Perhaps the last time baseball was really fun for the normal Astro fan was heading into the seventh inning of Game 7 of the World Series. The Astros were up 2-0 and a handful of outs away from their second title in three seasons. A few minutes later their lead had been flipped into a 3-2 deficit and a few innings later their 6-2 loss was official and one of the worst and THE longest offseason in history began.
In truth, the first dip in the fun meter occurred leading into the World Series. The Brandon Taubman idiocy with the Sports Illustrated reporter was an unwelcome distraction and embarrassment for the organization. And in some ways, it was a harbinger of unfun things to come.
- In early November the Astros made a qualifying offer to Gerrit Cole to no one’s surprise. And to no one’s surprise less than 2 weeks later, one of the two very best pitchers in baseball (along with Justin Verlander) turned down that offer and had one foot and most of the other one out the door.
- But at the same time, this was occurring, former Astro pitcher, Mike Fiers, talked to the Athletic and stated the Astros had been using electronic means to steal signs in their run to the 2017 title.
- Two days later MLB announced they were beginning an investigation into sign stealing in 2017 and stated if they found offenses after warning the teams during 2017, that they would be mean parents and give Dennis the Menace a real spanking.
- In early December the Astros sent off one of the best outfield defenders and maddening offensive players in their history, Jake Marisnick, to the Mets.
- A few days later, the Yankees gave Cole an early $324 million Christmas present as he joined Wade Miley, Collin McHugh, Will Harris, Hector Rondon, and Robinson Chirinos as free agents who would not return for the 2020 season.
- On January 13, the Sword of Damocles that had been hanging over the team’s neck for two months fell and fell hard. Due to their cheating in the 2017 season, the Astros lost their first two draft choices in the 2020 and 2021 draft. They were fined $5 million. Oh and the only manager and GM in their history, who had successfully steered the ship to a title, A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow, were suspended for a year by the MLB.
- Before the fans had time to swallow that swig of unfun, Jim Crane (in what this writer believes was a pre-ordained agreement with MLB) fired both Luhnow and Hinch later that same day.
- The lack of fun continued as every baseball writer, broadcaster, blogger, tweeter and any other kind of media person and all their commenters drilled the Astros and their cheating at every turn. The garbage can became a fitting symbol for the offseason and for the Astro fans’ feelings.
- Spring Training started and first Justin Verlander went down and then a virus did what no world war could do. It stopped baseball.
- During the downtime, when most of the world’s media attention was focused on the pandemic, Houston fans were given an additional dig as an investigation into Red Sox cheating in 2018 with former Astros’ bench coach Alex Cora at the helm, ended with one video operator suspended and Cora being suspended for a season for what he did with the Astros and not for anything that happened with the Sox. There was no Mike Fiers uncovered in this investigation to overturn Boston’s world.
- To add to the unfun – MLB and the Players union acted out a snarky prelim to their upcoming negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining agreement with a very public argument about the terms and length of baseball’s return in 2020. It took Rob Manfred imposing a start date and sets of rules to end the impasse.
But now is time for actual fun! We get to see the stars who have thrilled us in the past. The powerful lineup is ready to roll with or without Yordan Alvarez. George Springer, Jose Altuve (after his contusion heals), Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Michael Brantley, Yuli Gurriel should rake. Alvarez, Myles Straw and Kyle Tucker will bring some youthful injection to the lineup at some point with Taylor Jones eyeing Gurriel’s first base spot. We get to watch the known parts of the rotation in Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, the return of Lance McCullers, the debut of Josh James as a starter, the debut of Ryan Pressly as a closer. We have youth oozing out of our pores whether it is an Enoli Paredes or a Bryan Abreu or a Cristian Javier or a Forrest Whitley or a Framber Valdez or whoever the team leans on to fill out the rotation and the bullpen.
Friday night real baseball returns as the Astros take on the Mariners and it cannot come soon enough to wipe out the memories of an unfun loooooong off-season.