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'The Voice in My Head': Astros Must Sink to Reach for the Stars

Looking good, for 2015
Russ Espinoza, 9:43am, Thu. Feb. 14, 2013

Everyone loves a winner – except when one just kicked your ass or unless the losers are loveable and ballgames are incidental to binge drinking and voracious making-out in the bleachers of Wrigley Field.

But winning is why Yankees’ caps and Lakers’ jerseys predominate everywhere and make Astros gear in ATX look scarce by comparison.

We understand that such people are attention-starved followers who couldn’t point out Mickey Mantle or James Worthy from a stack of headshots or name the capitals of New York or California. Front-running buffoons only care about names and emblems as status symbols. So they exploit the cache of Jeter, Kobe, and Lebron to boost their street cred and exalt themselves as winners.

(A sideways hat ought to provoke a sideways look: otherwise you’re one of them. Dude, you look stupid and your head is shaped like a clown shoe, ya’ yo-yo.)

“Everyone” loves a winner, right? But are people conversely ashamed of dressing-up like losers? Isn’t it just as shallow not to if those losers represent our hometowns?

Austin is a destination city that seduces Americans from all over: Each – if they care about sports in the first place – having packed their nativist and childhood loyalties inside a decaled “Austin or Bust” clothing trunk. A collage of team colors pack places like Doc’s and the Upper Decks every NFL Sunday; the big games in other sports bring out contingents of other non-Texans dressed like D-Wade, Tim Lincecum, and RG III.

Nevertheless, I know and have met a great many Houstonians, and it’s been Texans-this and Matt Schaub-that since I settled in Travis County a few years ago.

Of all people, why do I care about the Houston Astros? I’m not a Texan by birth, but they’re dearest because they’re nearest. I must love baseball too much, because the ‘Stros are terrible: terrible like a fox.

The Astros won the National League pennant in 2005 but haven’t returned to the playoffs since. Worse, they haven’t finished with a winning record since 2008: going a combined 150-174 across 2009-10 and losing 106 games in 2011 and 107 last year.

No wonder Austin won’t touch them with an 871,200-foot pole.

The team will enter the 2013 season – their first in the American League West – with a projected payroll of $25 million after years of dismantling and dealing pricey veterans like Carlos Lee, Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Michael Bourne, Hunter Pence, and Wandy Rodriguez.

Meanwhile, one of their new division rivals, the Anaheim Angels, will pay former Rangers’ slugger Josh Hamilton and first baseman Albert Pujols a combined $33 million this year. “We want to win as many games as we can in 2013,” Astros’ General Manager Jeff Luhnow told Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports last week. “But our primary objective is putting together a team that will consistently compete. Whether that’s ’14, ’15, ’16, we don’t know. But that’s what we’re working toward. So, any move we make has to be seen in that light.”

Though a consensus of analysts have nominated Houston to be baseball’s worst in 2013, now might be the right time to start paying attention to those ‘Stros.

The end of an error is nearer than you think. ESPN’s Keith Law just ranked Houston’s farm system as baseball’s fourth-best entering 2013. They’ll get to supplement 2012’s No. 1 overall pick – 18-year-old Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa – with another No. 1 overall in this June’s draft. A third-straight No. 1 overall can be had in 2014 if the Astros again win the World Series in reverse.

The Washington National’s selected Stephen Strasburg at No. 1 in 2009; then Bryce Harper at No. 1 in 2010. Two years later they went an MLB best 98-64 and made their first postseason since their relocation from Montreal in 2005.

For years, former Astros GM Ed Wade and his successor, Jeff Luhnow, have torn-down in order to rebuild upon a well-rounded foundation of prized prospects and a bevy of youngsters acquired through trading household names like Berkman, Oswalt, and Pence.

Combined payrolls of $195 million in 2009-10 and $137 million in 2011-12 got them nowhere, so upper-management gutted the team and dramatically revamped a previously lackluster farm system in the process.

The Astros will sink like a stone this year in the fearsome AL West and attendance at Minute Maid Park will again leave about 25,000 assess to be desired any given night – save visits from glamour teams like Boston, New York, and Anaheim.

Still, invite the ‘Stros into your home this season: because when their litter of young studs make the playoffs in 2015 or ’16, you can brag that you saw it coming a mile away.

Just take that stupid sticker off your new Astros pro-back.

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