Ashby, announcers who truly were popular with almost everyone. And then I saw this on twitter:

We wish Dave and Brett well. We look forward to finding someone to fill Milo's big shoes (or it is his voice). We want to hear your ideas.

Seriously?!? You don't already have someone in place? So we could end up right back where we started seven years ago with an inexperienced tandem with no knowledge of the team? And you want our ideas about replacing them, but you didn't ask for our input about whether or not they needed to be replaced in the first place? This boggles the mind. At least it boggles my feeble little noggin. Again, it just seems so completely tone deaf.

Ultimately, the Astros may hire new broadcasters who will be beloved by all for the next 20 years. Ultimately, the Astros will start winning again. I am hopeful that the new uniforms will hearken back to incorporate the Astros history. I hope for the same when it comes to changes to the mascot and the ballpark. I hope that Bo Porter is a good manager. I hope that Porter puts together a good staff. I hope that we don't lose 100+ games again next season. I hope that the Astros keep Jim Deshaies and Bill Brown together. I hope that Astros social media becomes fun and interactive (and accurate) again. I hope that all these changes we're seeing right now will fade into the past and ultimately the good will outweigh the bad. But right now, all I'm seeing is an all out concerted effort on the part of the front office to alienate and drive away Mr. or Ms. Average Fan. Change just for the sake of change? Not good.

Owning a baseball team isn't like owning just any other business. I'm not going to get terribly worked up if Sears quits selling Kenmore washers and dryers or if Kentucky Fried Chicken changes its brand to KFC. Baseball is a business that resonates with people. A business with a history that becomes intertwined with family histories. Entire relationships are built around and defined by baseball. I don't know what my father and I would have talked about in his final years had it not been for baseball. And I know that I am not alone in saying that.

Jim Crane may think that he can run the Astros as a nameless, faceless, soulless business. But, if he does, there is one thing that he doesn't understand. He doesn't actually own the Astros. The people of Houston do. We're just letting him rent the team for a while. The sooner he realizes that, the better. And, by the way, get that damn sign off my property.

7 comments:

  1. Well said, my friend. You were much more collected in thought and eloquent than I was! I'm too pissed to think.

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  2. Thanks! I had a lot of time to think about it at 3:30 this morning when I couldn't sleep. This sinking feeling in my gut was keeping me awake.

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  3. Although this began in Drayton's tenure, I am very upset, that at the present time, I cannot get the Comcast Sports Net channel on which the Astros and Rockets can be seen because I have Directv and not Comcast as my provider. Highly alienating. The only other major thing that PO'ed me was the blatant extortion by Butt Selig to move the Astros to the AL instead of moving HIS Brewers, whose switch from the AL to the NL specifically caused the "problem" he now felt there was in unbalanced leagues. He will never be forgiven for that here in Houston.

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  4. I'll never understand how Selig gets by with doing the things he has done, whether it's not letting the Astros close the roof during the Series, moving the games to milwaukee (non-caps intended)when other less-biased venues were available, dragging his head in the sand through the steroid era so now all players who played in that time span are considered guilty, and of course, his extortion to misplace the Astros. I don't care how much attendance in baseball has increased; all you have to do is look throughout your neighborhood and see how many kids are out tossing baseball or playing pick-up games. Kids have little to no interest in baseball anymore; very few would call it their favorite sport. And although blame is not all selig's, his short-sightedness and greed will cost baseball dearly. It's a good thing the kids from other countries still like baseball. I can't imagine the level of play we'd be watching if they ever lose interest!

    As someone who lives far away from Houston and unable to attend games in person, I am able to only watch games on TV.If the placement of the sign in left field is an indication of the type of scientific decision making we will now see from this owner, this franchise is doomed. It looks hideous!! No way a sane person thought of this! And the team better have Brown and Deshaies back on TV. They are a great team, actually make watching the game enjoyable, and there is no earthly reason either should not be back.

    The fans who pay to attend these games who have been able to withstand these shenanigans over the years are unbelievably loyal and the Astros should thank you all for standing by them.

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  5. Good article, and it's a message that needs to be heard. Thanks for taking the time to write this up.

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  6. Well said, Jayne. Nance

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  7. i love minutemaid field because it is our home...however it was a ridiculous design that has cost us an untold amount of runs. 2nd base is no longer scoring position, and not even matt galante can coach third base at minute maid. long story short, after all i've been through as a grade A Astros fan. I'M NOT BAILING NOW! Go Astros! Rangers suck!

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