Since When Is It Okay for Minute Maid Park to Be Fenway Park South?
I started working with the Astrodome DiamondVision crew on opening day of the 1988 season. And I worked on that video crew, either at the Dome or at Enron Field, through the 2001 season.
Back in the day, even celebrities like Janine Turner couldn't be shown at Astros games if they were pulling for the opposing team.
For most of that time, we had a few simple edicts to follow. Make sure all of the commercial spots were played. Put hot women and cute kids up on the DiamondVision screens between plays and between innings. When inputting league leaders, if one of the Astros was tied with another player, always list the Astro first. And never, never, NEVER put up on the screens a fan wearing the gear of the opposing club.
But nobody's perfect. Mistakes are made. When we made mistakes, the Astros marketing department made sure to call our booth and let us know in no uncertain terms that we had made a mistake. And nothing set off the marketing folks more than showing a fan in the other team's gear. We even got in trouble for putting Janine Turner up on the big screen back when she was a star on Northern Exposure. Her crime wasn't wearing gear of the opposing team. Her crime was that she was then dating Mark Grace of the Chicago Cubs.
Things have changed in the years since. Rudy Giuliani got to throw out the first pitch when the New York Yankees played the Astros several seasons ago. And this past weekend, while the Boston Red Sox were in town, quizzes geared toward the Red Sox were run on the big screen, fans in Red Sox gear were highlighted, and on Sunday, "Sweet Caroline," a song associated with the Red Sox throughout all of baseball, was played during the game.
I've argued for years that the Astros, both baseball operations and marketing, held the Astros fans in utter contempt. But Astros fans have continued to show up and support the team despite the signings of such guys as Carlos Lee and Kaz Matsui and Woody Williams and Bill Hall. Tickets prices have soared while the in-game experience has become so miserable that only a person with a severe case of ADD can enjoy or appreciate anything going on, what with the constantly blasting loud music, the movie quizzes that have nothing to do with the game, and the absolute inability of a fan to be able to turn a head and escape advertising.
I've been to baseball games in Tampa Bay where, even when the team's good, like now, the only time they can draw fans is if the Red Sox or Yankees are in town. I attended a Rays/Yankee game, and there were about 8,000 Rays and 25,000 Yankee fans, but the Rays staff didn't blast Frank Sinatra over the speakers or highlight New York fans. In fact, I've never been to a ballpark where the home fans were treated with such contempt as the Astros fans were over this weekend.
But now, the Astros bow down to douchebag Red Sox and Yankee fans.
Some members of the media have essentially told complaining Astros fans to shut up because that's what should be expected when they don't buy tickets and allow Red Sox fans to snap them all up. But that's a bald-faced lie, that's not what is to be expected (and any member of the sports media that's not aware of the association between "Sweet Caroline" and the Red Sox really needs to quit his job). No fan should go to his/her home ballpark and be made to feel like an outcast for not cheering for the visiting fan. The only place, the absolute only place I've been to where the home club has treated its fans with such contempt has been here in Houston.
The Astros, despite being the worst team in baseball, despite fielding the worst team in team history, despite doing absolutely nothing the past six years to improve the team, are still drawing over 25,000 fans a game. They're in the top half of MLB in attendance. Fans are still paying top dollar to watch Brad Mills play Jason Michaels instead of Brett Wallace, and they're still showing up to watch J.A. Happ toss batting practice.
These fans deserve better than to see their home ballpark turned into Fenway Park South. And they definitely deserve better than some loudmouth radio guy belittling everybody who doesn't want to bow down to a bunch of carpetbaggers who won't be seen anywhere near Minute Maid Park the next time the Astros host the Marlins.
There is lots to complain about with the Astros. Like the inability of this team to draw a walk. Like the inability of the bullpen to get outs. Like Ed Wade giving a three-year $15 million contract to Brandon Lyon or giving free agent contracts to Pedro Feliz and Bill Hall. Or Brad Mills benching Brett Wallace against lefties so that Jason Michaels, who is barely hitting over .200, can bat fifth. And I've been ranting about all of this for years. But if it takes the Red Sox becoming the home team over the weekend to be the straw breaking the camel's back, then I'm fine with it.
Astros fans deserve better. And it's finally time they started making their voices heard.
(See a slideshow of game one of the Sox-Stros series here.)