It can’t get any worse? The hell you say

Now, a brief interruption of this blog’s on-going obsession with the intolerable behavior of our #IMPOTUS, to offer evidence of the complete falsity of that old saying: it can’t get any worse.

Despite national championships from its professional basketball and baseball teams, and never even once from its NFL team, Houston is a football town in a football state.  Always been that way.  The Houston Oilers were the champions the first two years of the American Football League and never won it all again, but they were still the darlings of this town.  Even when they set a league record for blowing the biggest lead ever in a playoff game (a record that still stands!), the people generally got over it by the start of the next season.  (Didn’t forget, mind you, but bravely pressed on.)  Their owner was hated, but the team was loved, and in 1997 when the hated owner made good on his threat and packed the team off to Tennessee, general melancholy set in among the folks left behind to mourn.

For many, a reason to live again came with the NFL expansion Houston Texans, who started league play in 2002 in a shiny new stadium that made the Astrodome look…well, just sad.  Like most expansion teams (except the Oilers), the Texans were terrible; and yet, they have never not played before a sellout crowd in their home stadium.  Because Houston is a football town, and the Texans are our team no matter what.  In the past few years they have pretty regularly won the division in which they play, but have a losing record in the playoffs and have never gotten to the conference championship game and had a chance at the league championship game (which dare not speak its name).  This year they had a come-from-behind victory in the first round of the playoffs which got them to a second round game against a team they had beaten during this regular season, and they started that game this past Sunday with a 24 point lead in the first quarter and so it looked like everything was going to go right this time.  Right up until it didn’t.  They gave up the whole 24 point lead, and more…much more; they were an utter embarrassment, far worse than most people predicted: I mean, c’mon, what kind of team allows the opponent to score touchdowns on SEVEN CONSECUTIVE POSSESSIONS?!?!

Today, there was general malaise, a lot of moping around, at least among those who weren’t still screaming at the execrable performance from Sunday or receiving treatment for their high blood pressure resulting therefrom.  Disbelieving stares were exchanged in offices between co-workers who just couldn’t believe what they had seen on Sunday.  The weather today also stunk, in the 50s and low 60s, drizzly and rainy all day long, nothing to help lighten the mood, even just a little.  So when the bad news came today about the Houston Astros—and it was bad—it reminded me of the line from “Body Heat” when Ned Racine said “Sometimes the shit comes down so heavy I feel like I should wear a hat.”

Major League Baseball has apparently had its eye on the Astros for some time now, due to allegations that the team was breaking the written rules of baseball by using technology to steal the other team’s signs.  Late last year, pitcher Mike Fiers was quoted saying that when he was an Astro in 2017—the year they won their one and only World Series championship—there was an elaborate plan to signal the batters so they would know what pitch was coming.  That sparked a new investigation…today, Commissioner Rob Manfred released the report:  in summary, it said that, yes, the Astros cheated; they cheated even after all the teams had been specifically warned not to do this very thing (after an investigation into allegations against the Boston Red Sox); that although the front office wasn’t behind the scheme the folks up there should have known and done something about it; and that the field manager, who knew what was going on but disapproved, didn’t stop it, either.  (I’m still chewing on that: how does a manager who disapproves of his players conspiring to steal signs and sending signals to their teammates by beating on a trash can not put a stop to it?)

As punishment: the Astros lose first and second round draft choices in 2020 and 2021, pay a five million dollar fine, and the general manager and the field manager are each suspended without pay for all of the 2020 season!

Wow.  Let me start right there — wow: big fine, four top draft picks gone, and the loss for a season of the general manager who transformed a train wreck into a winner and the manager who made it work and was widely regarded as one of the best in the business these days.  Thinking that this was about as low as we could go, right…nope:

The owner fired the GM and the manager!  Baseball suspended them but Jim Crane fired them both: “I felt that, with what came out of the report, they both had responsibility.  Jeff [Luhnow] running the baseball operation and overseeing AJ [Hinch]  and all of those people associated with that. And AJ, on the bench and was aware, if you read the report, it’s pretty clear. AJ didn’t endorse this, and neither did Jeff. Neither one of them started this, but neither one of them did anything about it. And that’s how we came to the conclusion.”

We’ll see if Crane is right, if his extreme punishment is enough to convince the fans in this town that his team is serious about playing by the rules, and they keep on creating traffic jams on the concourses at Minute Maid Park.  We’ll see who the team hires to take over for Luhnow to run the baseball operation and who replaces Hinch in the dugout, with only a month to go before pitchers and catchers report to training camp.

One thing is for sure. though: I will not assume that the worst is over.

To my cousin in New York, who today sent his best wishes to us in Houston

Hey kids,

It’s been very different.  We’ve all been through hurricanes before but this isn’t the same.  Everybody is fine right now, some still in town and some not, but everybody wants the rain to stop.

I’ve lost track of what’s going on in Rockport.  A Category 4 hurricane hit there less than three days ago and I saw video of terrible wind damage and lots of flooding, but that dissolved off my radar because of the rain right here; I hope they’re doing OK.  The good news is that there have been a few to several hours in a row with no rain, but it always comes back, more intense, and for hours at a time.  I read somewhere that the part of Texas that’s now underwater is about the size of the area between New York and Boston, and our new body of water is still getting bigger.  The most recent National Hurricane Center projection thinks we may still have another 36 hours of rain in front of us, as the center of the storm (which has moved back out over the Gulf) meanders eventually to the northeast and goes on shore between Galveston and the Louisiana state line.

When it was just rain it was annoying, but bearable…Ed even went to Mom’s house Saturday afternoon to install a new lock on her back door; later that afternoon an apparent tornado spun out of the thunderstorm bands and punched a hole in the roof of his house in Stafford (check his Facebook for a picture).  Kathy and Van tried to bring him a generator to use at his in-laws house next door, where the power was out, but high water got in their way.  Sunday morning it was worse, and by then Van’s parents were reporting water rising around their apartment in southwest Houston; Kathy told us that her in-laws had six inches of water in their apartment, and had talked to the Houston fire department about evacuation to a shelter.  Meanwhile, Ed got in touch with FEMA State Farm and it arranged hotel rooms a few miles away, where he and his family went after he and a neighbor installed one of those oh-so-fashionable tarps to cover the damaged area.  (Tip: they don’t keep all the water out, apparently…)

So far, no high water threatens at Elsie’s, or at Danny’s in Katy, or our house in Pearland (Kevin, in San Antonio, is even getting rained on by Harvey!), but the rain continues.  For example, they reported more than 24 inches of rain in Pearland in the first 48 hours of the “event,” which is about half of the total rainfall we get in a full year…same thing all over the area.  If you were lucky and the rain let up for a while the flooded areas could recede, but the next rain pumped ’em right back up.  Sunday night the local flood control authorities let everyone know they were planning to release water from two large dams on far the west side of town: even though that would put more flood water into the streams heading east into Houston and worsen things for everyone along the route of already-over-engorged Buffalo Bayou, it was necessary to make sure the dams didn’t fail which would cause an “uncontrolled release” that would make things even worse.

It’s not just the rain falling directly on our heads that’s responsible.  This storm has still been pulling moisture in from the Gulf and spreading it over hundreds and hundreds of miles, areas that for the most part drain toward and through the Houston area.  The rain falling a hundred miles away is running off into streams that feed other streams that feed into Houston, so there’s not as much room for our runoff and the local floodwaters can’t go down.  Some areas are coping, but places where the rain doesn’t let up are not.

Van’s parents never did get evacuated by the fire department, but he was able to get into Houston this morning and get them and bring them back to his house in Richmond.  But the Brazos River has been rising and rising, and areas of Richmond have been called to evacuate.  About noon today Kathy and Van’s neighborhood, where their daughter Karie and her husband and newborn also live, was put on the mandatory evacuation list.  They wisely decided to put the center of the storm in their rear view mirror and drive off; a little before 4:00 this afternoon my sister tweeted a greeting that only a Texan could really appreciate: “Made it to Bucees!!”  Ah yes, Luling and Buc-ees as ultimate refuge!

The Johnson Space Center has been closed to all but mission critical personnel since Sunday and will be again tomorrow, and since I am not even close to being mission critical I’m at home relaxing, trying not to stare constantly at the TV; Frances is here too but working, as her company fights the floods to keep their hospitals supplied.  The Astros won’t make it home as planned from Anaheim–their Tue-Wed-Thu series with the Rangers has been moved to St. Petersburg.  The Texans never got home from Saturday’s game in New Orleans, and they’ll play the last exhibition game against the Cowboys as a home game in Jerry World–proving that there’s always someone who has it worse than you do.

This is where you’d think to say something like “but I’m sure it’ll all be fine in the end” and that’s probably true; on the other hand, I always thought a “biblical flood” as just a figure of speech.

Thanks for thinking of us…

Pat

A peek behind the curtain at The Juice Box

“OK, folks, let’s get today’s marketing department meeting started—Ben, what’s the view from the street?”

“Guys, this is highly unusual in Houston, but the baseball team is running a poor fourth vis a vis buzz on the streets right now: the football team has everyone’s attention and sympathy after winning the division and just barely losing the game that would have gotten them into the conference championship; the Rockets have gotten back over .500 and actually have a six-game winning streak that’s starting to attract attention; even the soccer team is getting the love, prepping for the opening of their new stadium and working out without two of their star players for the first time ever. Right now, we have fallen off the radar screen, Mr. Postolos.”

“Well, at least the complaints have died down about us agreeing to go to the American League starting next year; I think the people believe that Mr. Crane really had no choice on that if he wanted the other owners to approve selling the team to our group. OK, so we need something to drive attention our 45sway this week. I think it’s probably time to announce the ‘Fan Friendly Initiatives’ we’ve been working up out of the meet-and-greets with season ticket holders. Cyndi?”

“I’d suggest we start with, you know, the bring-your-own-food initiative: the people we talked to were, like, surprisingly insistent that Houston baseball fans should be allowed to bring their own food to the game instead of, you know, having to buy from our concessionaire. I mean, even though we expanded the menu to include some super-scrumptious new entrees…”

“Cyndi, if I might interrupt; I agree with you on implementing that initiative now, but I’d like to have a little reality check, too. God knows we’ve marketed the hell out of it for years now, but the truth is that the people in the stadium know that the product Aramark’s been peddling is just awful…it always has been. If they’d only been able to serve the hot food hot it would have helped, but nothing was going to make a lot of stuff palatable.”

“OK, OK, Billy, but let’s not get sidetracked with that old topic. I agree that we should go ahead and announce the new food rules—fact is, it’ll probably come as a first bluesurprise to a lot of the people that you can bring your own food or drinks to every other major league stadium but Houston’s, so let’s go ahead and get in front of this while we still have a chance. Other ideas…Moose?”

“Well, shoot, sir, if we’re gonna go that way then I reckon we oughta go along with the big guns, too—five-dollar beer! That’s what the good ol’ boys in the cheap seats want, so let’s git ’er done.”

“Agreed, and we’ll announce all the ticket price reductions, too. Is that going to be enough bang for our bucks this time out?”

“It’s solid, sir; yes, very solid. But I remain concerned in that I fear the bloom will fall from this rose far too soon; we need something to keep the interest at peak, to spark an on-going dialogue. We need to send a signal that bigger and more cherished aspects of the entire Houston baseball orangeexperience are in play, or at the very least that they may be ripe for change. Nothing gets people roiled up like the prospect of unexpected change.”

“Oiled up? Yer gonna try to git ’em all oiled up? What’s that about, Bentley?”

“No, no, Moose, I said roiled—made turbid by stirring up the sediment or dregs. We can get people focused on the Astros by making them think there are big changes in the wind, changes they had not heretofore contemplated; yes?”

“Uh, I guess…OK.”

“Bentley, it sounds as though you have something in mind here—let’s have it.”

“I do indeed, Mr. Postolos; thank you. In fact I have a two-part plan, and the first element targets the team logo and uniform. In conjunction with the opening of this new stadium in 2000, our predecessors implemented a thorough upgrade of the visual branding elements of the team logo and uniforms. Although this scheme was accepted, our research shows it has never been fully embraced, and I propose we now begin planning to implement a similar refresh of the team totems and other symbology to coincide with our debut in the American League next year. Marketing is over the moon at the prospect, by the by. And FYI, should we choose to advance along this path our deadlineOpenStar copy to submit planned changes to Major League Baseball is Opening Day of this season, this April 6.”

“Mr. Crane and I have discussed that prospect and it’s very much in play; as you noted, a change in uniform that dovetails with our opening up in the AL next year makes intellectual sense and we think it will keep interest in the change brewing throughout this season, then spark a landslide of buying the new merchandise during the off-season next year. I’d say to you that this change is a virtual certainty. Now, what’s the second part of your plan.”

“Excellent, sir. Then following along this path of New Beginnings in 2013, and in conjunction with a new look for the uniforms and the logo, I propose we look at raising the wager. In its fifty years as a major league baseball organization, the Houston National League Base Ball Club has had, shall we say, a rather spotty record of achievement; no need to dredge up the details. Today, under new leadership, with promising young players, we stand on the cusp of a successful new future, one so bright that one ought to wear dark glasses. So let’s not hold back in this presentation, in this re-creation, of the team. I propose that when we unveil the new uniforms and logo, that they herald a fully new brand—we will change the name of the team!”

“Bentley…that’s pretty out there, my friend. You really want to drop the name ‘Astros’ after all these years—don’t you imagine that that will, if you’ll excuse me, piss people off?”

“Some, undoubtedly, sir; no doubt at all. But this doesn’t come from any ill will felt toward the fans or the space program, rather from that place that sees a potentially enormous marketing payday that should not be permitted to go to waste. And if I may, I propose we truly raise our gaze above the horizon: let’s be open to changing the ‘Houston’ part of the team name as well. Names indicating representation of a broader area, such ascurrent the Minnesota Twins or the Colorado Rockies, are by no means unheard of, although it would indeed be rather awkward for our organization to go by ‘Texas’ since that name is already employed by the team in North Texas. But as an organization, I suggest we give open and honest consideration to all of our available options.”

“I don’t know, it just seems so drastic to sell off so much of our history just to make a buck—oh crap, did I just say that out loud?”

“Not at all, sir, not at all.”

“I git what Bentley here’s saying, but I don’t think too much of going through with it; folks around here might feel like they’re being exploited, and you know how they can hold a grudge.”

“Excuse me, sir, but I just had an idea: we don’t have to actually make any change, but what if we, you know, just let it be known that a name change is being considered? That’ll get people paying attention to the Astros, and, like, thinking about what they love about the team, and talking about it all, and, then we’ll be all, you know, like announcing that the whole name change idea has been dropped, and they’ll thank us for supporting team history and, you know, not feel so bad about buying fresh new hats and shirts. What about that idea, sir?”

“Cyndi, lunch is on me. Good meeting, everybody. Go Astros!”

UPDATE Jan. 30: Late this evening owner Jim Crane announced a decision that the team name will not be changed. (No word on the size of Cyndi’s raise.)

It’s about the feeling you get after waiting so long for something good to happen

It’s about finally having the team you cheer for look like it can actually have a good year

It’s about a team of good guys that hasn’t given up all year despite the injuries of top players

It’s about an uncharacteristic and thrilling game-winning touchdown drive with no timeouts in the last two and a half minutes

It’s about winning it with a rookie third-string quarterback in charge

It’s about seeing his parents cheering him on while banished to the last row in the far-from-filled stadium of the cheapest-ass team in the league

It’s about the first time making the playoffs after years of miserable performances

It’s about the first division championship in your team’s ten-year history

It’s about the feeling you get after waiting so long for something good to happen

Today, it’s about being a fan of the 10-3 Houston Texans, your NFL AFC South Division Champions!

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Kevin Walter with the winning catch

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DeMeco Ryans carries Danieal Manning off the field as AFC South Division champs

Photos thanks to Houston Chronicle

How about that!

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It was shaky until the end, but they did it: Congratulations to your-no-longer-just-a-.500-mess The Houston Texans!