HARRIS COUNTY-HOUSTON SPORTS AUTHORITY INSIDER

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

 

WWE's Royal Rumble arrives this Sunday at Minute Maid Park. Photo by Paul Muth

I'm not a big sign guy.

You know sign guys. The people who write puns on posters. The ones who carry the letter "D" in one had and a cutout of a literal fence in the other. The "Houston, YOU have a problem" sign guys.

I tried it once when I was 14, was punched in the face, and sort of lost my appetite after that.

Let me explain.

It was April 1, 2001. Wrestlemania 17. I won't ask my parents how much it cost them, but my aunt and uncle scored floor seats to the greatest spectacle in sports entertainment in no better confines than the Astrodome herself and I got to tag along.

It was a hell of a show. Some say it was one of the best Wrestlemanias ever. The card was stacked, including a Triple-H match against the hometown hero The Undertaker that set the stage for the main event.

At precisely two hours and forty-eight minutes into the event, Undertaker sent Triple-H flying over the barricade and "INTO THE STANDS!"

"Holy crap," 14-year-old Paul thought. "They're headed right down my aisle."

Now I'm not sure how it works these days, but back then it was totally customary to bail on your seat and follow the fight as they weaved up and down the aisles. I wasn't about to miss the chance so I grabbed my poorly scribbled wrestling poster, glanced back and my Aunt for the OK, then darted after the action.

The fight snaked its way up to some scaffolding with a camera perched atop. There, the fight would stall as they battled their way to the top. Oblivious to anything but the action in front of me, I threw my sign up as high as I could, probably screamed at the top of my lungs, and my voice probably cracked in the process. I was 14.

Suddenly someone pushed me in the back of my shoulder. I turned around and there was an old lady, maybe five feet tall, standing on her chair. She had the quintessential cowgirl big hair and enough costume jewelry on to short-circuit a metal detector.

"GET THE @#$% OUT THE WAY, BOY," she commanded in the most east Texas accent you've ever heard in your life. I ignored her and turned back around.

Then she pushed me again.

I turned around again and before I had any clue what was happening, this knockoff mini Dolly Parton had already connected a stiff left hook to my temple. She then grabbed my sign and ripped it in half. Stunned, I retreated to my seat while tending to a now bleeding eyebrow thanks to what I assume was a Wal-Mart engagement ring.

Haven't really been a big sign guy since.

But this weekend the WWE takes over Minute Maid Park for their annual Pay-Per-View event known as the Royal Rumble. It will be the first time since that fateful night in the Astrodome 19 years ago that I've returned to a high profile wrestling event.

Now am I looking forward to this weekend as an opportunity to retake the dignity that was ripped away so long ago? Probably not. I'll most likely just drink a bunch of beer and yell at wrestlers with my friends. But I'm not ruling anything out.

Now instead of a power rankings this week, I figured that in the spirit of the Royal Rumble we could rehash some of the best sports fights Houston's served up:

#5 Charles Barkley throws man through window

Now I know this one didn't happen on a court, but the story is just too good. In a classic case of "play stupid games, win stupid prizes," a 5'2" Floridian by the name of Jorge Lugo decided to harrass the 6'6" then-power forward for the Houston Rockets at an Orlando bar . Barkley ignored and avoided the issue until a Lugo-thrown glass intended for Barkley missed and struck a nearby woman. Bad move. When judge presiding over the ensuing case asked Barkley if he had any regrets, The Round Mound of Rebound replied "Yeah, I regret we weren't on a higher floor."

#4 Chris Paul serves a two-piece to Rajon Rondo

This one is actually fairly recent and adds to what I discovered was a hefty list of Rockets throw downs. After breaking up a stare down between Lakers forward Brandon Ingram and James Harden, Paul and Rondo began a heated chest-to-chest exchange. From all replay indications it appeared as if Rondo then spit on Paul, which triggered a disrespectful finger push to Rondo's face, which then descended into a good old fashioned knuckle sandwich exchange. Paul was suspended for two games.

#3 Derrick Lewis verifies amateur of amateur status

Some dude actually had the nerve to walk in to UFC Heavyweight fighter and Houston native Derrick Lewis' gym and pick a fight. The amateur claimed that he would knock Lewis out because he was an MMA fighter, and not a real boxer. "The Black Beast" was more than happy to oblige, and swiftly teleported the no name into the shadow realm.

#2 Vernon Maxwell fights Portland man

Sometimes people forget that sporting events are intended to be family friendly. Some also forget that players are people with actual feelings. Maxwell claims that aside from general harassment, a Portland fan decided to bring Maxwell's wife's recent miscarriage to light as well. Maxwell stood up from the bench, calmly walked up the stairs, and knocked the crap out of the dude. Maxwell was suspended 10 games.

#1 Andre Johnson baptizes Courtland Finnegan

It had been seasons in the making. Finnegan had built a reputation out of adding cheap shots here and there, ripping helmets off at the end of plays, and various other dirty tactics. In late November of 2010 Johnson had reached the end of his rope. Schadenfreude was the flavor of the day for all Texans fans as Johnson manhandled Finnegan, reigning down fists of righteous justice.

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