Born to Win ... or Lose?

Can Drayton McLane bring Houston a World Series champion on a budget? Can Houston support major-league baseball to Drayton McLane's satisfaction? It's time to find out.

Despite being fired by McLane, former general manager Wood thinks that McLane, if he'll give it time, will prove to be the kind of owner that Houston and the Astros need. Baseball, after all, is a game that moves to its own timeless rhythms. It takes time to come to an appreciation of the game.

"Drayton doesn't understand the game," says Wood. "Drayton doesn't like history. History is important to baseball cultists. But I believe he will come to grasp that. I believe Drayton is the right owner for Houston."

It was 48 hours before Opening Day, that time of year when even the most cynical of baseball fans, even in this most cynical of times for baseball, can look forward with hope.

In his cushioned box seat behind the Dome's home plate, Drayton McLane, a man who's not partial to cynicism or negativity, was getting a close-up look at his high-priced talent during an exhibition game with the Rangers. Whatever he discerned on the field, McLane couldn't have been pleased with what he saw in the stands: less than 6,000 fans elected to join him for the Astros' first appearance in the Dome since last year's strike-shortened season.

Although McLane insisted that he wasn't bothered by so many empty seats, he would be a fool not to have been. And Drayton McLane is no fool. An hour earlier, McLane had convened a press conference to announce a package of enticements for this weekend's home stand -- including the giving away of all of the 54,350 tickets for Friday's game against the Philadelphia Phillies. It's a move that, according to the Astros, is unprecedented in baseball history, and one that McLane hopes will light a fire under Astros fans. McLane was no doubt encouraged that the free tickets were snatched up in six hours during business hours on a weekday.

But Drayton McLane isn't in business to give away free tickets, no matter how much he might pull in on increased parking and concessions revenue from the giveaway. He couldn't have been overjoyed, either, when only 28,000 tickets were sold for the Astros' home opener (the actual turnout looked much smaller in the Dome) on a Friday night when 40,000 fans were expected.

And while he isn't reaching for the panic button just yet, McLane has made it known he's considering putting 25 percent of the team up for sale. If he does, Jeff Love says he and his father stand ready to step up to the plate for their friend.

"Our response would be affirmative because of the quality of person that Drayton is," Love says of the prospect of him and his father becoming limited partners with McLane. "I think it's important that if Drayton would seek support that Houstonians support him. I don't think it is his duty to be an eleemosynary institution on behalf of Houstonians. If he has the proclivity toward selling a portion of the team, because of our respect for Drayton, my father and I would invest."

When McLane bought the club he envisioned spending one day a week in Houston. As it turns out, he spends three or four days here tending to Astros business. But all that attention, he says, has brought Astros fans an attractive package.

"We've changed everything from the Astrodome, to management, to players, to the uniforms," he notes.

What else, McLane asks, can get fans excited?
A championship, of course, would help.
But whatever happens on the field, McLane warns that the team's future in Houston is in large part up to the people of the city.

"Houston has got to decide if it really wants to support major-league baseball," he says.

If you close your eyes, you easily can imagine John McMullen making that statement. But let's hold those negative thoughts for while.

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