An Email Exchange with an Astros Fan

An Email Exchange with an Astros Fan

At the beginning of the Padres vs Astros series last weekend I started a discussion with a friend who moved from Houston to San Diego a few years ago. We talked about our experiences with our teams and how fanbases are changed by the decisions their franchises make. Follow JJ Miranda on twitter.

NICHOLAS MCCANN Fri, Aug 21, 10:34 PM 

Dear JJ Miranda,

I’ve missed your letters. I’m writing to you tonight because your Houston Astros have started a series with my Padres.

This matchup means a lot for our fan base. Because of how the pre-COVID 19 offseason events played out the way they did for the Astros a bullseye has been put on their backs in a real way. It feels extra important for the Padres to win this series to make their statement against what Houston’s team means to baseball’s overall culture.

Padres fans watching their own team rebuild in recent years have always looked to your team as a guiding light example of a particular type of rebuild to look forward to. If what we have now works out we like to think our team would handle its success in a better way.

What’s it like to root for a team with this stigma attached to it? And more importantly, how has it been as a fan defending a legacy that virtually every other fan base takes issue with?

JJ MIRANDA Aug 22, 2020, 1:18 PM

Hey man,

It’s good to hear from you. Sorry for not writing sooner. I’ve been busy, flooded with ill wishes regarding the Astros ‘cheating’ scandal. Anyway, I too am looking forward to the rest of the series. I understand that the Padres are trying to do God’s work both literally and figuratively in beating the evil Astros and what they represent with statement wins. I hope it works out for them. However I do see many parallels between the Padres of today and the Astros of yesterday. Let me explain. The Astros, until last fall, had been the darlings of the MLB. No doubt, so I can see why many teams including the Pads looked to them as a guiding light of what could come out of a rebuild. However, anyone who’s watched enough baseball knows there’s always more going on behind the scenes. Before answering your questions about what it’s like continuing to support them I’d like to provide some context.

There’s no doubt the general public hates us. I don’t blame them. They don’t understand the game. The vast majority of people never played it and therefore don’t understand the mechanics at a detailed level. At the same time there’s social value to being on the ‘let’s hate the Astros for what they did to the Game’ bandwagon. When you have a common enemy, it takes the target off your team. Convenient. That’s an understandable, albeit emotional, argument sure, but what about facts? Did they cheat? Sure. Yes. Is there proof of this? Yes. No argument here. Do they deserve the treatment they’re getting now? Sure. Are they alone in doing what they did? Absolutely not. Proof? The Red Sox have been punished multiple times for the exact same thing and yet they’ve retained their titles and no one ever Joe Kelleyed them. (Speaking of Kelly, it’s ironic how much of a hypocrite he is for doing what he did recently despite having been on one of those ‘cheating’ Sox teams that also won a title and no one calls him out for this… because DODGERS. That’s why.) So why haven’t the Sox been treated the same way? Because RED SOX. That’s why. Either way I think it’s worth exploring rather than conveniently and lazily putting all the blame on the Astros. (The WHO?)

People are letting their emotions prevail rather than looking at the evidence laid bare by the MLB in the form of ‘unwritten’ or ‘unsaid’ communications, much like the ‘unwritten’ rules of the game itself. I’m sure you, a loyal Pads fan can understand the reality of the unwritten rules given the absolute hellstorm of shit thrown at you recently with the Tatis Slam Diego situation. Tatis, and arguably the entire Padres organization, has been under assault (however briefly) by the same exact ‘baseball culture’ you mention because he decided to swing at a pitch he liked on a 3-0 count while already having ‘enough’ of a run advantage. This unwritten rule should be dead by now but it’s not. You only have to look as far back as August 5, 2001 for validation in Tatis taking that swing. In one of the greatest MLB comebacks Cleveland, down 12-0 going into the fourth inning, came back to beat Seattle 14-15. Did Seattle heed the unwritten rules of Baseball? If so they lost because of it unlike the Padres.

I make the comparison between the Astros cheating and Tatis breaking other rules to point out that fans are fickle. In the case of the Astros and what the MLB told us in the subtext of how they disciplined them, I pose a question: Why, if the Astros’ ‘cheating’ scandal was so egregious and so unique and so wrong, did the MLB not simply strip the team of the 2017 World Series Championship title? We know now stripping the title never crossed their mind. Why? The answer is very simple: It is because the MLB knows all teams, especially the blue blood successful ones, have always done what the Astros did because it has always been an unwritten rule and punishing them by stripping the title would force the MLB to address many titles before it. It probably would have caused former players to come forward and put other more recent titles into question, the way Mike Fiers did. It doesn’t mean what the Astros did was okay. Not at all. But in a way, they became a victim of their own success and blue blood teams got tired of being embarrassed by them in the playoffs. Not because of cheating, but because they are the Astros, an inferior team that should have stayed in its place.

I digress. It’s important to understand these facts in order to understand what it’s like to root for a team with a ‘stigma’ attached and in order to understand what it’s like to, as you said, ‘defend a legacy that virtually every other fan base takes issue with.’ To answer both your questions, it is quite easy to both root for and ‘defend’ the legacy because despite the continued crumbling of baseball’s unwritten rules in today’s game the MLB is in essence admitting that what the Astros did was not an outlier. More importantly, it is an admission that the MLB knows there’s proof out there they can’t censor. That many, many other teams have been doing it for decades. Given all the video there is of so many games for so many decades, it’s just a matter of time before someone goes digging in the MLB archives and puts together similar cases against other teams from years past. For now, Baseball seems to be intact. The Astros situation is just a temporary vanity fix to the facade that is the MLB’s illusion of a clean game.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. I’d like your thoughts on my take of the Astros situation and the parallels I see between them and your Padres. Do you think the Pads fanbase actually thinks the Astros are an outlier? Do they actually think no other team has ever done this before? Or if they don’t think this, then why are they head hunting Astros too?

NICHOLAS MCCANN Sat, Aug 22, 9:21 PM

Tonight the Padres went crazy on offense and the entire fan base lost it. I hear what you’re saying about how the title in question wasn’t taken away because MLB knows it would open a door that they want to see closed forever. In a way it’s similar to how David Stern always isolated the NBA’s major gambling scandal as being just a “rogue official.” Leagues have to protect records and minimize anything that calls into question their validity. 

Tonight there was an incident where Fernando Tatis Jr. got hit and the umps warned the Padres. There are a hundred ways to read into this but some fans seem to take that as a reflection of the league recognizing the Astros as being targets and having a quick trigger finger to defend them, knowing things could easily get out of hand.

I think Tatis means so much to us that we don’t want to view any situation with him rationally. For me, with the unwritten rule he broke last Monday it never entered my mind to contemplate what he could’ve done wrong. Tatis did something so it was right because what Tatis does is always right. Conversely, this same part of my brain is able to paint Astros as villains very easily. They didn’t do anything of significance to my team during the period in question but they were an easy thing to reduce down and root against from afar. 

A guy like Jose Altuve must mean something similar to you. He has struggled a bit out of the gate and people pile on in delight after he was at the epicenter of the scandal. Even if you can justifiably argue that cheating in that way is universal, does it change anything about your relationship to a specific player knowing that they benefited in a major way in a big spot?  Most Padres fans would run through a wall to protect the legacy of Ken Caminiti’s 1996 season. I wonder if you’re specifically disappointed with anybody in particular for making this beautiful experience you had harder to deal with. 

JJ MIRANDA Aug 23, 2020, 10:41 AM

I’m not disappointed in anyone at all. They were just doing what is common practice in the game right now. In fact, stealing signs continues to this day. Proof? The Padres last night hit what felt like 20 home runs off the Astros. They’re not up there guessing pitch by pitch. They’re getting real time info that helps them know what’s coming which includes info that comes from them stealing signs. It’s always been a part of baseball. What I am disappointed in is just how people pretend stealing signs is illegal in the game and then just put their heads in the sand. It was acceptable in the game for all time until the Red Sox… sorry, I mean until the Astros. The last point I’ll make regarding your comment on the idea that they ‘benefited in a major way in a big spot’ is that this idea makes me smack my head because, knowing what pitch is coming can help as part of a broader approach, but it’s never a certainty and I’ll give you an example. Zack Greinke recently has taken to verbally calling his pitches to the catcher. Telling the batter what’s literally coming. The batter knows it, everyone knows it and yet he dominates. Why? How’s this possible? Because literally knowing what’s coming is not that big of an advantage. It’s not necessarily all you need to know to hit a baseball. People just brush over this fact. And it is a fact.

The Padres looked really good last night. Very exciting to see them clicking that way. Its a great feeling when your team is deeply talented, building confidence and are all ON. They’re starting to string the wins together and its a great feeling. The Tatis situation last night was crap. Bielak is a dumbass. Why did he throw at Tatis? Because Bielak was pissed off about getting railed haha. It happens. That’s baseball. But he’s a young dumb kid still trying to play the way of the unwritten rules that say 8 runs in the second is enough. That’s why despite not getting tossed, Dusty pulled his stupid ass. What I also thought was horse crap was that the blues warned both benches for that??? WTF? There was ABSOLUTELY no reason the Padres should have been warned for that. ZERO. My take on that move is the umps are just inserting themselves. Probably because they don’t want it to escalate but warning just the Astros bench is enough for the Pads to get that message. No need to call them out at the same time. Childish umps.

Anyway, I will say, it’s a weird position to be in having grown up in Houston, a fan of the Astros all my life and now living in San Diego and having always liked the Padres during that same time because it was my first little league team. Now to watch them on a more regular basis, it’s exciting to see how quickly they’ve become so good but I will admit, part of me deep inside worries for them because what I see the Padres becoming right now feels like I’m watching the rise of the Astros all over again and I just hope they don’t get blasted with some scandal simply because they’ve gotten too good too fast. Our villain was the Yankees then and continues today. Your villain is the Dodgers. Much like the Yankees, the Dodgers are an entitled team and crowd and that is a recipe for scandal. Either way, I’m looking forward to that game later today. Padres already won this series. Dominant. They’re leaving zero doubt. I’m really looking forward to the next series when yall play the Dodgers next month. The two series played so far have been pretty evenly matched. I’d love to see the padres dominate the Dodgers the way you guys are whipping us this series. I have a feeling that would trigger some headhunting by Joe Kelly.

NICHOLAS MCCANN Aug 23, 2020, 4:33 PM

Well the Padres swept the Astros. This conversation has made me think a lot about where the Padres are going and what they can look forward to if they reach the mountain top. When a franchise starts to be dominant everybody looks for reasons to tear them down. 

I do see a lot of similarities to the Astros in their journey. AJ Preller is looked at a lot like Jeff Luhnow was on his way up. These are guys who both have a certain level of perceived modernity attached to their thinking and they’ve taken big swings. It all makes me wonder what happens to a front office culture when those big swings work out. How does that operation stay grounded? 

I feel for Astros fans because you guys were asked to take a clearly defined route that was painful at first and you bought in. Carlos Correa means something to you because when you look at him you know how hard it was to watch the bad baseball that it took to get that pick in the draft. 

Manny Machado and Tatis Jr are the faces of this franchise and I can see a myriad of reasons for why the rest of the league will find reasons to hate us. I guess that’s better than the other way around. 

JJ MIRANDA August 24, 2020 2:49 PM

Sweep! Great for the Padres, also a wake up call for the Astros, they’re going to need to do a little more homework on teams like this so they don’t get pounded the way they did.

Growing pains are definitely going to be a part of any franchise rebuild and the fan base will, at some point, go from always doubting their team out of cynicism to outright expecting their team to just destroy opponents. (Enjoy these moments because they’re just so sweet when happening in real time) It’s a great feeling and if Preller and Co. keep doing what they’re doing, the Padres are going to get there quickly. I would not be surprised at all if the Padres win the series against the Dodgers in September. In fact, I expect the Padres to win that series and maybe even sweep the Dodgers.

There are a series of obstacles for a team to go from status quo to champion. The first major one for the Padres is beating the Dodgers every time they meet. If they can accomplish this, I expect the Padres to make a deep playoff run THIS YEAR. Staying grounded is a waste of time I think what’s most important is achieving a positive and winning culture and then maintaining it. Culture in baseball is both the hardest thing to achieve and the easiest to destroy. An example of this, going back to the Astros, is last year when the Astros lost the World Series. If you ask any Astros fan, ‘hey when exactly did the Astros lose the World Series last year’ most will say it was in Game seven against the Nationals. My answer would instead be: “October 21, 2019. The day SI published the story about Brandon Taubman’s Osuna comments towards female reporters.” Why? Because the team, despite continued success after that point, you could see the instant change to the team’s culture. It was fractured. It still is. Since then, they’ve been affected by the shitstorm their organization has been in and none of them will ever say it but I bet you each and every one of those players have asked themselves if they even want to play for the Astros in the future.

I’ve never been so long winded but I guess I had more on my mind than I thought. Thanks for hearing me out. I just hope my perspective provides some… something of value to you on your journey to World Series glory.

JJ Miranda

NICHOLAS MCCANN August 24, 2020

Hopefully we can pick this up in the World Series. Thanks to your team for not allowing the Dodgers to be champions in 2017. That would have been worse for baseball.

Nicholas McCann

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Nick was born in San Diego in 1980. He started The Kept Faith on blogspot in 2008.

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