How silent majority is finally giving Texans much-needed reality check

How silent majority is finally giving Texans much-needed reality check
This is how an NFL team operates in the Bizarro World. Composite image by Jack Brame.

About six or seven years ago, a Houston Texans official told me privately - "you can't quote me on this" - the Texans had more people on their season ticket wait list than the Astros and Rockets sold actual season tickets. Of course the Texans official was bragging, but I'm thinking he probably was right.

Last week a friend told me, "Guess who just called me? The Houston Texans! They told me I could buy season tickets. I made it to the top of their wait list."

It's not such a long list. Not anymore. Three years ago, my friend filled out the form to buy season tickets. The Texans were serial AFC South champs and hotshot Deshaun Watson was the darling of Houston. "Fine, you're Number 26,000 (and something)," he was told.

Last year, he moved up the list to No. 20,000 (and something).

This year, how many do you want?

This means over the past three years, enough Texans season ticket holders didn't renew their tickets to have the team offer those seats to at least 26,000 people who also said no thanks. Although, given the current state of the Texans, they might not have been so polite. I asked my friend, so did you buy 'em?

He said, "Hell no! And they keep calling and emailing me! Actually my wife was more against buying Texans tickets than I am. She is a big football fan and used to love the Texans. But for her, the last straw was when they released J.J. Watt.

"The Texans have sold out every regular season game in their history, almost 200 games in a row since Sept. 8, 2002 when they defeated the Dallas Cowboys at Reliant Stadium. There is a question of whether the streak of sellouts really will end in 2021, since the county may swoop in and buy any tickets that become available. The Texans have an insanely sweet deal with Harris County. This isn't like Pittsburgh or Green Bay or Chicago where fans bequeath tickets to their next of kin, and long-lost second cousins come out of the woodwork to claim the old guy's seats.

The love affair between the Texans and football-crazy fans in Houston is over. There's a thin line between love and hate and the Texans crossed it. In the past two seasons, the Texans have said goodbye to their best receiver DeAndre Hopkins and greatest player and humanitarian ever J.J. Watt. Their dynamic All-Pro quarterback Watson is accused of sexual misconduct by 22 women, seems to have a creepy massage fetish and wants to be traded. This is how an NFL team operates in the Bizarro World, where "us hate beauty and us love ugliness."

The front office looks like the cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Team owner Cal McNair is regarded as a doofus, his Svengali Jack Easterby a whack job and former coach Bill O'Brien a maniac. Like George Costanza, every instinct they've had since original team owner Bob McNair died in 2018 has been wrong. The one adult in the room, team president Jamey Rootes, resigned last February. What's left is a 4-12 team with a new head coach with no experience and a new general manager with no experience and a new starting quarterback who's really a backup. Who's the biggest name on the team? How many Texans players would you recognize if you were sitting at Denny's enjoying a Moons Over My Hammy sandwich? The most noteworthy Texans player might be safety Jonathan Owens, and that's mainly because he's Simone Biles' boyfriend. There is very little to like about this team and even less to cheer about. The Texans are closer to the Jaguars than they are Super Bowl challengers.

And the Texans wonder why their season ticket waitlist has been whittled down to absolute zero?

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Have the Astros turned the corner? Photo by Jack Gorman/Getty Images.

One presumes the Chicken Littles have stopped clucking about the Astros’ season being a goner, or if not gone, on life support. It wasn’t when they were 7-19. It wasn’t when they were 12-24. It certainly isn’t now that they’ve won six straight games and eight of their last nine. Another three or four weeks of inept play could have doomed them, but the worm has turned. A 20-25 record is no cause for celebration, but it has the Astros within four games of first place. Yes, getting to play the A’s four times this week helped. And?

I detailed the schedule issue on our Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast this week. The Astros were flat lousy for the season’s first six weeks. But… Starting the week the Astros had played a whopping 32 of their 40 games against teams with a winning record as of Monday. The Seattle Mariners had played 23 such games, the Texas Rangers only 16. The Philadelphia Phillies have been sensational so far and are fully legit. But… The Phillies entered the weekend having played three games vs. teams now sporting a winning record. Three! Out of 45 games. Going into this weekend's series only the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Angels had played more games against winning teams than had the Astros. It’s not mere coincidence that the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Angels are the three last place teams in the American League. The Astros were not up to the challenge of their first quarter schedule, but by no means did it render them dead, particularly in the thus far Mild, Mild, American League West.

A good Brewers team visits Minute Maid Park for three games this weekend. The Astros beat their best starter Friday night. Next the Astros get the pathetic Angels here for three before a three-game series at Oakland. Meanwhile the West leading Mariners start a ten-game road trip this weekend: three at the excellent Orioles, four at the excellent Yankees, three at the respectable Nationals. The Astros stand a good chance of overtaking the M’s by the end of this month if they can win the four-game series they open Memorial Day in Seattle.

Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers snapped a five game losing streak Wednesday to eke back over .500 at 23-22. The reigning World Series champs hope to get somewhat well vs. the Angels in Arlington this weekend but dropped the series opener to drop back to .500. For their sake they better because the Rangers then hit the road for Philadelphia and Minnesota.

Naturally, many Astros fans are upset with Ronel Blanco serving a 10 game suspension for illegally using whatever substance on his glove and non-pitching hand. The suspension is basically automatic. The suspension is also not a big problem. Blanco has been fantastic since getting a starting rotation spot only because of Justin Verlander’s delayed start to his season. It’s said that all life owes us is opportunity. Man, did Blanco seize his. With just seven big league starts to his name before entering this season as a 30-year old, Blanco has made eight this season with a sparkling 2.09 earned run average. So, what’s that about the suspension is not a big problem?

Blanco will miss one start and have another pushed back a day or two. That’s just not a big deal. In fact it may be helpful in the bigger picture. With last year being the first time in his professional career that Blanco topped 100 innings pitched (125 1/3), the Astros need to be wary of Blanco’s workload which is on pace to blow past last year’s career-high innings total. J.P. France probably pitched over his head for a while last year, but went well past his prior career-high innings total and faded badly. Cristian Javier was tremendous in 2022 while pitching more than in any previous year, but he pitched even more in 2023 and faded badly.

Alex Bregman lives! After being nearly inconceivably inept through the first quarter of the season, the Alex awakening in the Oakland series was not shocking but most welcomed. Over his first 37 games Bregman had a paltry seven extra base hits. Even with a feeble .201 batting average and .534 OPS, that Bregman had scored just eight runs over those 37 games was hard to believe. Then Monday and Tuesday saw five extra base hits and four runs scored.

In a trade not commanding any headlines, Dana Brown Wednesday sent outfielder Corey Julks to the White Sox for 20-year-old low minor league pitcher Luis Rodriguez. There is now no reason to call it a great Astros trade but Brown made a smart deal. Julks had no future here, hence he would have been released if no deal was struck. Taking a flyer on a young arm can’t hurt. Frankly, the White Sox are dumb to trade a young arm of any promise whatsoever for a 28-year-old outfielder with limited value. Julks was a nice story for parts of last season. The Clear Brook High School grad and UH product had a couple windows of production, highlighted by a sizzling nine game 17 for 34 stretch straddling June and July. Alas, not two weeks later Julks began what would become an 0 for 36 nightmare. He was sent to the minors for good in late-August.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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