MEET THE SABERCATS

New rugby team offers Houstonians a fun night out with family and friends

New rugby team offers Houstonians a fun night out with family and friends
The Sabercats offer a great fan experience. Courtney Sellers

Many wondered if Houston would be able to support another professional team. We’ve got the big three teams, plus a men's and women’s soccer team, a minor league baseball team, and now a rugby club drawing the attention of Houston citizens. The Sabercats first game was a sellout – drawing over 5,000 fans in a blowout win over the Seattle Saracens. It was a fun night full of Rugby fans young and old, both new to the sport and veterans. There was a group of young English Rugby fans – living in the States who were excited to watch Houston’s first professional game. A father with his two young sons sat right on the pitch (just behind home plate if you’re thinking of Constellation Field like a baseball diamond) to watch their first match ever. An exciting time out with dad, they were eager to see how the game was played. A father who played rugby in high school watched with his parents, girlfriend, and young daughter explaining the game to the girl while she ate a box of Mike and Ikes on the grassy hill behind the Sabercat’s first half goal.

What draws people 17 miles from the city center to watch the sport? Billy, Tom, and Alex -- three guys I met on opening night -- all played rugby growing up and Tom has two caps with the English National Team. For them, it was exciting to watch the sport they grew up playing and missed here in the states live and in person right in the town they now call home. For Nick and his sons Oliver, 3 and Mason, 6 it was an opportunity to spend quality time together and see a new sport they had never thought of previously. Dane Butterfield enjoyed explaining the game to his girlfriend Taylor and daughter Zoe. His parents were also in attendance. Dane played football in the States before the family expatriated to England for his high school years. Football isn’t an option at the schools there, so Butterfield decided to join the Rugby team instead – its similarities to football the main draw. He played hooker – one of the front line positions -- until the family moved back to the States where he played for the inaugural Katy Barbarians club team – which is still in existence today as one of two rugby clubs in the West Houston/Katy area. Having the opportunity to enjoy a game with family while also passing on the love of the sport to his young daughter is exciting and the family plans to attend as many games at Constellation Field as they can. On opening night, they sat on the grassy hill but by game three they had moved to stands right on the 50-meter line – where the best action is.

Games two and three – both losses – had lower turn outs. More than 2,600 fans still came out for game two on January 13th, the freezing temperatures a deterrent to some, but not all as fans watched the Sabercats take on the Vancouver Ravens in a close loss. A crowd of 3,000 showed up for game three where the Sabercats again lost, this time to the Uruguayan National Team. With any new team, they’ve got some kinks to work out, but the atmosphere alone is enough to sustain the fan experience for a while longer. With football ending in just one week, that need we have for contact will be satisfied with the Sabercats.  

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Jose Abreu looks lost at the plate. Composite Getty Image.

It’s a long baseball season, sure the Astros have started 4-8, and there are plenty of fingers to point around. But there’s no need to push the panic button.

Not yet.

Last year, the Astros didn’t start much better – they were 5-7 after a dozen games. It just seemed different, though. Nobody was wringing hands over the slow start. After all, the Astros were the defending World Series champions, coming off a 106-win season and figured to make mincemeat of the American League West again. Business as usual.

This year is different. The Astros are losing games in very un-Astros-like fashion. While the starting pitching has been surprisingly fine, at least the starters healthy enough to take the field, the bullpen has been a mess. The back end relievers, supposedly the strongest in all of baseball, have been disappointing. Bryan Abreu’s earned run average is 5.79. Ryan Pressly’s ERA is a sky-high 11.57 and closer Josh Hader, the best shutdown in the bigs, is at 6.00. The Astros are losing games late.

The Astros starting rotation is comprised mostly of seat-fillers. The Astros are sitting in the doctor’s waiting room for Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers to be declared fit for battle. McCullers’ contribution to the team in recent years has primarily been confined to H-E-B commercials.

Impatient fans and copy-hungry media need a target to blame for the Astros’ slow start and they’ve zero’d in on first baseman Jose Abreu.

For good reason. Abreu, 37, a former American League MVP, is being paid 19.5 million this year and next. He is having a miserable time at the plate. Originally slated for No. 5 in the batting order, now dropped to No. 7 and sinking in the west, Abreu is hitting a paltry .088. But that number actually is deceptively positive. He has three hits (all singles) in 34 at bats, with 12 strikeouts, no home runs and no RBI. Frankly one of Abreu's singles was a pity hit from a friendly scorekeeper who could have given Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. an error on Abreu’s weak grounder Tuesday night.

We can go all-analytics and brain-busting stats to explain Abreu’s troubles at the plate. But let’s use simple baseball language: Abreu is horrible. He’s done. Maybe it’s time for the Astros to cut bait. He is untradeable.

Abreu had a disastrous 2023 season, batting .237, the lowest average of his 11-year career. But after 12 games last year, he was hitting .271, not bad at all. Or as Larry David would say, pret-tay, pret-tay, pre-tay good.

This year he’s fallen off the end of the Earth. Fans groan as he swings meekly at breaking balls outside the zone. Or he fails to catch up to 95 mph-plus. Or he can’t connect on low inside pitches. Look, when you’re batting .088, it’s all bad.

Last year, the Astros actually had two, as Little Leaguers put it, automatic outs in the lineup. Abreu hit .237 and catcher Martin Maldonado blasted .191.

This year, it’s a tight battle between who’s the worst of the worst. Maldy is hitting .091 with two hits in 22 at bats and no RBI for Abreu’s old team, the Chicago White Sox. Abreu is hitting .088 for Maldonado’s old team, the Astros. This could go down to the last week of the season.

If Abreu is still with the Astros at season’s end. The Astros are no longer the high exalted dominant force in the American League West. They can’t afford an .088 hitter in the lineup. They can’t play eight against nine.

It didn’t help when manager Joe Espada recently said, “I got a ton of confidence in Abreu. I'm not going to talk about strategy. José Abreu has been a really good hitter for a very long time, and I have 100 percent confidence in José that, at some point, he's going to start hitting.”

How long is at some point? Didn’t Astros fans go through this last year with manager Dusty Baker refusing to sit Maldonado despite Maldy killing rallies in a tight pennant race?

The Astros don’t have a strong support system, especially backing Abreu at first base. But there are options. Mauricio Dubon is a jack of all trades. He could play first. Despite the funny line in Moneyball, first base statistically is the easiest position to play in baseball. Backup catcher Victor Caratini can fill the gap until the Astros sign a free agent first baseman.

Or the Astros could do something that would light a fire under fans: call up rookie Joey Loperfido, who’s belted five homers and driven in 13 RBI in 10 games for the Sugar Land Space Cowboys.

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