There is nothing worse than a manufactured rivalry in a professional sport. I say that as an Astros fan that still may hold a little bitterness toward the great shift that landed the team in the American League West, who still holds the old-school rivalries against the Braves, Cardinals, and even the Cubs near and dear to my heart, and has never put too much clout into the so-called Lone Star series that pitted the Texas Rangers against the Houston Astros anytime there was a spring training or interleague match-up.
This was a rivalry that existed more on paper than in the hearts of any fan of either team, and the weakest link by far of any Lone Star state rivarly in pro sports. However, the teams (largely since 2001) traded a shiny sparkly boot trophy back and forth based on head-to-head wins and losses, and has become a tradition between the two clubs. Not until the Astros switch to the American League in 2013 did this so-called rivarly begin to gain some traction, albeit rather forced. It seemed that the MLB proper and sports authorities around the country were more excited about the rivalry than any fan would be.
That is, until we all got used to what the MLB was trying to force upon us and begrudgingly accepted our fates as the newest, hottest interstate rivalry.
It is surprising, though, that it took this long to achieve legit rivarly status. One should naturally exist, given the already present and accounted for bitter Houston/Dallas rivalry. Afteralll, the team branded themselves as THE MLB team in Texas, stealing the state’s name, even though they did arrive almost a decade after the birth of the MLB in the state of Texas (a touch of arrogance that isn’t unexpected from any Dallas area team). And let’s not forget they stole our pride and joy, Nolan Ryan, from our clubhouse and our hearts. Nolan Ryan, after 8 years in the Astros stripes, retired as a Ranger, which set his status in stone in the MLB Hall of Fame.
However, the rivalry that should have been simply never materialized. Fans, largely, doled out taunts and humblebrags to the likes of the Braves and Cardinals, and made that passive-aggressive love-hand bond with Cubs fans, because- well, we know the feeling, but we’re still division rivals. Were division rivals. Were. When the move came for the Astros to be unceremoniously plucked out of the NL and placed into the AL West, the Rangers/Astros rivarly still felt relatively weak and unconnected. Personally, I carried my Cardinals hate over to the Los Angels, with Pujols on the roster.
All of that changed last year. The rivalry, now 3 years in the urging, finally took flight with the Astros emergence as legitimate contenders – not only for the Division winner, but the National title some day not too far in the future. The wins and losses never counted more than they did last year. The Astros and Rangers battled, for the better part of the 2015 MLB season, for the top seed in the American League West, as well as a playoff spot for the shot at a MLB championship. Last year, in the final stretch, the Rangers took the division title, and the trophy. And then they took our pride.
And thus, the rivalry began. Happy now, Selig? We’re finally on board.
This year, with that collective burn, Astros and fans alike have a score to settle. The Lone Star series and Silver Boot trophy now has significance (more so than hubris between ball club owners and managers, at least) that is almost as the division title, primarily because it likely signifies the Division title between the two clubs. And that bold, arrogant show of Astros ownership, pictured above, places the ball club within the confines of the attitude of the city that we all love to hate. Welcome aboard, Arlington Rangers. Houston now hates you too.
Tonight, game 1 of the 1st of 6 series against the Rangers begins. The Astros are kind of limping into this first series, after a shaky, unbalanced start in last place in the AL West(albeit not far behind the 2015 start), while the Rangers come striding in, sitting atop the AL West with 2 more wins. Tonight, the Astros start their divisional series play, while the Rangers begin their 4th series against division rivals. Tonight, the Astros have a chance to turn their season around with an impressive start to divisional series play, or continue their descent into mediocrity.
I have no real predictions, just hopes. The first divisional series is always hard to gauge, but this start may be a fair gauge as to how the season will progress. I have no doubts that the team will come together and play to the caliber of talent they possess on the roster, and there’s no better time than the present to do so. So, my hope is for a second series win, starting out with a big win tonight. The team needs this win, so the Rangers won’t get in their heads like they did in 2015, and so the Astros can start a formidable streak that lets them climb their way back up to the top.
And we want that Silver Boot this year. So let’s take it back.