With Hurricane Harvey decimating greater Houston and nearly two feet of rain still expected, the Astros and Rangers relocated their upcoming series from Houston to the Rays’ home at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. If moving a series between two in-state rivals 1,000 miles southeast seems like an odd decision, it’s because of a disagreement that couldn’t be resolved before Monday evening.
While Minute Maid Park didn’t sustain any damage, the extreme conditions—which may force 30,000 into emergency shelter and some 450,000 in federal aid across greater Houston—meant the Astros needed to move the Rangers series (and potentially their weekend series against the Mets) while the city braves the end of the storm. If the Astros are unable to return home by week’s end, they will end up playing 18 consecutive games away from home before their next scheduled home date on Sept. 14.
The Astros requested switching this week's scheduled series with their road series against the Rangers on September 25-27—meaning the Astros would play in Arlington Tuesday-Thursday and the Rangers would travel to Houston at the end of next month—as the division rivals play one final series before season’s end. Seems like a fair swap, right?
Except the Rangers rebuffed the request, claiming they did not want to embark on a 12-game, four-city road trip at the end of the season while competing for a Wild Card berth. While the logic makes plenty of business sense for the Rangers, it still feels like a tone-deaf response to a desperate situation. The Rangers understandably don’t want to add to three final games to a nine-game trip with their players’ health and energy flagging, but citing business reasons in the face of the nation’s most devastating natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina feels cynical. Even Texas general manager Jon Daniels admitted he was “cringing” when the final decision was made.
"I say that kind of cringing, honestly, because it pales in comparison to the true-life challenges a lot of people are facing right now with the weather down there," Daniels said to reporters after the announcement was made. "I say that with being very much aware of the contrast of what's really going on."
While the Rangers will look like the villain, it remains confusing why the Astros didn’t accept playing the series in Arlington with the condition that they were the home team. Daniels said that the Rangers offered the Astros to come to Arlington while the Rangers played as the road team, which seems like the most fitting solution to a difficult problem. The Astros were forced to relocate to Milwaukee for a series with the Cubs in 2008 as Hurricane Ike approached Houston, and the Astros lost two de-facto home games that harmed their playoff chances.
The atmosphere in Arlington would have likely been one of togetherness instead of hostility, fundraising opportunities could have sprouted with the goal of Texas unity, and the two teams could have shared a field before first pitch to reminding the nation that baseball could help communities come together in the most trying circumstances. Instead, the two teams will play at Tropicana Field, which has the worst average attendance of any MLB stadium by more than 3,000 visitors per game … and that’s when the home team is in town. The spectacle will still be one of help and togetherness, but it’s hard to envision who will be showing up from the greater Tampa region. Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan said that both Tampa and St. Louis were considered as relocation options, and that Tropicana Field was the best fit.
Major League Baseball and the Players Association have already donated $1 million to various relief efforts, and the theme of Houston revitalization will surely continue as the season extends into the playoffs. The only confusing part is that the two teams from Texas couldn’t keep the game in-state and bring people together at a most desperate time. The Rangers look like the cynical ones, but the Astros had a chance to keep the game in-state and instead chose to move it out. Instead, the two games will be played in front of sparse audiences when a bigger lens could help relief efforts. Given the desperate times during a cataclysmic natural disaster, it’s not a great look for either team.