Rivalries and respect

Fans don’t boo nobodies.
– Reggie Jackson

“I hate Houston.”

I can’t recall how many times I’ve said that in my life as a Dallas sports fan.

I can’t recall how many times I’ve made fun of mosquitoes as big as airplanes, or said something about their city literally stinking (as if I’d never been in the Trinity basin).

I can’t recall because the number is too high, even weekly. It’s a rite of passage.

I want my city to be the sports capital of Texas; Houston’s the only challenger. When the Astros made the series in 2005, I was rooting for the White Sox, and not just because of historical fandom; I didn’t want Houston up 1-0 in the world championship tally.

So I’ve said some things about our neighbors to the south, about all hat and no cattle. About Love Ya (Black and) Blue. About the Killer Bs being the only good thing to come out of Houston since oil. About anything and everything bad I could come up with about the “Rockettes”, especially their “Jordan-free championship-lite” titles.

When I was growing up, my best friend (John, now the co-owner of this site) and I had a rule. He could make joke about the teams I was on, or our record, or my hitting (often anemic), or other general things.

He couldn’t make it about any one player—these WERE my teammates, and best friend or not, those would be fighting words. And he watched for the nerves that the knife might hit, and never twisted.

We went to Berkner High School in Richardson, and he called it “The Berkner Baseball Rule.” He could say all that he wanted to get my goad about our struggles, and about my hitting—because it was the blanket needling that comes with true respect.

See, this is what we do, some of us. And some have a gift. John does.

But deep down, he respected how hard we tried regardless of record, and how much I practiced regardless of batting average. He saw the tape and blood blisters on my hands. He knew I loved Friday Night Lights not for the football games, but because the stadium lights lit up the cages enough for me to get in tee work.

That’s kind of my feeling on Houston.

Truth be told, I don’t hate Houston, but I’d never tell them that. If they won that series in 2005, or had advanced with Biggio and Bagwell and Randy Johnson in 1998, I would have felt a warmth akin to a brother winning a prize in a contest I’d entered.

Would it be begrudging? Sure. But just as brotherly? Absolutely.

Things this week have been tense. Evan Grant wrote the best piece I’ve read about where to play this week’s Astros “home games”, how they ended up in Tampa, and why. In short:

“I don’t know if it was the best answer, but I think from the baseball perspective, it was probably the fairest answer. I think if you take things into the larger consideration, there were better answers. But, in terms of the baseball situation, the precedent is this kind of situation. And let me just clarify that by saying look, there’s not really a comparable precedent. The closest thing we have is when the Astros were in no type of disaster quite the same as this in 2008, and they ended up having to go to Milwaukee to play the Cubs [because of Hurricane Ike]. And two years ago, when Baltimore was in a situation where they couldn’t play at home because of riots, and they ended up going to Tampa and playing the Rays there but playing as the home team. But there wasn’t any precedent for teams swapping home-and-home dates. That was just not really a practical solution in terms of the baseball and, for lack of a better term, business end of this.” – Evan Grant

A lot of people didn’t like it, and the Rangers are going to come off looking bad. I thought a lot about this, and from a baseball situation, I get it. When it comes time to play those home-that-would-be-road games in September, Houston will most likely be playing for playoff standings. The Rangers may well be playing for their October lives. A home vs. a road game in that situation makes a big difference.

Since the Astros moved to the AL, the rivalry between Texas and Houston has shifted to something the Interleague schedulers tried to manufacture, but that never really took, to something we feel, and that the teams feel, too. It reminds me of the showdowns against Seattle and Anaheim for the West crowns in the 1990s. I wanted to beat them with all my soul – heck, I wanted to beat them worse than the damned Yankees, and that is saying a lot.

“We have more talent than this team does. That’s what I believe, and we shouldn’t be losing these kind of ballgames.”…”We’re going to go out there tomorrow and just put them to the ground,” Giles said. “That’s all we’re going to do.” – Ken Giles, Astros closer, after a June 6, 2016 loss to the Rangers

Last year and this have been the pinnacle of the Astros/Rangers rivalry. Both teams have been contenders, the Rangers on the down side of the pennant winners of 2010 and 2011, retooling where they could and bringing in fresh arms and firemen in the pen. The Astros following a now-classic formula they and the Cubs all but pioneered, or at least patented: tear it down; tear it all down – then rebuild it in your ideal image.

Sports Illustrated famously claimed in 2015 that we were looking at the 2017 World Series champions in a somewhat mocked (in these parts) cover story, given the run of 100-loss teams Houston had strung together to start the ‘Aughts. Except, they weren’t wrong.

Last year’s Rangers had exceptional luck and skill, alike, against the Astros. Consider:

2016 Season
Overall Offensive Pitching
vs. Hou. 15-4 +22 0.283 0.334 0.469 3.47 1.218 0.679
vs. MLB 95-67 +8 0.262 0.322 0.433 4.37 1.369 0.753

In short, they did everything right against Houston, and the margin was enough to win them the West, send their run differential into the black, and make them the best team in the AL on the season.

Then came 2017. Oh, how the tables turned. They’ve been largely the same against MLB. better, in terms of run differential. The haven’t pitched as well, but it’s been close enough. But against Houston, it’s a lot of” ugh”.

Here are the same numbers for this season:

Through August 28, 2017
Overall Offensive Pitching
vs. Hou. 5-8 -18 0.231 0.314 0.409 5.18 1.504 0.820
vs. MLB 64-66 +21 0.246 0.322 0.435 4.51 1.379 0.763

You might say none of that matters now. I say it does. I say Houston needs to be treated, if only on the field of play, as if things are normal – as if they are strong, and swift, and good, and rising.

And so I’ll root against the Astros, just as I always have. And I’ll root for their home town. And just as I did after 9/11 with the Yankees, I’’ root for them when it comes to opponents other than my team. I’ll not turn against my team, even for the want of tragedy. I will do Houston the service of pulling it up, drying it off, and saying, “I’ll help you everywhere that counts, but on the field, we are rivals.”

Such are emotions; such tugs of gravity and normalcy, in conflict, pull us into a balance, however precarious, in times like these.

So, do I hate Houston? No. You’re my fellow Texans. I love you.

But when we meet on the field of play? I respect you too much to give you my anything less than my best.

So if you hear, “I hate Houston”, know I say it with love.

Chris Connor
As a lifelong DFW resident, Chris Connor is a diehard Rangers fan, and worships at the altar of Arlington. Along with John Manaloor, he co-owns Shutdown Inning, and serves as Editor in Chief for SDI.
He holds a Bachelors of Science in Management and an MBA, both from UT-Dallas.
As a writer, he acknowledges that he’s never had a brilliance for brevity, but tries to meander to a meaningful point as he channels Faulkner. He believes the only things more beautiful than Ted Williams’ swing are Yosemite Valley at sunrise and his wife.
He lives with the latter, along with their beloved dog and quite tolerable cat, in Allen, Texas.

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