You saw me crying in the chapel
The tears I shed were tears of joy
I know the meaning of contentment
I am happy with the Lord
Over nearly 10 years of being legal drinking age, when I was trying to think of places to go get drinks, I had a different set of criteria than a lot of other people my age. For most folks in their 20s, they’re looking for the hippest, trendiest bar in town where they have a chance to see and be seen.
I tended to seek out the place with the least amount of people, while still being among the sort of people I felt comfortable with. In Houston, this meant avoiding Midtown at all costs. Big Star had a cool back area and the best jukebox in town. Lola’s was cheap and seldom crowded, but perhaps too dive-y. Once Cecil’s Monday night prices for wells and Lone Stars skyrocketed from $1 to $1.50, enough people stopped coming to make it comfortable. Plus, it being an old haunt of Bill Hicks lent it an extra bit of allure.
There was another place in Houston I could go during that time, that I always knew would offer me a peaceful, quiet evening. No exorbitant door charge, no packs of annoying yuppies elbowing me out of the bartender’s field of vision. Beer prices were a bit high, but at least you got to keep the neat souvenir cup it came in.
Minute Maid Park was, for a time, one of my favorite quiet hideouts in Houston.
Rebuilding is a time which tries fans’ souls, when the summer supporters and sunshine season ticket-holders will, in this crisis, shrink from their service to their team. As fans watch old favorites traded away for fresh, anonymous faces, they are often left wondering whether they still love a team whose constituent parts carry no emotional attachment. For many Astros fans, the years between their World Series run in 2005 and their surprise resurgence in 2015 were ten years of solemn goodbyes, misery, and humiliation. Folks stopped going, stopped watching, stopped caring.
For a Bay Area native and baseball fanatic, it was opportunity. In those years, my favorite team was busy winning 3 World Series, throwing 4 no-hitters, 1 perfect game (never mind who that came against), winning a Rookie of the Year, an MVP, a Comeback Player of the Year, Gold Gloves, and Silver Sluggers. My baseball cup ranneth over; I had no skin in the game. I could watch a truly terrible baseball team in my town secure in the knowledge that my “real” team was out there being amazing.
And when you can tolerate watching some truly horrific baseball, it opens you up to some surprising benefits.
Tickets are cheap. For a few years, if you brought a sports drink label with you to the ticket counter, you could get 2 tickets for 2 bucks. If the person behind the glass was nice enough, you’d get your labels back to use next week. Of course the seats were in the nosebleeds, but 1) nosebleed seats are fun to sit up in and laugh at a baseball team and 2) we never sat in them anyway.
A very bad baseball team can also be very fun to watch. Even the best baseball teams in history lose a third of their games; you’re not always guaranteed a fun night at the ballpark. A team with incompetent players, on the other hand, proves to be pretty consistently entertaining. Over at SB Nation, they have a whole collection of GIFs of the Astros screwing up hilariously. I know for a fact I saw at least one of these plays live.
There’s just something more relaxing about an empty stadium. I’m a very lazy man; I hate having to get up for row-mates to get to their seats, hate standing in long lines for concessions, and much prefer staying seated during particularly stressful at bats. Once too many people are there, it’s much less easy to take it easy.
But there’s one more thing that supporting a bad team gets you: moral superiority. Understand, this whole apocalyptic tank job was in service of a greater goal. When Jeff Luhnow was hired by the Astros as general manager, I told all my Houstonian friends: start going to games now. Be a fan in these low times. Because in a few years, these constant high draft picks and low committed salaries are going to result in a young, talented, and deep major league roster. When that happens, you don’t want to be labeled a bandwaggonner. You want to be doing the labeling.
And it looks like last year is when that plan finally came to fruition. Maybe not, given the way this year has started. But regardless, the Astros have a 25-man roster that many believed was among the best in MLB, a farm system consistently ranked as #1 or #2, and a new TV deal to help encourage them to get that payroll back up into the triple-digit millions.
But as a new era of Astros baseball dawns, I look at what I’ve lost from the last one. This offseason, the Astos announced they’re already increasing ticket prices. It’s crowded again at Minute Maid. Crowded with bandwaggonners (See? Feels good). Is it worth it, overall? Yes. Absolutely. Getting to watch Carlos Correa hit and Lance McCullers pitch is worth every moment. But as Club Astros opened, I had to say goodbye to my friendly neighborhood dive bar.