Tonight: The End of an Astros Era (Last Chance to See National League, Old Uniforms, Bill Brown, Etc.)

Thanks a bunch, here's a bobblehead
Thanks a bunch, here's a bobblehead

For many, the end of this year's Houston Astro season -- much like last year's Astro season -- could not come soon enough.

There are only so many 100-loss campaigns even the most diehard fans can be expected to endure, after all. (In case you are keeping score at home, the Astros are 42 and a half games out of first place in the NL Central.)

But every season must come to an end, and the final home game of the 2012 year is tonight, against the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Astros are thanking their dedicated fans to the utmost of their ability, by giving out a) a team poster (complete with "Who are these guys?" index, we hope), b) a J.R. Richard bobblehead to the first 10,000 fans (Better get there the fifth inning) and something called "Price Matters Days Presented By H-E-B," which means some cheap tickets and food.

In other words, meh.

To be sure, though, there are some reasons to head out to Minute Maid tonight. In many ways it will mark the end of an Astros era.

5. Goodbye to the National League The closer this gets to reality, the more the suckiness of it all sinks in.

In order to bargain his way down to the cheapest sale price available, new Astros owner Jim Crane agreed to throw 50 years or more of Houston baseball tradition down the toilet and move the team to the American League.

A lot of people have been minimizing the move, saying interleague play and endless player movement have lessened the uniqueness of MLB's two leagues. But Houston has always, since its minor-league days, been an NL town. The rivalries -- and yeah, they're not rivalries that rank with Yanks-Sox or Bears-Packers -- are in the NL. The AL brings with it the designated hitter, as if the Astros needed yet another reason to hire out-of-shape over-the-hill players hanging on for one more paycheck.

The National League is where the hearts of Astro fans belong. After tonight, it will be no more.

4. The old uniforms Crane, like many a new owner, is determined to put his stamp on things. That could mean hiring an exciting on-the-way-up manager to inject some life into the listless Astro corpse, or it could mean trying to cover up the cadaver stink by changing outfits.

So far, we're pretty sure Crane is going with Plan B.

The current Astro uniforms aren't bad -- they're better than some monstrosities of the past; they're not as good as some of the classics the team has seemingly stumbled onto by accident -- but change for the sake of change seldom results in greatness.

So we'll just hold our breath and see what they eventually unveil for the Great Inaugural AL Season. Until then, it's your last chance to see the current unis, until some throwback moneymaking day comes around.  

3. Bill Brown It may boggle your mind that the Astros, the team that let the insufferable Milo Hamilton stumble through an embarrassment of a late career without easing him out of the announcing booth, are considering letting go of Bill Brown.

But the Astros, it seems, are more than prepared to boggle a few minds.

So head on out to Minute Maid and wave goodbye to half of the best announcing team in MLB. Maybe there's a chance Astro management will wake up to the awful mistake they are contemplating, but then again.....

2. Tal's Hill We literally know of no one who will be mourning the loss of this gimmicky monstrosity, a much-ridiculed folly that has been scornfully mocked since it was first introduced.

Still, the consensus seems to be that after tonight, it's gone. So if you want one last chance to experience the marketing genius of Drayton McLane, this is it.

Hopefully no one gets hurt.

1. The chance to see the very last square inch of ballpark not covered in advertisements. If the bizarre left-field installation is any indication, Crane has taken a deep drink out of the trough created by McLane, a philosophical trough that deems any flat ballpark surface to be the equivalent of the back window of a well-traveled SUV slathered with souvenir bumper stickers.

On the one hand, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of Minute Maid left to add ads to; on the other hand, it's starting to seem that if there is, Jim Crane is the guy to find it and sell it.

So head out to the ballpark, mark with your eyes any likely ad space and come back Opening Day 2013 to see if it survived uncovered. We're guessing not.

Fifty years of Astro tradition comes to an end one way or the other tonight.

Treat yourself. It's not like you have to sweat out whether they'll win or not.

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