When you look through stories about the Astros these days, you’ll see a lot of the same phrases: “historically bad,” “rock bottom,” and “gruesome.”
So how rough is it down in Houston?
The Astros hit the 100-loss mark early last week. This year’s jump to the American League didn’t help things. They also racked up dismal records the last two seasons in the National League.
But the team that was named for Houston’s once-burgeoning space industry still has a devoted fan base, and those fans are greeted with a smile by Minute Maid Park security guard Bracey Burnett.
“The younger fans are just having fun and are glad to be at the ballpark, but some of them are getting a little bit impatient,” Burnett said. “The older fans, with certain situations that are going on with the team, they’re kind of getting depressed a little bit, but they still come.”
And there’s somebody else who’s still coming to the games: Astros legend Larry Dierker.
Dierker came to Houston as a teenage pitching sensation in 1964. He later brought the Astros to the postseason as a manager between 1997 and 2001. He’s also done stints in the broadcast booth, and he now does community outreach for the team.
Dierker uses the word the fans hate to hear.
“Rebuilding, year two,” he said. “Great prospects, great records and everything in the minor leagues, but it hasn’t risen to this level yet.”
While things are grim in Houston, down in the minors it’s a totally different story. The team is watching top prospects like shortstop Carlos Correa with the Quad City River Bandits. There’s also Jonathan Singleton, a first baseman with the Oklahoma City Redhawks, and George Springer, an Oklahoma City outfielder.
Dierker says people ask him all the time: when are these guys going to come up and give the Astros a hand?
“When you rebuild you’re taking a chance on young guys, and sometimes they get better and sometimes they don’t. And so sometimes you rebuild for a couple of years, and you go, ‘Oops, that didn’t work. We’re going to have to rebuild some more,’” He said. “Sometimes — and it’s happened three or four times to different teams in the last decade — it takes about three years and you’re in the playoffs again.”
So what do you do to keep the fans happy until that happens? You have to build the game around an event. That means lots of bobblehead and retro jersey giveaways. There’s the Friday night fireworks shows, and girls line-dancing on top of the dugout to “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”
But for some Astros fans, if they want to see their team in action they actually have to show up at the ballpark.
In the nation’s 10th largest TV market, 60 percent of households can’t even see the games on their cable carrier.
“The television contract the Astros have is the biggest issue that is holding them back right now,” said Clark Haptonstall, who chairs the Department of Sports Management at Rice University. “If the games are on television you see the excitement, you see the players, you start to feel that you know the players, and that’s when people will start attending games. And watching on television as well, if your games are not televised, then you cannot charge as much for sponsorships, you can’t charge as much per commercial, and so that’s even more revenue that the teams are losing.”
So as the sweltering summer temperatures drag into fall in Houston, another Astros season comes to an end with a losing record and poor attendance, but at Minute Maid Park, security guard Bracey Burnett tells fans it won’t be this way forever.
“It’s coming, but it’s kind of slow, you know,” Burnett said. “But you’ve got to be patient with a young team.”
This weekend the Astros are closing out the season at home against the Yankees.