Tag Archives: Robert Frost

Astros Making Sugar Land Skeeters a Farm Club Proves Nothing Gold Can Stay

When I was a senior in high school, I memorized the Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” as part of an English assignment. In the years since, I have often referred back to that poem during times when things I considered golden in my life became tarnished, or lost some shine.

Such was the case when I learned that the Houston Astros were nearing a deal to make the Sugar Land Skeeters their AAA farm team. As part of the deal, the Astros will own all or part of the Skeeters.

On the surface the idea that the Sugar Land Skeeters are leaving independent baseball and becoming an affiliated team should be good news. But when one digs deeper, they realize that all of the things that made the Skeeters appealing could be taken away as part of the larger effort to give Major League Baseball absolute control of the Minor Leagues.

As part of a massive realignment of Minor League Baseball the Sugar Land Skeeters are slated to go from an independent team in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball to the AAA Affiliate of the Houston Astros starting in the 2021 season.
Photo R. Anderson

The desire for the Astros to keep their AAA team close to the big-league club follows a trend other clubs have followed over the past decade or so.

In fact, in 2013 when the Astros AAA club was based in Oklahoma City there were rumblings that the Astros wanted to relocate a team to the Woodlands, north of Houston to “expand the brand” and “counter moves made by the Texas Rangers,” according to Astros officials at the time.

Fast forward seven years and buying into the ownership of an existing team with a Ballpark is certainly easier than building one from scratch. The Skeeters would join the Astros owned AA affiliate Corpus Christi Hooks as Texas based feeder teams.

The Texas Rangers will likely move their AAA team back to Round Rock, which the Astros are vacating to move to Sugar Land. In the event that the Rangers move back to Round Rock they would join the Astros in having their AA and AAA teams located within the Lone Star State since the Rangers AA farm club is the Frisco Rough Riders.

I have written extensively this year about how I went from a supporter of the Astros to a former fan who wants nothing to do with them as a result of their trash can cheating scandal. But, if any of the other 29 MLB teams were buying into the Skeeters, I would be equally sad.

To be absolutely clear, although I despise what the Astros organization represents based in part on the lack of sincerity in their apologies for the cheating scandal, I would be sad at the thought of the Skeeters changing from independent to affiliated ball regardless of what team they were affiliated with. The fact that it is the Astros just makes it hurt a bit more.

With the exception of the pandemic year of 2020, I have been a fixture at Skeeters games since the team arose out of the former sugar cane fields in 2012. As mentioned, many times before, if Sugar Land was located just a few miles closer to the Gigaplex I likely would have been a season ticket holder and spent most spring and summer evenings at Constellation Field watching the Skeeters.

For the majority of my baseball loving life I have preferred attending Minor League Baseball to Major League Baseball. There is just something about a Minor League game that cannot be matched at the Major League level.

Much like a face palming mascot named Swatson, the news that the Houston Astros were going to be involved with the Sugar Land Skeeters caused my head to shake and my palm to be planted firmly on my forehead. It also reminded me of the words I memorized years ago that nothing gold can stay.
Photo R. Anderson

Part of the charm of going to see the Skeeters play was the fact that tickets and concessions were reasonably priced and the action on the field involved former MLB players as well as people who were trying to continue their careers for just a little bit longer.

As an affiliated Astros club, I fear that the owner of the Astros who famously said in the middle of a pandemic that he wanted fans in the stands so he could sell them “beer and t-shirts” will likely not keep the prices as low as they had been on the current regime. Of course, Skeeters tickets will hopefully still be cheaper than Astros tickets but Goliath has definitely defeated David in this example.

Based on the amount of people who wore Astros gear to Skeeters games, I know that I am likely in the minority when it comes to being sad that the era of Skeeters as I knew them is likely coming to a close. There is likely social distanced dancing in the streets at the news that the Astros will have their AAA team a mere 27 miles or so away from Minute Maid Park.

They may even try to make the Skeeters Ballpark, Constellation Field, look like a mini Minute Maid Park. Of course, the city of Sugar Land owns Constellation Field so they would have a huge say in any major renovations to the Ballpark.

Come next season, one of my favorite Ballparks will be home of the AAA farm club of the Houston Astros. As part of the new relationship Constellation Field could start to look like a mini Minute Maid Park with Astros fans as far as the eye can see.
Photo R. Anderson

But even if major renovations are not done, make no mistake the Ballpark will become a mini Minute Maid packed to the rafters with Astros fans cheering on the top prospects.

I could even envision a scenario where they try to adjust the schedule to ensure that the Skeeters home games coincide with when the Astros are on the road to maximize the amount of dollars that can be made.

Like Mulder told Scully, I want to believe that the worst-case scenario I am picturing will not take place. I want to believe that come Opening Day 2021 COVID-19 will be on the way out and Swatson and the Skeeters will be there like a warm binkie reminding me of a time before the world went bat guano crazy.

Although I want to believe, I am also not naïve. There will be changes to the way the Skeeters operate. Some will be good; some will be bad. Time will tell whether the changes are something I can live with, or if I need to find another Ballpark to call home.

I really do not want to leave the Skeeters behind. They were my oasis and anti-Astros representing all that I remembered about baseball growing up. Unfortunately, that form of baseball is getting harder and harder to find.

Each year the game of baseball gets more commercialized and sanitized. The days of baseball being an afternoon or evening escape where on can just absorb the sights and sounds are fading. Efforts to streamline and modernize the game will continue until baseball as it once was may cease to exist. There are already examples of that, but the years to come are likely to involve some of the most radical changes to the game that have been seen in centuries.

As part of the musical chairs that is Minor League Baseball the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers appear to once again be swapping out calling the Dell Diamond home for their AAA ballplayers.
Photo R. Anderson

I am too young to be the cranky old guy chasing kids off of his lawn and rambling under his breath  about the way things used to be back in the day.

However, I am old enough to remember that baseball used to be a lot less commercialized and people did not need a million distractions in the Ballpark to keep them amused. Back then people actually went to the Ballpark to see a baseball game from their seats.

Back in high school when I was just kicking off my professional writing career, and attending Southern League games at Tinker Field, baseball was still in a nostalgic era. It was also in the middle of the golden age of the baseball movie.

As for the poem that started this all, memorizing the Robert Frost poem senior year was tied to S. E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders. In the book, and for those with shorter attention spans that seem to be the target audience of the new era of baseball, the movie, Johnny Cade tells Ponyboy Curtis to “Stay gold.”

In the same way now I am asking, pleading, begging even, for the Skeeters to stay gold and not become just another cookie cutter affiliate where fans are mere commodities to be monetized and fleeced for beer and t-shirt sales.

Sadly, my rarely wrong gut knows that nothing gold can stay. As Robert Frost wrote nearly a century ago:

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

Another Robert Frost poem that I often think of is The Road Not Taken. Two paths are in front of me as I decide whether to accept the road that the Skeeters appear to be heading down, or if I choose another one. But that is a poem, and a column for another day.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to reread The Outsiders. Stay gold, Swatson.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Pace of Play Shows Nothing Gold Can Stay

When I was a senior in high school I had to memorize the Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” as part of an English assignment.

Whenever I am dealt setbacks, or encounter things that make no sense to me logically, I often think of that poem and its message of the inability of golden things to last forever and the inevitable decay that takes their place.

I was reminded of that poem the other day when I read a story about a lake near Boulder, Colorado that contained thousands of goldfish.

Now before you bemoan the fact that your local swimming hole is not filled with thousands of goldfish, rest assured that goldfish are not native to Colorado either.

It seems that at some point someone put a few pet goldfish into the lake and over time those goldfish begat more goldfish which ushered in the circle of life that the animated lion and his friends sang about.

An unknown number of pet goldfish were placed in a Boulder, Colorado lake and have now swarmed to a school of thousands. Photo R. Anderson
An unknown number of pet goldfish like these were placed in a Boulder, Colorado lake and have now swarmed to a school of thousands.
Photo R. Anderson

As well intentioned as the person, or persons, were when they added the goldfish to the lake, the resulting swell in goldfish population has led Colorado wildlife officials on a search for a way to remove the invasive species.

Most likely the remediation plan will result in the death of the goldfish either through draining of the lake or electroshock since someone has determined that while goldfish have a place in man-made aquariums they do not belong in a man-made lake.

That’s right the entire lake is invasive itself if one really stops to think about it.

Personally I think the people of Boulder are sitting on a gold mine and missing a golden opportunity. I mean how many other towns can say that they have a huge goldfish pond?

I would leave the goldfish where they are and promote the lake as a golden pond where people young and old can come and see goldfish that have grown much larger than they would have grown were they swimming around in a little fish bowl.

But sometimes people fail to see the gold that is in front of them and instead bring on the decay by invoking change when no change is needed.

Take for example the efforts to speed up the game of baseball.

For the past 10 seasons or so the average length of a Major League Baseball game has increased. Last season the average duration of a nine-inning baseball game clocked in at a record 3 hours, 2 minutes, up from 2 hours and 33 minutes in 1981.

As such, Major League Baseball is seeking to shorten the game through pace of play initiatives such as requiring a batter to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box at all times.

Players who step out of the batter’s box will be fined since they are lengthening the game by taking too much time between pitches.

Personally I do not think that batters stepping out of the box is a bad thing and often enjoy some of the comical routines that players do between pitches.

Former Houston Astro Hunter Pence was an especially fun player to watch in the batter's box since he took his batting helmet off between pitches and rubbed it on his elbow each time without fail. photo/R. Anderson
Former Houston Astro Hunter Pence was an especially fun player to watch in the batter’s box since he took his batting helmet off between pitches and rubbed it on his elbow each time without fail.
photo/R. Anderson

Hunter Pence was especially fun to watch when he was with the Houston Astros since he took his batting helmet off between pitches and rubbed it on his elbow each time without fail.

If I were going to change something about the game to make it go faster, I would limit the number of pitching changes that were allowed.

The trend of pitching specialists who only face a single batter is ludicrous and is the real reason games are longer.

Unless an injury replacement is needed teams should be limited to no more than four pitchers in a nine-inning game.

Additional pitchers could be used in an extra inning game but I see few reasons why a team cannot field a competitive nine-inning game with four pitchers.

Speaking of pitchers, another time saving innovation in the pipeline is a pitch clock where pitchers have a set amount of time to pitch. Go over the pitch clock and the batter is awarded a ball.

The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball was the first to use a pitch clock last year and this year pitch clocks have made their way into affiliated Triple-A and Double-A Minor League Baseball Ballparks.

Under the pace of play rules Minor League pitchers have 2 minutes and 25 seconds to begin their windup or come to set between innings, and 20 seconds between pitches.

The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball was the first to use a pitch clock when the Sugar Land Skeeters and other teams implemented it last year. Photo R. Anderson
The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball was the first to use a pitch clock when the Sugar Land Skeeters and other teams implemented it last year.
Photo R. Anderson

Part of the beauty of baseball that is getting lost in all of this is that baseball is the only professional sport without a game clock of any kind.

The action is controlled by the number of outs, not the number of seconds.

I see no reason to change that.

As for some other sports that do have clocks, they are close to the length of a baseball game and do not offer any more on field action.

In 2010 the Wall Street Journal conducted a study on the amount of action in a National Football League game and discovered that 11 minutes of the average NFL game can be considered action.

For the purpose of the study action was considered the time that the ball was snapped until the play was whistled dead by the referees.

While listening to people shout “Omaha, hut, hut” can be fun, it was not listed in the action category.

By comparison the Wall Street Journal determined that a fan will see 17 minutes and 58 seconds of action over the course of a three-hour MLB game.

Items considered action as part of the Journal’s study included balls in play, runner advancement attempts on stolen bases, wild pitches, pitches, home run trots, walks and hit-by-pitches, and pickoff throws.

With the average MLB ticket price far below the average NFL ticket price it is clear that baseball offers fans much more bang for their buck and nearly eight more minutes of action.

If something is not broken there is no need to tinker with the formula.

And if someone does not have the attention span to sit through a three-hour baseball game, no amount of tinkering can fix that.

Koi are common in fish ponds, pet goldfish not so much. Photo R. Anderson
Koi are common in fish ponds, pet goldfish not so much.
Photo R. Anderson

Instead, continued tinkering will likely alienate long term fans.

Just as the Colorado goldfish should be left to swim out their days in peace, the game of baseball should be left to unfold as it has for the past century or so without adding a pitch clock or whatever other effort is proposed in the name of time saving.

But of course as Robert Frost taught me all those years ago in Mrs. Phillips’ English class, nothing gold can stay.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it is time to feed my fish.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson