HARRIS COUNTY-HOUSTON SPORTS AUTHORITY INSIDER

When it comes to attendance, nothing about Houston is average

When it comes to attendance, nothing about Houston is average
Astros attendance is up over last year, where the season ended in a title and parade. Getty Images

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When we saw the stories, they honestly sounded like fake news.

Major League Baseball is worried. Attendance is down. Lowest numbers in 15 years.

It didn’t make much sense to us here in Houston where fans are streaming the Minute Maid every home stand. And definitely not when the numbers prove that attendance this season for our  defending World Champion Houston Astros is actually up 22 percent over last season.

Then we noticed the asterisk. Average attendance.

And, well, Houston these days just isn’t average.

Call it #HoustonStrong or the road to the playoffs. Then add this little tidbit – the only other MLB teams bucking that average 8.6 percent downturn with positive numbers? Houston’s playoff rivals – the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners. Three of the four have at least 62 wins at the All-Star break and the fourth – the Mariners – are at 58. And, yes,100-win seasons could be on the horizon.

Here, we crowd into Minute Maid to see which player is going to wow us on any given night. Will it be Alex Bregman with the walkoff? Or maybe George Springer or Jose Altuve? We can’t get enough of our Boys of Summer who are on pace for a total attendance of 2.9 million this year.

And those ring and bobble head giveaways? Just a little frosting on another summer of delight.

Honestly, the Astros are on center stage right now, but Houston has morphed into one great sports town. Forget those dog days of lost seasons and fan apathy. Houston sports are back.

Focus on an 82 percent increase in Astros’ attendance since 2012 or the Houston Texans selling out season tickets. Or the Rockets rocking Toyota Center all season.

And, of course, the future.

As forgettable as last year’s Texans’ season was, attendance was just down slightly. And the upside – they’re ranked 17th in the league in attendance -- is tremendous.

Now, the possibilities of what a healthy Deshaun Watson could do for a full season is enough to pull you in, right? Add in DeAndre Hopkins, injury comebacks by  J.J. Watt and D’onta Foreman and . . . well, pretty nice dreams of a great season, right?

Yes, the Rockets lost more than anyone thought this offseason and the battle for Carmelo Anthony is nearing an end, but MVP James Harden and Chris Paul will be back to make another run at Golden State. That’s enough right there to keep us coming back.

Soccer is growing with the Dynamo and Dash and the Sabercats are about to break ground on a rugby stadium. And with fall around the corner, nothing says Texas – and Houston – like high school and college football where Friday and Saturday night lights are a tradition like no other.

But the best draw in the city? As solid as the season totals are for Houston’s three major professional teams, there’s one sporting event that blows them away every year – the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

In those short three weeks of saddle-bronc riding, roping, barrel racing, steer wrestling and the carnival have drawn more than 2.4 million total attendance each of the last two years.

Like we said, there’s nothing average here. We learned a long time ago to never underestimate the hearts of our champions.

#HoustonStrong

 

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*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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