Click the above audio player to listen to Marketplace’s Andy Uhler speak to Marketplace Weekend host Lizzie O’Leary about the rivalry between the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers.
We’re two weeks from the end of the Major League Baseball regular season. And even if you’ve been following your team since April, you have to admit that this time of year is when things really get interesting. There are some compelling races to determine who’ll make it to the post-season, but none as interesting as the battle for the American League West. The Texas Rangers and Houston Astros are neck-and-neck for the division crown, an in-state rivalry that’s a fairly new Texas tradition.
I’m a Texan. Perhaps more importantly: I’m from Dallas/Fort Worth. I grew up there with a huge family — 37 first cousins on my mom’s side. Nearly all of us love sports. But I should probably clarify: we love the Cowboys, Mavericks, Stars and Rangers.
I was back in Texas last week for some reporting, and while I was there, I went to a baseball game: the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers in Arlington. For the first time in my life, this game mattered. The regular season will be over in a couple of weeks and both teams are battling for the AL West title and a spot in the playoffs.
This got me to thinking: Is this the first Astros vs. Rangers game I’ve ever been to that I actually care about?
You see, for most of my life, these teams rarely played each other. When they did, it didn’t really matter because the Rangers are in the American League, and the Astros were in the National League. They would play each other a few times a year, but those games didn’t have any post-season implications (kind of like a soccer friendly).
In 2013, Jim Crane bought the Astros. One of the conditions of the sale was that the Astros would move from their six-team division in the National League to a four-team division in the American League. Each division would then have the same number of teams, and as a result, the Rangers and Astros are now in the same division.
So, had Major League Baseball artificially created this rivalry as a marketing and revenue-generating tool? Alex Remington, a blogger with Hardball Times, told me he thinks that the move was calculated. It made the two leagues more equitable.
“Plus they had a potential in-state rivalry. And the Rangers were kind of happy to see another Texas team in the division because it would raise gate revenue,” Remington said.“You know, I think it was just they looked at all the options and this seemed to be the easiest.”
And there’s a lot of money floating around in Texas. Sponsorships and marketing opportunities are all over the place. And some of that money flows right into small businesses when fans travel from Houston to DFW or the other way around.
But what about the average fan’s take on all of this?
I passed Adrian Izaguirre on the way to my seats and it was abundantly clear who he was rooting for. He was wearing an Astros jersey and walking with another man also sporting a Houston shirt and hat. It was his dad, Jose, who had driven up to visit his son. Adrian was in school at the University of North Texas in Denton but grew up in Houston. He told me he didn’t care about the Rangers as a kid.
“I would be excited whenever we would play against each other, ” he said,“…but I was mostly an Astros fan growing up.”
Izaguirre said he’s always taken pride in the Astros, but since he moved to DFW and the Astros became division rivals, he is more outward about it.
“I just think I’ve taken more pride in representing it because people automatically assume if I’m in the DFW area, that I’m possibly a Rangers fan,” he said.
And like Remington, Izaguirre thinks the MLB’s move was pretty calculated, but he doesn’t see it as a problem.
“Whether, you know, MLB or [former commissioner] Bud Selig wants to admit it or not, I feel that they did create the rivalry,” he said. “Not just in the League, but in the division — putting them specifically in the AL West, where the Rangers were already placed.”
I wanted to get the take of a more casual fan, too, so I asked a man in a black shirt which team he was rooting for. He said he was indeed a casual fan and just liked coming out to the ballpark. His name was Keary Turner – a jewelry store owner from Southlake, a suburb of Fort Worth. Turner said he’s not a die-hard Rangers fan, but he loves watching the team play Houston.
“To me it’s just different than going to L.A. or playing somebody else in a different area,” he said. “Who’s the best in Texas is always a big thing.”
Not only did Turner say he doesn’t mind if the move was calculated by the MLB, “Whoever made those decisions, in hindsight — looks like it was brilliant,” he said.“It’s fun to see an in-state Major League Baseball rivalry…especially in Texas, because everything is bigger and better in Texas.”
It also looked like the marketing teams of both squads were playing this rivalry up as much as possible. The Rangers were promoting a “red-out the Astros” campaign telling fans to wear red to the game. And, of course, if you didn’t bring a red shirt and wanted to fit it, you could always purchase one when you got there.
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