It seemed somehow appropriate for a franchise that has played about 51 percent of all games in its 51-season history indoors, many of those contests at stadiums that had all the most modern bells and whistles of their eras, to finish its tenure in the National League outdoors, on a gloomy, at-times-drizzly afternoon at Wrigley Field, the oldest and most traditional ballpark in that league.
The Houston Astros lost 5-4 Wednesday afternoon, the final game they will play as a National League team, to the Chicago Cubs -- the team they began N.L. play against 50 years ago, April 10, 1962 at Colt Stadium in Houston as the Houston Colt .45s. (That game, they won, 11-2.) In losing their final N.L. game, they also set a franchise record for defeats, their 107th of the season, breaking the club record set last year.
The game typified one you'd expect to see between two 100-loss teams -- 14 total walks issued, some sketchy fielding and baserunning, and relief pitching that looked like it belonged more in Triple-A than in the major leagues; many of the players on this year's version of the Astros won't be there when the team finally returns to contention.
And that could be many years from now; they move from a division, the N.L. Central, which is often thought of as competitive, to the A.L. West, where they will have to compete with the two-time (and perhaps three-time, by the time this postseason ends) A.L. champion Rangers, the powerful (but sitting home this October) Angels, and the newly-resurgent Athletics. Even the Mariners, left for dead by many before the 2012 season began, improved their victory total for the second straight year.
The Astros have promised we'll see a new uniform look in 2013 that will pay homage to Astros history, while still being different. At the same time, it will be a big adjustment for Houston fans, who have had frequent annual visits from teams like the Giants, Phillies, Braves and Reds, and will now wind up welcoming the White Sox, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Royals and Tigers as league rivals. They'll face their former division rivals, the Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers in 2013 -- but in just one series each, as an interleague opponent, and then perhaps not again for three years. Imagine that you were, say, a Cleveland Indians fan in 1951, 51 years into the American League's existence -- exactly the number of seasons the Astros have been in the N.L. -- and suddenly you were told you had to become a N.L. fan. You'd do it, but it would be strange for quite some time.
And that's what Houston fans are being asked to do. Sure, the Milwaukee Brewers moved from the A.L. to the N.L. in 1998 -- but that was after 28 seasons in the league, not 51, and there was a previous N.L. history in Milwaukee. Houston has known nothing but the N.L. as a major-league franchise, and before that as a minor-league city had teams that affiliated primarily with the Cubs and Cardinals, so their affinities were always toward the N.L.
That might have been why there were far more brick-red-clad Astros fans seen around Wrigley Field Wednesday afternoon than you might have otherwise expected to see a road game in October for a 106-loss team. There are five decades of history to be remembered, and some, it would appear, sense they've lost something important, and wanted to be there at the end of an era.
So let's take a few moments remember not the great players in Houston Colts/Astros history, but some of those who perhaps most epitomize the franchise. Vote in the poll below.
And know that if you are an Astros fan, it will get better. Teams come from the bottom to the top all the time. Just ask this year's Athletics and Orioles. You'll win the World Series someday -- and when you do, remember that unless the Brewers beat you to it, you'll become the first team to play in one as a member of both leagues.