Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Sugar Land Skeeters will sting the Houston Astros

The buzz around town is real as the Skeeters take the field for the first time Thursday. The team has sold all 6,000 seats for the opener and for the next three games of the weekend series at the new ballpark at Hwy 6 and U.S. 90A, with lawn and standing room tickets available for the games Friday through Sunday.
For the season, the Skeeters have sold about three-fifths of the seating capacity for its 70 home dates, team spokesman Bryan Hodge said.

A mix of retirees and young families stopped by the park Wednesday to watch the Skeeters take batting practice and to buy a T-shirt or cap. The souvenir shop was not yet open, but parents could get assorted trinkets for signing up their children in the Buzz Brigade at the team's freshly painted front office.

Even with Major League Baseball's Astros a few miles away, several people say that something else is at work in the instant passion for the Skeeters. They say the team is a rallying point for the entire community, but also an affordable, family-oriented entertainment option close to home.

"Baseball, in general, is good, but minor league baseball is great," said Jennifer Marker, whose family purchased six season tickets when they became available 17 months ago. "It's about the atmosphere. It doesn't matter if the team wins as they do a good job putting on a show."

When I lived in Midland and worked for the Reporter-Telegram (from '88-'92) the newspaper purchased the best box seats in the house every season, right behind home plate. The handful of times I used them I saw players like Tim Salmon, Adam Kennedy Jim Edmonds, and other Angels on their way to the Show. There were Dizzy Bat races, Big Brothers and Sisters nights ... it was always a marvelous evening out. Going back a little further to when I lived in Beaumont in the mid-80's, the Texas League had a short-lived franchise there called the Golden Gators (affiliated with the San Diego Padres) and in their maiden season I watched Ozzie Guillen play shortstop, Joey Cora at second, and John Kruk at first.

Sugar Land officials had hoped to attract one of the Astros' minor league affiliates with the new stadium, just as the Dallas suburb of Frisco lured a farm club of the nearby Texas Rangers in 2003. Former Astros owner Drayton McLane however, rejected the idea, saying a team so close to Minute Maid Park would hurt his attendance.

Yet another reason why the Rangers are so much better than the Astros. Uncle Drayton's business acumen abandoned him in deciding not to affiliate with the Skeeters. And that decision further damaged Jim Crane, who paid a premium price to buy a Major League franchise with AAA minor league talent that is being forced to abandon 50 years of National League history next year.

But D-Mac, thinking short-term, knew he wasn't going to have to suffer the impact of encroachment by the SLS and it didn't affect the value of his sale anyway. So it probably wasn't so much a case of dementia on his part as it was him not giving a damn since he was cashing out.

Until the Astros start playing something resembling MLB -- I suppose they have a five-year plan or something  -- the Skeeters will flourish and the 'Stros will languish.

Houston's always had mosquitos, and we lost NASA, so I guess there's an analogy in there somewhere.

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