Astros Making Sugar Land Skeeters a Farm Club Proves Nothing Gold Can Stay

When I was a senior in high school, I memorized the Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” as part of an English assignment. In the years since, I have often referred back to that poem during times when things I considered golden in my life became tarnished, or lost some shine.

Such was the case when I learned that the Houston Astros were nearing a deal to make the Sugar Land Skeeters their AAA farm team. As part of the deal, the Astros will own all or part of the Skeeters.

On the surface the idea that the Sugar Land Skeeters are leaving independent baseball and becoming an affiliated team should be good news. But when one digs deeper, they realize that all of the things that made the Skeeters appealing could be taken away as part of the larger effort to give Major League Baseball absolute control of the Minor Leagues.

As part of a massive realignment of Minor League Baseball the Sugar Land Skeeters are slated to go from an independent team in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball to the AAA Affiliate of the Houston Astros starting in the 2021 season.
Photo R. Anderson

The desire for the Astros to keep their AAA team close to the big-league club follows a trend other clubs have followed over the past decade or so.

In fact, in 2013 when the Astros AAA club was based in Oklahoma City there were rumblings that the Astros wanted to relocate a team to the Woodlands, north of Houston to “expand the brand” and “counter moves made by the Texas Rangers,” according to Astros officials at the time.

Fast forward seven years and buying into the ownership of an existing team with a Ballpark is certainly easier than building one from scratch. The Skeeters would join the Astros owned AA affiliate Corpus Christi Hooks as Texas based feeder teams.

The Texas Rangers will likely move their AAA team back to Round Rock, which the Astros are vacating to move to Sugar Land. In the event that the Rangers move back to Round Rock they would join the Astros in having their AA and AAA teams located within the Lone Star State since the Rangers AA farm club is the Frisco Rough Riders.

I have written extensively this year about how I went from a supporter of the Astros to a former fan who wants nothing to do with them as a result of their trash can cheating scandal. But, if any of the other 29 MLB teams were buying into the Skeeters, I would be equally sad.

To be absolutely clear, although I despise what the Astros organization represents based in part on the lack of sincerity in their apologies for the cheating scandal, I would be sad at the thought of the Skeeters changing from independent to affiliated ball regardless of what team they were affiliated with. The fact that it is the Astros just makes it hurt a bit more.

With the exception of the pandemic year of 2020, I have been a fixture at Skeeters games since the team arose out of the former sugar cane fields in 2012. As mentioned, many times before, if Sugar Land was located just a few miles closer to the Gigaplex I likely would have been a season ticket holder and spent most spring and summer evenings at Constellation Field watching the Skeeters.

For the majority of my baseball loving life I have preferred attending Minor League Baseball to Major League Baseball. There is just something about a Minor League game that cannot be matched at the Major League level.

Much like a face palming mascot named Swatson, the news that the Houston Astros were going to be involved with the Sugar Land Skeeters caused my head to shake and my palm to be planted firmly on my forehead. It also reminded me of the words I memorized years ago that nothing gold can stay.
Photo R. Anderson

Part of the charm of going to see the Skeeters play was the fact that tickets and concessions were reasonably priced and the action on the field involved former MLB players as well as people who were trying to continue their careers for just a little bit longer.

As an affiliated Astros club, I fear that the owner of the Astros who famously said in the middle of a pandemic that he wanted fans in the stands so he could sell them “beer and t-shirts” will likely not keep the prices as low as they had been on the current regime. Of course, Skeeters tickets will hopefully still be cheaper than Astros tickets but Goliath has definitely defeated David in this example.

Based on the amount of people who wore Astros gear to Skeeters games, I know that I am likely in the minority when it comes to being sad that the era of Skeeters as I knew them is likely coming to a close. There is likely social distanced dancing in the streets at the news that the Astros will have their AAA team a mere 27 miles or so away from Minute Maid Park.

They may even try to make the Skeeters Ballpark, Constellation Field, look like a mini Minute Maid Park. Of course, the city of Sugar Land owns Constellation Field so they would have a huge say in any major renovations to the Ballpark.

Come next season, one of my favorite Ballparks will be home of the AAA farm club of the Houston Astros. As part of the new relationship Constellation Field could start to look like a mini Minute Maid Park with Astros fans as far as the eye can see.
Photo R. Anderson

But even if major renovations are not done, make no mistake the Ballpark will become a mini Minute Maid packed to the rafters with Astros fans cheering on the top prospects.

I could even envision a scenario where they try to adjust the schedule to ensure that the Skeeters home games coincide with when the Astros are on the road to maximize the amount of dollars that can be made.

Like Mulder told Scully, I want to believe that the worst-case scenario I am picturing will not take place. I want to believe that come Opening Day 2021 COVID-19 will be on the way out and Swatson and the Skeeters will be there like a warm binkie reminding me of a time before the world went bat guano crazy.

Although I want to believe, I am also not naïve. There will be changes to the way the Skeeters operate. Some will be good; some will be bad. Time will tell whether the changes are something I can live with, or if I need to find another Ballpark to call home.

I really do not want to leave the Skeeters behind. They were my oasis and anti-Astros representing all that I remembered about baseball growing up. Unfortunately, that form of baseball is getting harder and harder to find.

Each year the game of baseball gets more commercialized and sanitized. The days of baseball being an afternoon or evening escape where on can just absorb the sights and sounds are fading. Efforts to streamline and modernize the game will continue until baseball as it once was may cease to exist. There are already examples of that, but the years to come are likely to involve some of the most radical changes to the game that have been seen in centuries.

As part of the musical chairs that is Minor League Baseball the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers appear to once again be swapping out calling the Dell Diamond home for their AAA ballplayers.
Photo R. Anderson

I am too young to be the cranky old guy chasing kids off of his lawn and rambling under his breath  about the way things used to be back in the day.

However, I am old enough to remember that baseball used to be a lot less commercialized and people did not need a million distractions in the Ballpark to keep them amused. Back then people actually went to the Ballpark to see a baseball game from their seats.

Back in high school when I was just kicking off my professional writing career, and attending Southern League games at Tinker Field, baseball was still in a nostalgic era. It was also in the middle of the golden age of the baseball movie.

As for the poem that started this all, memorizing the Robert Frost poem senior year was tied to S. E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders. In the book, and for those with shorter attention spans that seem to be the target audience of the new era of baseball, the movie, Johnny Cade tells Ponyboy Curtis to “Stay gold.”

In the same way now I am asking, pleading, begging even, for the Skeeters to stay gold and not become just another cookie cutter affiliate where fans are mere commodities to be monetized and fleeced for beer and t-shirt sales.

Sadly, my rarely wrong gut knows that nothing gold can stay. As Robert Frost wrote nearly a century ago:

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

Another Robert Frost poem that I often think of is The Road Not Taken. Two paths are in front of me as I decide whether to accept the road that the Skeeters appear to be heading down, or if I choose another one. But that is a poem, and a column for another day.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to reread The Outsiders. Stay gold, Swatson.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Astros Owner, Jim Crane, Just Made One of the Most Tone-Deaf Statements Ever Uttered

As I mentioned the other day, after much soul searching, I have decided that I am done supporting the Houston Astros. I have lost all respect for them as an organization, and I really do not see them earning my respect back any time soon.

This was not an easy decision for me to reach. I have a lot of great memories of supporting the Astros, however statements like the one made by team owner Jim Crane on June 24th, only reinforce the stance that is time for me to retire my Astros fandom, just like the new owners retired poor Junction Jack as their mascot.

I really want to stop writing about the Astros, but when they throw a fast ball down the middle of the plate, I have no other choice but to knock it out of the park.

To set the stage, with Major League Baseball set to return in the middle of a global pandemic with a 60-games in 66 days mini season, and the Houston Astros already facing scorn for getting caught cheating, it is almost like Crane said to the person standing next to him at one of the golf courses that he owns, “hold my nachos, I am going to say something so absurd that they will forget about the fact that we cheated in 2017.”

In one of the most tone deaf, failing to take the temperature of the room, comments that I have ever heard, Crane was quoted by many news outlets as saying that in order to recoup some of the money that he has lost by the Astros not playing a full season, he wants to have fans at games at Minute Maid Park this season in order to raise revenue selling concessions and team tchotchkes.

Houston Astros Owner Jim Crane is eager to recoup some of the money that he has lost by the Astros not playing a full season, having fans at games at Minute Maid Park this season in order to raise revenue selling concessions and team tchotchkes.
Photo R. Anderson

Crane’s ludicrous comments also come amid the backdrop of Houston health officials warning that they’re running out of ER space because of a surge in COVID-19 cases.

That means that even someone who does not have COVID-19, but needs to go to the ER because of something like a car accident, may not be able to get the lifesaving treatment that they need.

Crane’s remarks are like giving a single foam finger salute to Houston and the surrounding region by saying I want your money more than I want you to be safe.

Crane’s “let them eat cake” moment translated in Ballpark parlance as “let them eat garlic fries” as a COVID-19 pandemic surrounds Minute Maid Park is so out of touch with reality. A better optic would have been created if Crane offered up the meeting space inside the Union Station area of the Ballpark as a potential surge hospital for COVID-19 patients instead of wanting to open up the Ballpark to potentially create more patients for an overtaxed health district

At 71-years-old, Dusty Baker, is the oldest manager in MLB. Baker, who also happens to manage the Astros, told the Associated Press that, “I’m a bit nervous. I’ve seen the reports in Houston how COVID’s going up so I’m going to have to really be careful.”

Houston Astros owner Jim Crane’s “let them eat cake” moment translated in Ballpark parlance as “let them eat garlic fries” seems a bit tone deaf in light of the raging COVID-19 pandemic that surrounds Minute Main Park. A better optic would have been created if Crane offered up the meeting space inside the ballpark as a potential surge hospital instead of wanting to open up the Ballpark to create more patients for an overtaxed health district.
Photo R. Anderson

Part of that need to be careful involves Baker’s age which puts him in the higher risk category. But, it seems that Crane is willing to expose Baker to more people in order to make a buck.

While Crane is ready to go full speed ahead as soon as possible, Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, is hitting the pause button on reopening the state amid a “massive outbreak.”

Abbott is urging all Texas residents to stay home unless they absolutely have to go somewhere to try to corral the deadly virus that is rolling through the state like floodwaters indiscriminately affecting everything in its path.

If the Governor, who was once one of the most pro reopening advocates in the country, is saying it is time to slow down and stay home, sorry Jim, going to watch a baseball game is not an essential function.

To be fair, there are likely fans who will be willing to go to games and risk their health in order to see some baseball in a Ballpark so quiet you can hear a trash can drop. But, in order to have fans buying food and tchotchkes, you need to have, ticket takers to let the fans in, security to protect the fans, concession workers to make the food, workers to sell the food, and workers to man the cash registers at the gift shops.

Oh yeah, and you need to have workers to empty the trash cans that are full of the trash generated by those fans, as well as workers to disinfect the Ballpark from top to bottom to get ready for the next game. Perhaps the players can help with the cleanup since I hear they know their way around a trash can.

It really shouldn’t be a shock that the owner of the Astros is the most vocal in wanting fans and their money to return. His entire tenure has been one big monetizing of the ballpark. Who can forget the time the view of downtown was blocked by huge billboards that would make a Minor League Ballpark manager say, “that is a step too far.” Thankfully the eyesore was relocated prior to the 2014 season.
Photo R. Anderson

Each of the people who enter the Ballpark will run the risk of getting infected, and in turn, they run the risk of infecting others when they go home. I am sorry, but no helmet full of nachos, or team shirt, is worth that amount of risk.

If I do not want players in the Ballparks due to potential risk of virus spread, I definitely do not want fans adding to the number of potential super spreaders.

Of course, as noted last week, the Sugar Land Skeeters are also looking to host about 1,700 people a game in a mini summer four-team league they are running at Constellation Field starting in early July. It is entirely possible that Crane thought that if the Skeeters can make money during a pandemic, he should be able to as well. Any fans allowed at either Skeeters or Astros games would need to be socially distanced and wearing a mask.

I totally get it; people are tired of being locked up inside. I would love to run free outside the walls of the Gigaplex, eat fried catfish on my favorite restaurant patio with a half and half tea, and act like the world is back to the way it was in the olden days of pre-March 2020.

But wishing it to be true, and going out there and acting like it is true, does not make it true.

The only thing acting like everything is fine, and there is nothing to see here does, is risk my health, and the health of those I love and care about.

And yes, it even risks the health of those I don’t care about. But, I care enough about people I don’t care about to not want to get them sick either.

Based on his comments, billionaire Crane appears to care mostly about back filling his pockets like a money vault diving Scrooge McDuck. I am used to stories of sports owners trying to fleece taxpayers to get better deals on their Ballparks. Crane used those tactics when he was negotiating for a new Spring Training site for the Astros to share with the defending World Series Champion Washington Nationals.

The Sugar Land Skeeters, of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), recently announced their intention to form a four-team professional baseball league at Constellation Field, beginning July 3 and running through Aug. 23 with up to 1,700 fans allowed inside the Ballpark for each game.
Photo R. Anderson

However, one could argue that being greedy about tax breaks on a Ballpark is far less Ebenezer Scrooge, pre-visit by the three spirits, then encouraging people to risk their health to watch a game in order for the owner to make a few bucks on food and souvenir sales.

Ultimately, Crane’s desire to have fans in the Ballpark could be declared dead on arrival by local officials in Houston and Harris County, who will most likely get the final say on allowing gatherings like fans at a ballgame.

Based on previous statements made by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, I am fairly convinced that Crane’s pitch to have fans at the games will, in the words of Harry Doyle in Major League will fall, “Just a bit outside.”

Still, the fact that the statement was even made in the middle of a pandemic, and on a day that Houston reported nearly 1,000 new cases of COVID-19, which is around 1.3 times higher than it was a week ago, either demonstrates Crane has a total lack of situational awareness, or is aware and has a total lack of empathy.

COVID-19 has killed over 122,000 Americans, and even the people who recover from it may end up with long-term effects, like holes in their lungs. That is not a political statement that is a medical fact.

Sadly, uniting against a common foe for the common good, does not seem so common anymore. At least that is the case when it comes to public health and COVID-19. The simple act of wearing a face covering, or mask, to protect others has turned into a litmus test of whether you vote blue or red. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida get it. Mitt Romney gets it. Masks save lives.

Even Governor Abbott is able to show that he needs to take the virus more seriously than he once did. It is time for everyone else, regardless of political affiliation to do the same. At the end of the day COVID-19 does not care if you vote red or blue. It also isn’t going to give anyone a day pass because they are tired of being inside and want to catch a ballgame and eat some nachos.

As for the comment made by Jim Crane, perhaps he was only kidding. I hear that is the thing people say these days after making a seriously tone-deaf remark in public.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to watch Major League.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson