The 2016 Houston Astros are for real.
If you are still a Houston Astros fan after the long span of losing years, you experienced a huge dose of hope in 2015 in what was one of the most exciting seasons in club history. With the Astros expected to contend again this year, fans are hoping for another season of thrills.
If you are still skeptical about investing too much emotion in this team that disappointed everyone for too many years, your fears are understood. However, wary Astros fans need to realize that this team is not a flash in the pan. The Houston Astros are, for the first time in many years, a legitimate contender for a Championship.
How long has it been since we could say that with any degree of conviction? How long has it been since we could say that without the rest of the baseball world smirking at us? Without going too far out on a limb, I can say that this could prove to be the strongest team in Astros history. With all due respect to the 2005 World Series team, the 2004 squad that won 92 games and lost in the NLCS, the ’86 team (96 wins, lost the NLCS), or even the 102-game winning group of 1998. The 2016 Astros are one of the most promising teams Astros fans have ever seen.
This group has more strengths and fewer weaknesses than its predecessors. The 2016 Astros pitching, the hitting, the fielding, and even the bench is better than any Astros team ever before. The attitudes in and around this team have changed dramatically. Everything is different.
Jose de Jesus Ortiz joined the boys at Talking Stros recently and thinks this team should go to the World Series in 2016.
My family and I made annual trips to see the Astros play at Minute Maid Park from 2009-2012. Small crowds and vast expanses of empty seats characterized those games. We didn’t go for the next two years, but we made the trip again in August 2015 when the Astros were in first place in the AL West. We arrived over an hour before game time and saw something we had never witnessed in four previous visits to the ballpark on Crawford Street.
We saw long lines of eager fans anxiously waiting to get in. Nearly 34,000 smiling, happy people waited at the ballpark entrances despite the heat and humidity of an August Sunday afternoon. For the first time, we were part of a near sellout crowd (against the NL West third place Arizona Diamondbacks), and it was a spectacular sight to see.
Late last summer, I received a call from Ed Kasputis of Baseball Ph.D., asking if I would participate in his podcast on the 2015 Astros. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to promote my favorite team. Ed, Farley and the guys questioned me in a fun, a lively session about the team and the post-season outlook, and I predicted on that podcast that the Astros would make the playoffs. Ed was skeptical, but Farley surprised me by backing me up and agreeing that the Astros could make it happen. Here was proof that baseball fans in other parts of the country (Ed and the crew are from Cleveland) were noticing the rise of the Astros.
Not only that, but the national media is paying attention and taking the Astros seriously. Who would have thought that the legendary Sports Illustrated would pick the Astros to win the World Series? First, they picked Houston to win in 2017, but then they revised their assessment and picked the Astros for 2016.
MLB Network guys who, in the past, seemed not to notice there was a big league team in Texas other than the Rangers, talk about the Astros regularly. The exploits of Jose Altuve, Dallas Keuchel, Carlos Correa, George Springer, and others are now regular topics of conversation for Harold Reynolds and his colleagues. When Houston beat the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium last fall in the Wild Card game, it forced many doubters to sit up and pay attention. For the baseball media, the Houston Astros are no longer a novelty act – people who know baseball now take this team seriously. Such was not the case even when the Astros went to the World Series in 2005.
Houston baseball fans are not used to this kind of attention. Unlike fans in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and other places, the national media, until 2015, barely considered the Astros to be Major League. Even many people in Houston have not taken the Astros seriously simply because of the history of losing seasons. This is all changing – baseball has become relevant again in and around Houston.
So we come to this: the 2016 version of the Astros may be the best baseball team ever to call Houston home. Not only that, but some of the guys now wearing Astros colors could, in the very near future, rewrite the list of the greatest Astros of all time. When you sit in Minute Maid Park and hear the thunderous ovations afforded to Altuve, Correa, Keuchel, and Springer, you feel the difference reverberate through your bones. When you stand with the huge MMP crowd during the seventh inning stretch and sing ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’, you sing it with gusto and pride.
All of which should help to remove any vestige of skepticism still lurking in any fan’s mind. It is time for Houston Astros fans to smile, embrace the present and enjoy the ride.