Football season is beginning.
The Hall of Fame Game is on Sunday, high school practices open Monday and the Astros could be forgotten by Tuesday.
That’s always been the plight of baseball teams in the Houston area. The only way to steal attention in football season is to go to the playoffs. That hasn’t happened for the Astros since 2005 and the Texans have set up shop amid the fertile wilderness of these summer and autumn months.
The Astros haven’t really been interesting all season, sitting well below .500 for most of the season, perched below the rest of their new division-mates in the American League West. Only the most loyal fans can follow the team through the minor leagues, getting excited for another George Springer home run, for a red-hot Max Stassi at Double-A or the debuts of Jarred Cosart and Jonathan Villar.
Attendance is again lagging at Minute Maid Park, though at least the Astros appear to be improving on last year. All bets are off once schools starts and football takes over, though. It could be a lean couple of months at Minute Maid Park.
The trade deadline provided a brief respite, putting the Astros into the national spotlight for something other than ridicule. Houston dealt starting pitcher Bud Norris to the Orioles for a solid, if unspectacular, outfielder, a lottery ticket of a minor league pitcher and another draft pick next year. They dealt center fielder Justin Maxwell to Kansas City for another lotto ticket.
Both moves drew generally favorable reviews from the national media. Joe Sheehan of Sports Illustrated (among other places) went so far as to tell CSN Houston this week that he sees Houston’s farm system setting them up to win “multiple World Series from 2016 to the end of the decade.”
That’s a lot to swallow, especially as the team trudges into another 100-loss season.
With Mark Appel safely in the fold as this year’s No. 1 overall pick and the trade deadline safely behind them, what’s left? Where is the excitement? Drayton would have never let his team lack the sizzle that this one does right now.
Sure, you can go watch Villar steal home, which was every bit as exciting as it sounds. The speedy 22-year old scored on the play even before the ball reached home plate. It was a great jump and even more impressive speed.
But, Villar, Jose Altuve and the rest of the Astros can only do so much to counteract the effect of football. Who wants to care about a 100-loss baseball team when the Texans have Super Bowl aspirations? Who wants to watch a Friday night start by Dallas Keuchel when Nederland and PN-G are set to tangle on the gridiron?
Every year, the Astros fight this battle, but it may be getting worse. As the Astros free fall into last place yet again, the Texans are a powerhouse. The Astros may own the summer, but the Texans own the last half of the year.
Maybe that’s a good thing. General manager Jeff Luhnow has a very solid plan to rebuild this club. It involves locking up core pieces like Jose Altuve to realistic deal. It involves slowly bringing along promising rookies and not promoting them just to put fans in the seats, but when the players are ready to put their talent on display.
It’s a plan that takes a lot of patience and will lead to some dreadful results in the short term. The Astros didn’t want to lose this many games yet again. They probably could have avoided another 100-loss season with a little luck. Instead, they were dealt no luck at all, as pitcher after pitcher went down with injuries.
Maybe it’s good, then, that people will be forgetting about the Astros now. They can finish out another lackluster season in silence, with the occasional burst from Springer’s callup or other rookies performing well. But, Luhnow’s plan was never about this September, it was about Octobers in 2016, 2018 and beyond.
If Joe Sheehan is right about the future of this club, I’m sure the Astros won’t mind being knocked into football obscurity for the time being.
When the time is right, no one will be able to look away.
David Coleman is a sportswriter for the Port Arthur News. He can be emailed at email@example.com and found on Twitter at @MDavidColeman.
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