Come along with me
To my little corner of the world
Dream a little dream
In my little corner of the world
You’ll soon forget
At the moment, comparing the Houston Astros franchise to the Texas Rangers is a good way to make yourself depressed. Against all odds, the Rangers seem to have recovered fully from the franchise’s brief fallow period between their back-to-back 2010/2011 World Series appearances to last year’s playoff berth. As of this writing, the Rangers are 8.5 games ahead of the Astros in the American League West, thanks to a 75-53 record that is the second best in baseball.
They’ve been helped to that record by a number players acquired in pretty frustrating fashion. Ian Desmond was signed for a song after apparently no other team could use a very good shortstop, then became a “surprise” All Star. Jonathan Lucroy almost went to the young and exciting Cleveland Indians before exercising his no-trade clause (which he was well within his rights to do) and being sent to the Rangers. Last season, Cole Hamels was almost an Astro before exercising his own no-trade clause (which he was within his rights to do, but I’m much less sympathetic).
It hasn’t all been luck though, which is maybe more frustrating. They somehow found a way to build one of baseball’s best farm systems without losing near as many games as the Astros have over the last 5 years. Rougned Odor is better than I thought he was, Nomar Mazara is a Rookie of the Year contender, Joey Gallo is a shiny building of a home-run factory, and oh yeah, Jurickson Profar is still knocking around in there somewhere.
Ok sorry enough of that. This is a happy blog, honest. I’m here to tell you that we have something amazing that they don’t have. Something that, from the looks of things, they will maybe never have. We have a wonderful, wonderful stadium to go to.
I’ve had my issues with Minute Maid Park in the past. When the roof is closed, it does look like someone put a baseball field in an old warehouse (while this is a great example of building to match your surroundings, given it’s right across 59 from the Warehouse District, that doesn’t make it nice to look at). And I’ve always enjoyed baseball played indoors much less than a game played outside.
But the simple fact is, Houston doesn’t have the weather to watch baseball outside. It becomes miserable. We need that roof. And when we don’t need that roof, Minute Maid happens to be one of the most beautiful parks in baseball when it’s open (to me, anyway).
We really have it good with Minute Maid. It’s a cozy little park nestled right on the edge of downtown, a throwback to parks like Ebbets Field and Fenway Park, that took on odd dimensions so that they could fit into their neighborhood. You can park downtown (free after 6, perfect for 7 o’clock start times) and walk the city’s streets on the way to the stadium, passing bars and restaurants and churches and other signs of communal living. When you go to Arlington for a baseball game, you are not connected to the city in any meaningful way. You’re not strolling through your city, you are a paying customer in the Arlington Sports and Entertainment Family Multiplex. To offer less signs of life than Downtown Houston is a pretty impressive feat.
Don’t take that sense of community for granted, either. It’s not some liberal arts claptrap that focuses on warm and fuzzies and ignores the practical realities of taking the family to a baseball game. Baseball, more than any other sport, is one that weaves itself into our day-to-day lives. Our football teams play one game a week, and we spend days preparing for it, set time aside, and devote that whole day to rooting for our team. We become slightly different people because we can afford to for just one day a week.
Baseball is happening far too often to let us do that for every game. When there’s a game happening nearly every day for six and a half months, it fades to the background most of the time. We have it on TV while we do the dishes. We walk by the stadium and hear fireworks and a roaring crowd. As a result, baseball becomes like a painting or photograph that was hung in our home growing up. We tie it inextricably to a time and place; a feeling. It’s part of the story of our life.
I’ve written before about how Minute Maid can feel like a cozy neighborhood dive bar under the right conditions. Ticket prices have gone up, and there are more people at games now. But you can still grab tickets for $5-$10, and — shh, don’t tell anyone — go sit wherever you feel like.
You know what else? Dallas doesn’t have the weather to watch baseball outside either. Difference is, they didn’t seem to realize this after 20 years in Arlington Stadium and 22 subsequent years at Globe Life. It has only just now occurred to ownership that a retractable roof would be swell for the hot summer months when people are actually in the stadium. And heck, while we’re at it, let’s just give the whole thing a re-do. $1 billion should do the trick.
Ok, so they’re not asking Arlington taxpayers to pay a full billion. They just need $500 million from the taxpayers, and they’ll get the other half. Well, they say “get the other half”, but actually 30% of the $500 million they’re on the hook for will come from an extension of the sales tax that’s paying for AT&T Stadium and a “parking and admission tax”. So, in other words, the taxpayers will pay for 80% of the $1 billion.
Let’s not pretend that Minute Maid was built on pure corporate altruism. You and I paid a lot for it. But that’s every stadium. The best deal taxpayers have gotten on a baseball stadium still costs the city millions in tax breaks on the land. But it is pretty rich that the Rangers will cry that their stadium is obsolete when the architect that built it did so in a way that would make it last 100 years.
So take heart. This might not turn out to be the wonderful season we all thought it would be. There’s a non-zero chance we’ll have to watch the Rangers go much further in the playoffs than we like. But we can take some small measure of solace in the fact that our team truly belongs to Houston. It’s our team, because they live with us. They are us. That’s something you can’t put a price tag on.