Astros Forced to Florida as Harvey and the Rangers Play Hardball

Thanks to Hurricane Harvey, there's now an actual I-45 rivalry between the Astros and the Rangers.
Thanks to Hurricane Harvey, there's now an actual I-45 rivalry between the Astros and the Rangers. Photo by Doogie Roux
The morning after Hurricane Ike hit Houston in September 2008, the Astros players were collected and put on a plane to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Milwaukee was the neutral site chosen by Major League Baseball for a series between the Astros and the Chicago Cubs.

The games were supposed to be played in Houston, and the Cubs had even flown into Houston with the thought that if the storm veered toward Louisiana, the series might still be able to be played. But that didn’t happen and the Cubs got out of Houston before the storm hit.

The Astros were in the playoff hunt that year, and MLB really wanted the games to be played. Some other stadiums had offered to host the city — Atlanta and Tampa Bay being the main ones. But because the series wouldn’t start until Sunday and a game would have to be played on Monday, Tampa Bay and Atlanta had to be ignored as the Braves and the Rays were going to be playing in their stadiums starting that Monday. So Milwaukee, a city really darn close to Chicago, got to host the game instead.

The Astros were the designated home team for the series with the Cubs, but it didn’t really matter. Not when the stadium was packed with Cubs fans who had made the trek to Milwaukee and purchased really cheap tickets, selling out the stadium. The Astros played like zombies, which probably resulted from their surviving a hurricane and having to travel on little sleep. The team was no-hit in one game. The Astros, of course, missed the playoffs.

Now it’s 2017 and Tropical Storm Harvey has hit Houston. Instead of being shipped off to Milwaukee, the Astros are shunted off to St. Petersburg and Tropicana Field, the home of the Tampa Bay Rays, to play the Texas Rangers. So why are two Texas teams playing in Florida, instead of in Arlington, the home of the Rangers?

Because the Rangers wouldn't play ball.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Astros flew to Anaheim to play the Angels over the weekend. Then flew to Dallas. The thinking was the Astros and the Rangers would instead play in Arlington. The Rangers were supposed to host the Astros at the end of September, so the plan was to swap the series, with the Astros instead hosting the Rangers in September.

The Rangers refused. The Rangers didn't want to inconvenience any fans who had purchased tickets for the games in September. The Rangers also didn’t like the idea of having to play several series in a row on the road the end of the season. The Rangers instead proposed the Milwaukee solution. The Astros would be designated the home team in Arlington this week.

But here’s the thing: No matter what the Rangers did, the Astros would not be the home team. The park would still be packed with Rangers fans. The fans would still be cheering for the Rangers and not the Astros. The Rangers would still be sleeping in their own beds while the Astros were in hotel rooms worrying about families.

The Astros lost 12-2 to the Rangers Tuesday night, and are beat up at the moment. Several key players are still battling injuries. The cross-country travel and the worrying about friends and families probably didn’t help the team, but the Rangers were just simply better for this game. The Astros will play two more game with the Rangers in Tampa Bay, and likely will stay there for a series against the New York Mets.

The Rangers would have you believe they’re the victims of this situation since they’re now bearing the brunt of criticism. The Rangers want you to think they’re great citizens who care only about their fans. The Rangers say they were doing the Astros a favor. The Rangers will have you believe that the Astros are the bad guys.

The Rangers, of course, are wrong.

Baylor and Texas and SMU and TCU reached out to help the University of Houston and didn’t demand concessions. Baylor and SMU and TCU and UTEP reached out to help Rice football, which was trying to get home from Sydney. Various other college teams from Rice and UH are being housed at other schools as they await a chance to come home. There were no conditions made. The facilities were offered because it was the right thing to do.

The Texas Rangers decided not to work it that way. That’s their prerogative. There was nothing that could force them to help out the Astros. But there is this thing called karma. Someday the Rangers might need something, and it’s probably wise to wonder what the response might be from the Astros or from other MLB teams when that day comes.

This is really all meaningless in the overall scheme of things. The Astros are trying to handle the devastation of the city, and baseball is likely secondary to just about every person with a brain. But that doesn’t mean that how the Rangers acted doesn’t stink, because it does.
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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal