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If the Rangers Can Take the Heat, We Can

It’s getting a bit mundane to see the Rangers play against the Astros now. Another series, another sweep.

When Adam Rosales slid home for the winning run on Wednesday, the Rangers upped their record against their new division mates to 14-2 on the year. With six wins against them in the last 12 days, the Rangers can really thank Houston for helping get them a multi-game lead in the American League West once again.

But there should be more to this whipping up on Mosquitoville than just bragging rights in the state. This should be the ultimate example of finally putting to rest that tired argument that this team should be playing indoors.

To this day, there are still those constantly griping about the Rangers playing in the open air of what was originally called The Ballpark in Arlington, forcing fans and players to endure the intense summer heat of the Lone Star State. How dare they build an outdoor stadium back in a time when indoor parks were considered the devil?

Yes, how soon we forget that in the early 90s, it was beyond frowned upon to build an indoor facility, even one with a retractable roof, spurred on by the outright ugliness and uniformity of the likes of Toronto’s SkyDome, Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and especially the stadium the Astros were currently playing in. You want a throwback to what indoor stadiums were once like? Go to Tampa’s Tropicana Field.

The Astros, meanwhile, were supposedly the ones who did it right in 2000. After 35 years of playing in the Astrodome, the Astros moved into Minute Maid Park, a facility that was supposedly done right in every way, with its retractable roof and unique design that would allow the best of both worlds. It was the park the Rangers SHOULD have built.

And what has playing in that modernized, enclosed-when-they-want-to ballpark done for the Astros?

One less trip to the World Series than the Rangers.

And at the moment, a record that’s a whopping 32 games worse than their North Texas counterparts.

Now, naturally there’s a big difference in the talent level between the two teams, made blatantly obvious by the fact that almost the entire Houston roster is barely making over the league minimum.

But the cry for years was that the climate conditions at the Ballpark would always negate the talent level. The heat would wear down the players and they could never have the stamina to perform late in the year. The jetstream into right field made it too much of a hitters park, and thus they would never have good enough pitching to consistently win.

Yet not only are the Rangers once again right there in first place for the fourth straight year, not only are they perhaps playing at their best in the middle of the “dog days,” but – gasp – they still have the 4th best ERA in the American League.

Looks like not worrying about the heat, hitting your spots and keeping the ball down CAN overcome the conditions. It just took people like Nolan Ryan and the Maddux brothers to drill that mindset into the players.

And how about the claims that no one wants to show up at the Ballpark in our insane temperatures? You know, it’s funny how many who get on my case for saying the Cowboys will always keep people away from the Ballpark are among the most vocal at saying the heat will do the same.

Well, looks like we’ve both been wrong. Yes, there was a dropoff in gate receipts over June and July (which corresponds with the team’s dropoff on the field that temporarily knocked them out of first). Yet the Rangers remain second in the American League in attendance behind only the Yankees.

The Astros with their climate-controlled comfort are second-to-last. Apparently air-conditioned garbage is still hard to put butts in the seats.

Our modern day society spoils us, there is no doubt about that. We’re able to go anywhere we want in our motorized vehicles to get our lunch in a matter of minutes with no effort on our part. We want comfort all the time.

But with a team looking to make the postseason once again, maybe we should be thankful for what we have and not worry about how it should be better.

Maybe learning to play in the tough conditions have managed to toughen up this team, giving them the strength to deal with the pressure of a pennant race. (And maybe that’s something a certain football team living next door could learn.)

In the meantime, maybe a few fans and pampered media members should learn to deal with less than perfect, non-artificial conditions. Hey, sweating off a few pounds won’t kill you.

It’s better than looking at the standings and seeing your team more than a month out of first.


Astros Might Not Be the Rangers’ Whipping Boys Forever

Jim Crane might want to double-check the lease on Minute Maid Park and make sure his team’s name is on it and not the Rangers.

Yeah yeah, I know, old joke. But it’s still amazing just how badly our guys in North Texas have dominated this year in the city Randy Galloway loves to call Mosquitoville.

The Rangers opened the 2013 season at the park formerly known as Enron and got drilled 8-2. They did not lose in Houston for the rest of the year, finishing 9-1 on the road against the Astros.

The streak was completed by the same person who started it. In two starts this year in Houston, Yu Darvish allowed two hits in 17 innings – none prior to the eighth in either game.

Of course, they haven’t been the only ones to kick the Astros around. While the Rangers made the incredible comeback from six games back to one game up in nine days, Houston has now dropped back to 31 games out of first. A full month behind the leader in the division.

I get the feeling more than a few fans in H-Town wish they’d never left the league where pitchers are still forced to bat. Well, here are a couple of things to try and ease the pain.

First, it’s doubtful that the Astros would be any better if they were still in the National League Central, given that the Cardinals and surprising Pirates are battling for baseball’s best record in that division.

And second, it’s likely they won’t be the Disastros for much longer.

To say Houston has a young inexperienced team is an understatement. Eric Bedard is the only Astros player to currently make more than $505,000 (the league minimum is $490,000)

But while the Astros may be bringing up the rear in the American League, their farm system has the best record in all of baseball. Amazingly, just a few years ago, the franchise had cellar dwellers at the major, AAA and AA levels; now, both Oklahoma City and Corpus Christi are looking to the postseason.

And it’s not like there isn’t some promise with the group currently on the big league roster, especially with the battery the Rangers faced in their last game.

Finding a good catcher can be a headache, as we have seen in these post-Pudge days, but the Astros may have something in Carlos Corporan. In the ninth inning on Monday, when Corproan made a snap throw to first to nearly pick off Craig Gentry, Tom Greive couldn’t help but compare him to The Magnificent 7 with how he screened himself behind the left-handed batter to try and fool the runner. A few pitches later, Corporan fired a very Pudge-like bullet to second base to gun down Gentry.

It was also Corporan who ruined Darvish’s second attempt to no-hit the Astros this year with his home run in the eighth inning. With seven homers (tied for fifth on the team; Jason Castro and Matt Dominguez are tied for second with 14 each) and 31 total runs (15 R/16 RBI) in just 46 games, he has the promise of being a run producer behind the plate.

And it looks like Brett Oberholtzer has finally figured things out. Called back up from Oklahoma City after the Bud Norris trade and thrown into the rotation, Brett has actually been more than pretty good; the two the Rangers scored off him in the first inning Monday are so far the only runs he’s allowed in three starts. Texas handed him his first loss, making it his first start that he didn’t get out of the seventh inning.

While a third straight 100-loss season looks inevitable, at least the Astros are doing it right in trying to build. With the franchise having poached Nolan Ryan’s son Reid to be team president, running a group led by general manager Jeff Luhnow and and some good throwbacks to the Astros’ previous success (including Craig Biggio as a special assistant and Quinton McCracken as director of player development), the Astros are clearly focused on this amazing new tactic of building from within that is actually now seeing success in the game.

Compare that to the mess in Anaheim, CA, where the Los Angeles Angels of Orange County Or Whatever are loaded down with too many ginormous contracts given to players who simply are not living up to them. Already people are speculating that the Angels won’t be able to pay up to their lone bright spot, Mike Trout, when his time in arbitration comes, thanks to the millions they’re paying Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols to not do much. The cellar looks a lot closer in the future for the the Halos than the postseason does.

In the meantime, the Rangers have six games left in Arlington this year to beat up on the Astros, and they might have another year of using them as a chew toy. But we’d better enjoy it while it lasts, because eventually this Lone Star battle might become a war.

Time For Baseball to Align Geographically?

Wow. Still amazing that, going into tonight, the Rangers still have 10 games left against the Houston Astros.

And I don’t just mean that because it should mean at least seven more wins on this season.

I mean, it may still take some getting used to that now each year there will be three opportunities to make just that four hour trek down Interstate 45 to catch the Rangers in a venue other than Arlington.

The Rangers do now have it lucky that they finally have a division opponent within more than decent proximity to them after years of nothing but West Coast hell. But more than that, the inner state rivalry between these two teams takes on much new meaning (It might take on even more if the series was competitive, but there’s only so much we can do).

Major League Baseball first experimented with this when they debuted interleague play in 1997, finally allowing the Mets/Yankees, Dodgers/Angels and Cubs/WhiteSox to play in actual meaningful games. The rivalries between inner city/inner state teams was stoked further.

Except for the Rangers and Astros, who were prevented form such games because they weren’t in corresponding divisions (American League West vs. National League Central). Chalk up one more negative to the Rangers’ division.

Funny enough, it was supposedly years ago that MLB first gave them this opportunity by offering to move the Rangers to the National League; Tim Hicks turned it down in favor of giving

But in the end, it all worked out as it led to freeing up the chance to break baseball from the monotonous division-only interleague play, and now the Rangers get their state division rival while remaining in the better American League.

And now perhaps MLB should take the next step toward expanding this in it most radical change ever.

I can be very critical of the NBA, and likely will once its season starts up, but the one thing I do like is the basis for how they align the league. They definitely need improvement in their current alignment (stay tuned), but the fundamental principle of organizing everything geographically is there.

And the NBA is not alone in this. It’s the same format that the NHL uses and college sports… Well they USED to do.

Maybe it’s now time for baseball to consider this and look to a complete realignment based solely on regions and not an antiquated league format.

Don’t think I’ve always had this idea. When I was a kid, a Rangers/Astros World Series was my dream. (And believe it or not, there was a time when the Astros had a team with the potential to do this.) But now, the idea of the league having more opportunities for fans to travel to games looks like a much more beneficial option.

Can you imagine what Yankees/Mets or Giants/Athletics would be like if they got to play 18 times a year and were actually fighting for more than bragging rights?

How much would attendance and ratings jump if not only were there even more games with even closer proximity, but the fact that an entire region was battling for a single playoff spot?

And from our own perspective, how much better would it be to maybe, just maybe, have the Rangers in the same division as teams in their own time zone??

Baseball has always been the slowest to change, and that has hurt it in more recent years. Many purists would scream and cry against a change like this to the bitter end.

But 20 years ago, the prospect of inter league play was still unheard of. Even after that, the possibility of a team changing leagues was preposterous. Heck there was a time when divisional play was considered heresy.

But times change. And it may be time for baseball to get even closer, geographically speaking, to its audience.