Thursday, September 17, 2015

How To Deal With The Rangers

Having spent the majority of my life in Texas - spending significant formative years in Houston, college plus a few years in west Texas, and now living in central Texas - you run in to Rangers fans. Most of them are alright. Good people who just like their hometown team. Salt of the earth.

But jeebus they're annoying as hell. There's a stereotype at work, as well. It was sooooo coincidental that their fan base exploded right around the time they made a couple of deep postseason runs. That's what happens when a team that wasn't terribly good becomes really good in a short period of time. It's likely happening in Houston, as well. 

Bandwagon fans are a part of sports, because it's more fun to like a team that wins. Exhibit A is my neighbor in Nashville who was a Heat, Cowboys, Yankees, Alabama fan. Seriously, screw that guy. That's annoying, but you can understand - on at least some level - why he would like teams that give him the maximum amount of leisurely pleasure year-round. 

You're still an Astros fan because the alternative is (a) not watching baseball or (b) you're a masochist, and the suffering that has been the last...what? five? ten years? actually makes you feel powerful. You've earned your fandom, and there's a certain level of street cred that comes with saying, "I actually made an effort and spent a decent amount of disposable income to watch this abomination." In Option B, you can't find it in you to just be a fan of another baseball team. It's unconscionable. 

Point is, you - we - have been through a lot, and the worst time to be an Astros fan has come largely when the Rangers were a decent baseball team. And when you come into contact with the typical crap-talking Rangers fan, it feels like you're talking to a six-year old, because they don't remember when the Astros were a model franchise of consistency and success. There's no perspective. The Astros were in a different league and out-of-sight/out-of-mind, or they were 10-years old when the Astros were piling up division titles. There's a type of Rangers fan whose awareness of the Astros is shrouded solely in the perspective of: "They're terrible, and we're awesome." This type of Rangers fan hates Marwin Gonzalez and still thinks of Jose Altuve as a "midget." 

This has been my favorite exchange with this type of fan (warning: strong language)

Looking back, July 8 was the day after the Astros dropped two of three games at Arlington to fall to 30-52, 20 games back. I had likely spent that weekend mocking Rangers fans because to mock other people for success is so mature. The maturest. But that was this guy's actual response, and it's awesome.

Any time you bring up "bandwagon" to a Rangers fan, chances are they'll name-drop Charlie Hough and Pete Incaviglia to prove that their baseball memory extends beyond Josh Hamilton's Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium. And that's fine - because we, as Astros fans, have done the exact same thing when other teams throw "bandwagon" around to us.

Which brings us to this year. The Astros weren't expected to do anything. On April 9, FanGraphs gave the Astros a 3.5% chance of winning the division and a 10% chance of making the postseason, and we know what happened in April. A crazy month gave way to actual postseason expectations that have survived even through this nightmare of a road trip.

And while the Astros have taken somewhat of a dive, the problem is that the "rivals" have surged. Even more maddening is that Print Hawk Harrelson (Evan P. Grant) looks at the Conger/Odor Bench-Clearing Nothing as the point in which the Rangers' Sleeping Beast was awakened and the comeback began. Like the Astros were the ones laying in their coffin and holding the nails while the Rangers put nails in it.

Now the 1st place Rangers - who have dealt with injuries seemingly for years (providing a handy out-clause instead of the question "why do you sign these players?") - are seen as the Cinderella story, and this cannot stand. No team with a $171m payroll is a Cinderella story. No team that still owes Shin-Soo Choo $102m can be called a Cinderella story. No team that trades for Cole Hamels mid-season is a Cinderella story. The Rangers are a good team who should be good, because their former trajectory was a travesty.

Is there bitterness? Of course there is. Does it make the rivalry sweeter? Well, if the Astros would occasionally beat the Rangers, sure. Basically, I have fallen for Bud Selig's bullcrap realignment argument hook, line, and sinker and it has caused problems in my personal life with friends I've had since the Astros were awesome and the Rangers were terrible. Maybe I'm no better than they are.