This week is Thanksgiving, and it is appropriate for all Americans to examine the things that they are thankful for, even when times are difficult. Let there be no mistake, these are difficult times to be an Astros fan. Other than the dark years prior to 1962, there has never been a worse year for the space city faithful. But with every cloud comes rain, with rain comes rainbows, and with rainbows come leprechauns bearing pots of gold. Sometimes those nuggets of happiness are hard to find, especially when the hunt is stymied by a troll wielding the sword of the MLB commissioner's office, but joy in baseball will always prevail over the forces of greed, blackmail, and funky facial expressions. Below the jump is a list of what Astros fans have to be thankful for this year.
We Should be Thankful for a New Owner
The Houston Astros have a new owner who is excited about owning a baseball team. He is a Houstonian. He played college baseball. Jim Crane (and company) wanted to own a baseball team so badly that he accepted an ultimatum to move the club to the AL, even knowing that it would start him off on the wrong foot with the fans.
Jim Crane has stated that he wants to model the Astros after the Texas Rangers, a team that has developed a super-strong farm system and utilized trades and smart free agent signings in order to reach two sequential World Series. Crane does not appear to be cut from the same mold as money-grubbing owners like Jeffrey Loria of the Florida Marlins. Instead, he seems genuinely interested in not just winning, but sustaining a winning tradition through smart organizational moves. And for this, we should be thankful.
We Should be Thankful that We No Longer Have to Watch Pitchers Bat
I love National League baseball. The NL is to chess as the AL is to checkers. The sacrifice bunt. The double-switch. The pinch hitter. The NL is Major League baseball in its purest available form. But let's not beat around the bush. Does anybody enjoy watching a pitcher try to hit?
In the 2011 World Series Game 7, Chris Carpenter stood at the plate with bat on shoulder, advertising to the world that he had no intention of even waving it in the general direction of the ball. In the most important game of his career, the starting pitcher looked like he'd rather be anywhere else than facing his mound opponent. Has there been a pitcher in the last twenty years who was fun to watch while he stood at the plate? Don't say Carlos Zambrano, with his .241/.251/.395 career numbers. Brad Ausmus would laugh at those numbers. Don't say Micah Owings. For the love of all that is holy, don't name anybody who has played for the Astros...ever.
The fact is, watching a pitcher hit is like watching a manatee fly. They're somewhat aerodynamic-looking, right? Sure, once in a while, the manatee might get lucky and fall over a waterfall, and some days a pitcher might create a positive outcome with his bat. But the odds are low, it's painful to watch, and much more often than not it's an exercise in futility. I don't love the DH. But every cloud has a silver lining. In this case, I'll never have to watch an Astros pitcher hit in home games again.
We Should be Thankful for Chocolate-Covered Bacon
Everything that is good about life in one succulent bite.
We Should be Thankful for a Really Nice Ballpark
Say what you will about how Houston gained Enron Field, whether it was a threat by Drayton McLane to go all "Bud Adams" on the city or a genuine care for Houston and it's baseball tradition. But McLane secured one heck of a nice park to go see a ballgame in. Year after year, the Astros park seems to win awards for fan enjoyment, food, in-park entertainment, and general niceness. And now, Minute Maid Park has a new ginormous hi-def jumbotron that is even large enough to contain Roger Clemens' ego. Enjoy this, Astros fans, because if you have never been to some other parks around the country, you don't know how good you have it.
We Should be Thankful for the First Pick in the 2012 Draft
Finishing last in the NBA gets you a chance at one of the top eight picks in the next draft. Finishing last in MLB gives you the first pick of the draft with no questions asked. Since the farm system is far and away the Astros' biggest problem at the moment, this is something to be thankful for. If the Astros are going to have a losing record and miss the playoffs, they might as well set a new standard for futility and grab the highest draft pick they can. It worked for the Rays. It seems to be working for the Nationals. The next Bryce Harper might be just around the corner. No Strasburg exists in this draft, but most internet prognosticators say that Stanford pitcher Mark Appel might be the apple of the Astros' eye (I bet that joke gets used a few more times before April). A longer-term option is Texas High School (Galveston) outfielder Nick Williams, among others. We'll just have to see.
We Should be Thankful for the Philadelphia Phillies Farm System
Oh, Ed Wade. You aren't perfect, but you mined that Phillies system for gold, and came up with some showpieces. Eighteen-ish months ago, four of the Astros current top 6 prospects (per Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein) were riding yellow buses in the Phillies' minor league system: Pitcher Jarred Cosart, 1B Jonathan Singleton, OF Domingo Santana, and SS Jonathan Villar. In addition, the Astros gained starter J.A. Happ, a product of the Phillies' farm, and traded another Phillies outfielder, Anthony Gose, for 1B Brett Wallace, who clocks in at #9 on Goldstein's Age-25-and-Under list.
Wade has a reputation for dealing with the Phillies more often than not, but if a player haul like that is the result, I say, "Thanks, Ed!". Long-term, you may have saved the franchise. Still...might want to dust off that resume.
We Should be Thankful Houston isn't Topeka, Walla Walla, Nashville, or Albuquerque
Other cities without Major League franchises:
- Bug Tussle, Oklahoma
- Spunky Puddle, Ohio
- Scrabble, West Virginia
- What Cheer, Iowa
- Wazoo City, Mississippi
- Buttzville, New Jersey
Astros fans, what else are you thankful for?