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A Return to the Limits of Fandom

The Astros have pushed the envelope in so many ways, but I never thought my love of the team would be one of them

2019 World Series Game 7 - Washington Nationals v. Houston Astros Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

One of my favorite made-up words is Granfalloon. This word is from the Kurt Vonnegut novel Cat’s Cradle and is used to describe a group of people who affect a shared identity or purpose, but whose mutual association is meaningless. I love this word not just because it makes me look smart for reading a book in the 7th grade, but also because I feel like it perfectly encapsulates a group of sports fans.

As a fan of the Astros, I’ve always felt a shared sense of identity with the team and other fans. A sort of grand “us” that rises and falls on the strength of the team at any given point. I get grumpy when the Astros lose and elated when they win. I hop on social media to celebrate victory while also shunning it when they suffer defeat. I have vested a part of myself into this team and its fortunes which, in some very real ways, are also mine.

But now that mentality is being tested in ways I never really expected it to be. Ever since I experienced the high of watching Altuve hit a hanging slider off of Chapman to end the ALCS, there has been a steady stream of bad news and feelings that have tugged at both my conscience and dedication. While for some it’s all too easy to dismiss, for me it has not been quite so.

The Astros Broke My Heart

While I know this won’t garner much sympathy outside of our fan base, it’s been a tough offseason to be an Astros fan. After coming so close to a second championship in 3 years, the Astros were rocked with one of the biggest scandals in recent MLB history. We all know the background of how it all went down, and how the punishment was handed down earlier this week.

That punishment was justifiably harsh as the Astros were caught red-handed using electronics to steal signs during the 2017 championship season. Anyone still denying that has clearly dropped all pretense of objectivity and will simply not listen to reason. They got caught, they got punished, and they deserved it, full stop. The funny thing is, as a fan, I thought that the punishment being handed down would be like ripping a band-aid off and I would simply feel better that it was done. Instead, there is a sour taste still lingering in my mouth over this whole situation.

Part of that sour taste is final confirmation that it definitely happened. While there wasn’t really a doubt in my mind, there was still a small hope that perhaps it wasn’t as bad as it all seemed and the report would confirm that. A petulant notion, to be sure, and one that was dashed on the rocks of cruel reality, but it was still there. Once I saw the report though, and the stomach-churning confirmation that the cheating continued into the postseason, it became all too real. And once that happened, I truly had to grapple with my feelings for the team and what it meant to be a fan of the Astros.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to examine what that means to me. The trade for Osuna while he was under investigation for domestic violence set off alarm bells at the time, but even that wasn’t the first indication that the team was run in in a cold and calculating win at all costs way. While it’s true that every team has warts, there has been a series of stories and instances about the Astros in particular that has tested the limits of what some fans will accept from their favorite team.

A Betrayal of my Fandom

The cheating scandal seemed to be a culmination of all of that. After putting up with trading for a domestic abuser, attacking the media, yelling obscenities at female reporters, and racist signs in the dugout, just to name a few, here was the team cheating. Not only cheating, but doing it in such a flagrant way that it was hard to believe they got away with it for as long as they did.

The method itself was even devised by the players. I know that we can all point the finger at Carlos Beltran and Alex Cora, but every one of the Astros’ players knew what was going on. Everyone was in on it even if they didn’t participate in it. Everyone is culpable. What makes it even worse is, after it was said and done, the commissioner's report seemed to indicate that the players didn’t even feel like it made that much of a difference.

Almost a full season and a half of banging on the trash can and using electronics to decode signs, and it wasn’t event even helping. I mean, according to the report, they weren’t cheating in 2019 when they had one of the best regular seasons ever so there seems to be some truth to that. It just feels so stupid that the team did this for something that wasn’t even helping them and seems almost to have been hindering them.

Sure, you can talk about the fact that the investigation was clearly about setting up the Astros to be scapegoats for a cheating culture that has permeated the league. There certainly have been enough rumblings about other teams with similar systems in place to cast doubt elsewhere. It would be the height of naivety to believe that the Astros invented cheating in 2017 and that no other team ever even thought about it. But all of that is besides the point because, no matter how you slice it, the Astros cheated.

And that feels like a betrayal. I was in blissful ignorance before now. At least I was able to enjoy everything that was done on the field with the thought that, even with what happened off the field, at least the game itself was pure. It was baseball being played the right way, or so I thought. But all of that was stripped away from me with the sound of a bat on a trash can.

On the Limits of Fandom

And now here we are. I’ve always viewed fandom as a personal thing that one must reconcile on their own terms. No one makes you root for a team or invest yourself in them. It’s a choice brought on by enjoyment of the sport and wanting to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Personally, I look at what this team means to me and how much of my time, treasure, and emotional well-being I invest into them. I spend hundreds of hours and dollars every year on this team because I want to be a part of it in my own way. I have adopted the Astros as a part of my identity, but this incident makes me seriously wonder if I’ve been a fool to do so.

This whole scandal has been akin to a crisis of faith for me. It has literally changed my behavior. I have made the conscious decision not to wear my 2017 World Series champs sweatshirt into public because I don’t want to get razzed for it, especially not when in the company of 6-year-old daughter. I can only imagine how much worse this situation would be if she were actually interested in baseball and I had to explain the cheating scandal to her directly. As it is, I no longer encourage her to wear her Astros shirts or cap to school like I used to.

I also wonder at times whether or not writing for this blog is even still worthwhile for me in the wake of all of this. If perhaps I should just disappear into another one of my hobbies and sort of forget about baseball the way I used to in the offseasons before I started writing for TCB. I always told myself that I would only do this so long as it was fun for me and, quite frankly, I’m not having any fun right now.

So What Now?

I’ve gone back and forth on how to end this article. I’ve written paragraphs about how I’ll love this team forever and how what they did doesn’t matter, but then I realized that it does matter. I want to root for a team that is actually the good guys and not feel like there might be something sinister going on underneath the surface. I even pondered, though didn’t put into words, writing out a farewell to our readers. I have truly struggled with this on a personal level.

However, at the end of the day, I came to the conclusion that I will continue to watch and write about this team. Not just because of this blog but because so much of my life has been wrapped up in baseball and the Astros. Even so, there has been something of a change for me. While my memories of the 2017 World Series aren’t “tainted” because members of the media and fans of opposing teams say they should be, I definitely can’t look at the Astros in same way, and I honestly don’t know how much more I can forgive.

In a way, even with that change in viewpoint, I really want the new season to start now. I want to get back to simply watching a game of baseball while enjoying a cold beer or three and rooting for my team to win. Not only that, the scandal makes me feel assured that the 2020 season, win or lose, is being played in a way I can be proud of. Honestly, after the last couple of months, that thought feels like manna from heaven.

When I really think about it, what I want most is to experience the crack of the bat, the thrill of running the bases, and athletes performing at the top of their craft again. The years of emotion and enjoyment poured into the team haven’t been swept away yet even though their hold is more tenuous than it once was. I guess that, after all of this, I’ve discovered that that purity of emotion is the core of my fandom, and everything else is just noise, even though it has grown a little louder. For good or for ill, I’m a fan of baseball and the Houston Astros still.

So it goes.