Astros Contemplating Ball Park Changes

The Astros announced a couple of weeks ago that they're considering possible changes to Minute Maid Park. Changes such as finally bulldozing that monstrosity known as Tal's Hill, providing more high-end food options, and moving the bullpens. And there's also a discussion about starting an Astros Hall of Fame.

Some of the changes are needed. Tal's Hill is one of those mistakes that should have been erased from the blueprints in the park's design phase, and it's amazing that it has survived as long as it has. The bullpen layout has always been kind of strange -- sticking the visiting bullpen in a dark cave just always seemed a bit off. If the changes mean a better environment for baseball, and for fans, then let's do it. (Though the craving of some fans for a high-end dining experience at a baseball game makes absolutely no sense.)

But the Astros Hall of Fame idea is a bit much. There's already the Walk of Fame. The team's already seemingly retired the jersey of just about every player to ever wear the Astros jersey for more than two seasons, so a Hall of Fame seems kind of redundant when added to everything else. Of course, the real reason for the Hall of Fame idea is to get fans to come back out and cheer on the team by celebrating team greats. It's exactly what Drayton McLane did when he went about retiring the jerseys of all of those team icons, and Minute Maid Park would undoubtedly be packed by fans once again longing to cheer Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio and Nolan Ryan and Lance Berkman and so on.

It's an attempt to win back the disaffected fans, and there are a lot of disaffected fans. But it's going to take more than just a Hall of Fame to win back those fans. A whole lot more than that.

Former fans I've spoken to over the past couple of weeks don't really care about a team Hall of Fame, Tal's Hill, bullpen locations, or high-end dining options. Instead they're angry about the dynamic pricing and accuse the team of gouging them when a decent opponent comes to town. Many are still mad about the league switch, and they vow to never pay to watch the Astros play in the American League. There's the issue over the past several years with the team not being on television, and the move from 740 KTRH with its monster radio signal to 790 KBME and it's much weaker signal that makes the games harder to pick up on the radio.

  Several more said they were turned off by the arrogance of management and the inference that they're idiots for not understanding the team's plan. Mostly, they're tired of losing, and they just can't figure out why such smart people would be bragging about their smarts when they've yet to actually accomplish anything.

But here's the thing. The Astros are never moving back to the National League. So if you're never buying tickets while the Astros are in the AL, then you're probably never buying tickets again in your life. And if you have Comcast or Uverse or DirecTV, then you'll have the Astros back on TV in April. But as long as the team sucks, and as long as it has a deal with Clear Channel, then the games will be stuck on 790.

Yes, dynamic pricing punishes the regular fans in order to make money off casual fans who want only to see teams like the Yankees and Red Sox but could care less about the Oakland A's and Tampa Bay Rays. And if the dynamic pricing was really driven by demand, then one would expect to see the prices drop way, way down for games against the Twins and Blue Jays. But that's never going to happen, and if that's what is keeping you from Astros games, then just give up because sports leagues are jumping on the dynamic pricing model the same way that airlines jumped on the pay-for-checked baggage scam.

And the Astros are getting better. The team did win 70 games last season, and after three seasons of 100-plus losses, that was a major accomplishment. The Astros have some legit major leaguers on the roster, including the major league batting leader Jose Altuve. Chris Carter finally appeared to figure out the whole hitting thing, and when he's healthy, George Springer is one of the most exciting players in the majors. The starting rotation is much, much improved over the disaster zone its been in years past. The Astros also have a new manager who, hopefully, won't throw a hissy fit whenever an opposing batter bunts against the shift.

So for those of you who are tired of the losing games and crappy on-field product, then things are getting better, and they're getting better fast. Sure the league's different, and the price gouging suck. But the games will be back on TV and the Astros are a much better team than the one you last saw way back when the games were on Fox Sports Houston.

The Astros still have to work to do to win back those disaffected fans. It's going to take more than just a Hall of Fame, the destruction of that stupid hill, and the addition of severely over-priced food options. But at least the on-field product is better, and that's a huge, huge, first step.


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