Upcoming Astros promotion serves as amazing sign of progress

All 30 teams will hold a similar vaccination event this month. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Get vaccinated at Minute Maid Park on June 15, and receive two free tickets to watch the Astros take on the Texas Rangers that night. Plus you'll get a free 2017 World Series championship ring. And to top it off, June 15 is a Tuesday, which means it's Dollar Dog Night. Batter up … eat up.

Houston doesn't get any better than that. OK, maybe it's a tossup with Washington State where they're giving free weed ("Joints for Jabs") to get people to roll up their sleeves. Or Ohio, where they're holding million-dollar lotteries for newly vaccinated people. In New York and Connecticut, they're using free beer as vaccination bait.

What a difference a few months make. Earlier this year, people were hovering over their computers like vultures, hopping on planes and dressing like grannies to secure a precious COVID vaccine shot. Now states must resort to bribing people with free baseball tickets, marijuana and alcohol. Recently I drove past the mega vaccine site at NRG Park. They didn't even charge for parking, a rarity, which probably made NRG Park officials sick to their stomachs. The place was empty. They can't give away the vaccine.

The Astros deal is part of MLB's "Vaccination at the Plate," where all 30 teams will hold a similar vaccination event this month.

No appointment will be necessary at Minute Maid Park. Just walk into the ballpark's Union Station between 5-8 p.m., roll up your sleeve, get the jab, and enjoy the game. If you can't make that night's game, you can opt for tickets to the upcoming series against the Baltimore Orioles June 28-30.

The Astros should be commended for hosting the vaccination event, even though they're under orders to do it by MLB. The truth is, the Astros have sent mixed signals about their support of COVID protocols since Day One of the 2021 season.

Before the season started, the Astros announced that they would abide by MLB's pandemic rules, including all fans must wear a face mask or be subject to ejection. On opening night in Houston, the Astros posted signs throughout the stadium and made several announcements about the mask mandate. Hosts of the radio pre-game show told fans that they would have to wear a mask at all times except when actively eating or drinking.

However none of that was enforced once the umpire yelled "Play Ball!" Practically nobody in the stands was wearing a mask. This was back in early April, when the pandemic still was wreaking havoc and Houston was in the red danger zone. On TV the center field camera, while no longer helping the Astros steal the opposing catcher's signs, certainly caught team owner Jim Crane and Astros Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio sitting in the Diamond Club section without masks. As one MLB.com veteran told me, "it wasn't a good look."

As the pandemic eases, MLB still "encourages" unvaccinated fans to wear masks during baseball games. It's the honor system at Minute Maid Park. Nobody's checking and practically nobody is covering up.

People are not considered "fully vaccinated" and protected against contracting COVID until two weeks after they receive two shots of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Next week the Astros will invite fans to get their first or second vaccine shot, give them a free World Series replica ring and then have them sit next to people who may not be vaccinated and aren't wearing a mask. COVID is still risky business, this is no time to let our guard down.

When the Astros recently visited Buffalo to play the Toronto Blue Jays, the stadium was limited to 35-percent capacity with separate sections for vaccinated and unvaccinated fans. While that may sound extreme to 100-percent open Houston, at least Blue Jays fans were safe at home.

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It more of the same from the Houston Texans. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Sunday afternoon provided a high-res snapshot of the state of Houston sports. The Astros, already assured of the best record in the American League, played a game they didn’t need to win. The Astros won, ho-hum, their 104th win of the season.

Meanwhile, eight miles away, the Texans, mired in last place with fan support dwindling, played a game they really needed to win. The Texans lost 34-24 to the Los Angeles Chargers in front of (giggle) 69,071 fans at NRG Stadium. The Texans really ought to stop saying the stands are packed. Every time a team punts, and cameras follow the ball skyward, there are thousands of empty seats on display. I know the NFL methodology for determining attendance, (total tickets sold, no-shows don’t count) but it just looks silly when the Texans announce 69,000 fans.

The Texans came close as usual before sputtering to another defeat. The Texans now stand at 0-3-1, the only winless team in the NFL. It’s the second time in three years they’ve started a season without a victory after four games. It’s telling to note that not one of the Texans opponents has a winning record for 2022.

In other words, the Texans have played four games they shoulda/coulda won. Shouda against the Colts, Broncos and Bears, and coulda against the Chargers.

Should/coulda four wins. Instead, none.

That’s the Texans. They’re in every game but can’t close the deal. Yeah, yeah, on Monday we hear, “the Texans are playing hard for coach Lovie Smith” and “they’re competitive” and “they’re a young team.” These are NFL equivalents of a participation trophy.

Sunday’s loss to the Chargers at NRG Stadium was straight out of the Texans playbook. Fall behind, make it interesting, lose. The Texans stuck to their script, timid play calling, momentum-crushing penalties (nine for 67 yards), self-inflicted drops, lackluster quarterbacking and Rex Burkhead on the field for crunch time. After one play where a Texan player was called for holding, the announcer said, “and he did a poor job of holding.”

Statuesque quarterback David Mills keeps saying “we’re in a good spot” and “we’re improving.” Statuesque as in he doesn’t move – or barely moves to avoid sacks. Sunday saw his first touchdown pass to a wide receiver. He’s now thrown four interceptions in the past two games. Let’s go to the tote board: 5 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 4 fumbles, 11 sacks, qbr rating 28.5 – good for 28th in the league.

A bright spot, sort of. This was the first week the Texans didn’t cover the spread. They’re now 1-2-1 against Vegas oddsmakers, meaning you’ve won money if you took the Texans all four weeks. They head to Jacksonville next as early 6.5-point underdogs.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s brilliant quarterback Bryce Young, who will be available for the Texans when they draft first in 2023 (as Paul Heyman says, that’s not a prediction, that’s a spoiler), suffered a shoulder injury last Saturday. The Texans need to take out a Lloyds of London insurance policy on Young.

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