Saturday, March 9, 2013

The dog days of April

For years some fans of the Houston Astros prayed that Drayton McLane would sell the team. After years of trading prospects for rental players the pipeline from the farm had dried up. After the Astros managed to reach the World Series with a first class pitching staff and a pathetic excuse for an offense, it was all downhill.

But those fans rejoiced when McLane sold the team to local businessman Jim Crane. It would be a new era for the Astros. Well, let's forget about the discrimination complaints filed with the EEOC against his company. Let's pretend the allegations regarding war profiteering never happened. Things were so bad that the MLB bigwigs agreed to look the other way and hand over $50 million if Crane would agree to end 50 years of tradition and move the Astros to the AL West.

Over the offseason we saw the re-branding of the Astros. They went back in time for the inspiration of the lame generic uniforms they'll be wearing this season. What Crane should have done was rename the team the Buffs as this squad seeks to continue the minor league baseball tradition in Houston.

Now maybe, just maybe, this whole rebuilding operation will pay off in the end. Get some good, cheap homegrown talent and throw a couple of big-time free agents into the mix and you might be able to compete with the big boys. The Tampa Rays have managed to field competitive teams using players they developed in the minor leagues. Of course once they want to get paid what they're worth the club will gladly trade them away for a handful of young prospects. The Oakland A's have managed to field competitive teams by developing their own players and by picking up the refuse from other clubs.

Only time will tell if the Astros will be able to achieve success down the road. On the other hand, they could end up like the Pittsburgh Pirates or the Kansas City Royals - teams that effectively serve as AAA affiliates for the rest of major league baseball. Neither club has had any appreciable success over the past two decades - is that what we're in for in the Bayou City?

So, as we sit here awaiting the start of the new season and contemplating a third straight 100-loss season, the mind stumbles, and trips over itself, contemplating the Astros' strategy for ticket sales. In the past, tickets were the same price day in and day out - the exception being a section or two whose prices fluctuated depending on who was in town.

Ever since my oldest daughter turned three I have taken her to Opening Day (except one year when they opened on the road). This season I purchased a seven-game ticket plan that included tickets for Opening Day against the Rangers. And it's a damn good thing I did because Crane has decided that the Astros are going to use "dynamic pricing" for every seat for every game. That means if you want to get a ticket for Opening Day you are going to spend two to three times (or more) what that seat would go for in ordinary circumstances.

This for a team that has been the worst in baseball the last two seasons.

What "dynamic pricing" actually means is that no one expects too many folks to come to the ballpark to watch the Astros. The team figures that fans will flock to the stadium depending on who the opponent is on any given day. In other words, "dynamic pricing" is just another way to say that the Astros are charging you to see the other team.

I would love to be optimistic about the upcoming season. I would love to be able to get behind a bunch of kids who should be playing AAA ball and watch them grow. But I see no reason for optimism. The pitching staff is weak. The offense isn't very good and the defense leaves a bit to be desired. Considering the number of games against the Rangers and the Angels this season, I have no reason to think the Astros will surprise anyone.

I suspect the dog days of August will be coming a bit early (again) this year.

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