Houston Texans have a long road to win back support

Will more fans go to Texans games this year? Composite image by Brandon Strange.

Back in the early to mid 90s, new stadiums were all the rage in the NFL. Teams were angling for public funds to build new stadiums. There was some monkey see/monkey do aspects to all the machinations. The chance of hosting a Super Bowl came along with a new stadium, and that came with a financial windfall for the host city that made public funding a bigger incentive for the cities and surrounding areas that okayed the deals (there's a whole ESPN 30 for 30 that could/should be done on this, but I digress). Bud Adams wanted a new stadium, but the city of Houston didn't give in to his demands. He packed up the team and left for Nashville in 1997.

When the Texans started playing in the 2002 season, the fans were rabid. When the announcement was made and tickets went on sale, they sold out in no time. A waiting list for season tickets was longer than a pile of CVS receipts. Fast-forward to last offseason. Season ticket holders were dropping like flies hovering around one of those bug zappers. There were thousands of folks who gave up their season tickets and PSLs willingly. Thousands more were being contacted as they were surprisingly moved up the list.

When those fans that had been waiting years, some since the inception of the team, started denying the opportunity to buy season tickets and PSLs, the team was left scrambling. They'd never had that problem before, even when the team was doing poorly. This was different. The franchise quarterback wanted out and was embroiled in controversy. There was a new head coach and GM. The team was headed for a rebuild and fans were fed up. They finally decided to speak the loudest way fans could: with their wallets. Seeing NRG so empty last season was a shock to my system. What was more shocking, was the tailgating scene. It was more dry than a Bible Belt county on a Sunday. Sure, the pandemic can be blamed for some of this, but not all of it.

Fast-forward to today. My friend Juan sent me this screenshot.

Photo Credit: Juan M.

Photo by Juan M.

He's a long time Texans supporter. He buys jerseys, shirts, hats, the whole nine. While looking forward to the day he'd get this text, his feelings had changed. He's no longer interested because he's still unsure about the direction of the team. Mind you, he's not as hardcore as some fans are, but he supports his team. I've also talked to others who jumped at the chance of getting season tickets. Some of them are hardcores, the others are more casual like Juan. They see the vision and like where things are headed. Some are looking at it as an investment.

Regardless of the way the hardcores and casuals view things, the one thing for sure is the perception has shifted with this organization. People are fully over the NFL football withdrawals thy had from '97-'02. Gone is the grace the Texans had when trying to build a winner. Fans are expecting results. They want to know the Texans are actively trying to build a team to rise out of the ashes of despair like a Phoenix into contender status. I, for one, am happy to see the fans use their power to push this team into cleaning things up and making this experience worthy of their hard-earned dollars. Now it's up to Nick Caserio to finish the job. I think he'll do exactly that. Will they win a Super Bowl? I can't say. But I do think he'll build a consistent playoff maker. My only ask: change the colors and logo to look more menacing.

“If you look good, you feel good, If you feel good, you play good, If you play good, they pay good.”- Deion Sanders

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This year, the Astros are favored to win the World Series. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

When the umpire yells "play ball!" on Thursday for Astros opening day, three players- a full third of their batting order - will be missing from their opening day lineup from last year when, oh yeah, they won the World Series. Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley are on the injured list and Yuli Gurriel effectively was told good luck in your future endeavors. Other notables from last year no longer with the Astros: Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, Aledmys Diaz, Christian Vasquez, and Jake Odorizzi.

That's on top of the Astros in recent years saying goodbye to All-Stars Gerrit Cole, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Charlie Morton. Don't underestimate Morton's contribution when he pitched for the Astros in 2017-18. He went 29-10 and won Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, that's all.

And while the team keeps on winning at a historic pace, all these injuries and departures are going to catch up to the Astros one of these years.

But this ain't the year. The Astros demolished baseball last year, winning their division by 16 games and roaring through the postseason going 11-2, including sweeps of the Mariners and Yankees.

Las Vegas oddsmakers have the Astros as the (+600) preseason betting favorite to repeat as World Series champs in 2023, followed by the New York Yankees (+650), Los Angeles Dodgers (+750), New York Mets (+750), Atlanta Braves (+1000) and San Diego Padres (+1000).

It's a different scene from 2022 when the Dodgers, Braves, Yankees and even the Toronto Blue Jays all were preseason favorites over the Astros to win the World Series. In other words, Mattress Mack will load up on the Astros again this season and hopefully visit the pay window again. He just may not get the gross national product, all-time payout he got last year. Poor guy. Mack's already put down $1.9 million on the Astros, a commitment that's likely to increase as the Astros plow through the season.

The over/under wins total for the Astros is 95.5. That's a good number for an FM radio station, but the Astros should blow by that total in mid-September. The Astros won 106 games last year, and at least 100 wins in four of the last five full seasons. I wonder if Mack has room in his car for next time he drives to Louisiana to make a bet. I call shotgun!

While Altuve and Brantley sit on the wounded list Thursday, and Gurriel is wearing a Miami Marlins uniform, one thing will be the same as Opening Day last year. Framber Valdez, the Astros' quality start machine, will be on the mound against the Chicago White Sox at Minute Maid Park. The game will start at 6:08 p.m., airing on ESPN. Get there early to watch the Astros unfurl another World Series banner. Remember that AT&T SportsNet gets benched when ESPN does an Astros game. Bummer. Blummer. ESPN also has the April 16 game against the Rangers and the April 30 rematch with the Phillies.

How did Valdez perform Opening Day 2022? As it would turn out all season, typical Valdez: 6.2 innings, no runs, only two unproductive hits, one walk, six K's and he got the W. Final score:, Astros 3, Los Angeles Angels 1. Valdez started, got the win, Pressly pitched the ninth, got the save. Sound familiar? Lather, rinse, repeat. The opposing pitcher that game - some under-publicized fellow named Shohei Ohtani. It wasn't Ohtani's day. While he pitched ok, surrendering four hits and one run over 4.1 innings, he took the loss. Ohtani also went 0-4 at the plate.

The Astros won Game 2 of that series, 13-6, behind Odorizzi and a battalion of relievers. The Angels exacted revenge in Game 3, a 2-0 shutout with Noah Syndergaard starting. Verlander, despite giving up only one run over five innings, absorbed the loss.

Of course games will look different this season with no infield shift, bigger bases and a pitch timer. The only thing that will look the same - the standings. Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez will salivate when they don't hit screamers through the infield only to be thrown out by second basemen playing short right field. Altuve's fractured thumb should heal in time for the future Hall of Famer to return in early June. Brantley could be back in May. Lance McCullers is anybody's guess, but time heals all wounds, including elbows.

The Astros are riding a dynasty-level of success, you know the numbers, six consecutive postseason appearances (only team in MLB history to win a postseason series six straight seasons), six ALCS appearances in a row, four World Series appearances, two championships.

There's no reason to stop now.

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