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Suddenly, It's Not Easy for an Astros Fan

I’m a Houston Astros fan. Until recently, it was pretty easy to say that. The Astros were a good team. They either made the playoffs or were in the hunt for a playoff spot right up until the last few days of the season. They had stars like Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman and Jeff Kent, Roy Oswalt and Roger Clemens. But after the July 31 trading deadline, it’s become harder to be a fan.

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Obviously, Bagwell, Biggio, and Kent have retired. Berkman is tearing up the NL with the Cardinals. Oswalt is one of the Legion of Arms in Philadelphia, and Clemens is trying to clear his name. Heading into 2011, nobody expected the Astros to win a World Series, but was hopeful that they would put a competitive team out on the field. Boy, were we all wrong.

The Astros own the worst record in baseball and are on pace to set a club record for losses.

When the Astros traded pitcher Roy Oswalt and slugger Lance Berkman last year, they were committed to rebuilding the franchise with younger players. The Opening Day lineup included unprovens like Brett Wallace at first base, Chris Johnson at third base, shortstop Angel Sanchez, and HumbertoQuintero behind the plate. But even with young players, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn are All-Stars that most Houston fans believed would become the face of a playoff contender.

In a flurry of deals before the trade deadline, the Astros traded Pence to the Phillies for three minor leaguers and Bourn to the Braves for OF Jordan Schafer, RHP Juan Abreu, RHP Paul Clemens, and LHP Brett Oberholtzer. With both of these trades, only Schafer has any major league experience. With these trades, the Astros cut down their payroll and traded away their best players in order to be able to gain a strong group in their farm system. That way they can have a core group moving up from the minors that will eventually be the face of their franchise. However, I am skeptical about the whole ideal. First of all, when you trade away your best players, shouldn’t you replace them with at least some players who are major league ready? My ‘Stros have failed to do so.

The team also sent down Wallace and Johnson to Triple-A Oklahoma City. The lineup for the Astros’ game against the Cincinnati Reds this past Monday night included three players who had never played above Double-A, a centerfielder recently called up from Triple-A, a right fielder with two career home runs, Carlos Lee, Clint Barmes, and Quintero, who was expected to back up fellow catcher Jason Castro this season.

I know that, personally, I attend Astros games just because of a simple love of baseball and the possibility that things might turn around. I believe that is why most Houston fans go to the games. There is just that little feeling that maybe, just maybe, something great will happen. Although I doubt a complete turnaround in the next couple of years, who knows? I mean, the Astros may do something like the Texas Rangers did over the past few years. After missing the playoffs 10 years straight, the Rangers made it to the World Series last year and are serious contenders to do so again this season. I know a thrilling World Series bid would bring the entire city of Houston to its feet; it did in 2005 when Houston made it to the final stage of the postseason. Although they were swept by the Chicago White Sox, it did bring some hope for the team and its fans.

The Astros still draw fairly well, ranking 17th in attendance this season. The Marlins won the World Series a few years ago, but can’t seem to get anyone in South Florida excited about them. I mean, a seventh grade basketball gym is more packed than the seats in Florida.

But when you get down to it, nobody knows the future of the Houston Astros and nobody ever will. Good or bad, winning or losing, playoffs or offseason? These are the questions surrounding the franchise, but only one thing remains absolutely certain: the diehard baseball fans of Houston, including myself, will continue to attend the games full of hope.

Plus I like to look on the bright side…at least I’m not a Cubs fan.