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You're watching the start of a Rangers-Astros rivalry your grandkids will care about

The Rangers and Astros could eventually be the best rivalry in Texas sports, which would make it a contender for the best rivalry in American sports. All it needs is history.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

Because no one remembers anything on the Internet from before last year, and because I ran out of ideas somewhere in 2013, allow me to remind you of one of the funniest stadium giveaways in baseball history.

It's a punchline to your dad's favorite Texas joke. What do you give away at a baseball game in Texas? A football. Ha ha, now it's probably time to flip those, but make sure that you don't press down on the patties, or all the juices will escape.

It's September, though, and baseball is refusing to slink away. You're not going to get an argument that the AL West race has made baseball nearly as popular as football in Texas, even if just temporarily, but for the first time since 2004 both the Rangers and Astros are contending deep into the start of football season. More importantly, they're in direct competition with each other. They're starting a four-game set on Monday, and it has a chance to be the most important regular-season series in baseball this year.

Texas right now? Just a total hotbed of baseball. As it should be.

Which means it's probably time to admit that the Astros' move to the American League West was a good idea. It's easy for me to suggest that, of course. I don't have to watch my team use the designated hitter or stop playing all of the teams I'm used to. Astros fans didn't like the move then, and most of them don't like the move now.  Switching leagues felt icky when it happened -- the 50 years of NL history was priced at about $70 million, remember -- and according to every Astros fan I've been in contact with, the passage of time isn't de-icking it nearly as quickly as they would have hoped.


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When the move was proposed, this was supposed to be the biggest payoff, though. The skeleton of a rivalry was there, just based on geography, and the direct competition was supposed to bring that dormant hatred out. It was just impossible to imagine back in 2013, when the Astros were all bicycle horns and tuba notes, one of the worst collections of talent in modern baseball history. They existed for the Rangers to pummel, and they were lousy without any concrete plans to get better, so the new rivalry felt forced. Probably because it was. When the Rangers played the Astros, the world didn't stop to see what happened.

Then the Astros got better. They did so convincingly, eventually making it so that the Rangers are the surprise team in this story. The Rangers are without their ace, and they've been outscored on the season, but they're thriving. If the Astros have been a 2015 surprise, the Rangers' second-half renaissance has been completely stunning. Now we're here in that promised land, more than a few years ahead of schedule, where both teams are fighting for the AL West. We were told it would be glorious when it finally happened, and I know I rolled my eyes every time.

It's here, though. Look at the potential of this thing. Even if the state is still football mad, sustained success from both the Astros and Rangers could make it the best rivalry in Texas sports. Wait, don't leave! I can support that argument. College football has great, great rivalries, but there's never a guarantee that the biggest rivals (Texas and Texas A&M) will even play in any given season. Baylor and TCU are rivals that don't want to admit they're rivals. Basically, any Texas team playing any other Texas team is a Big Deal, but the biggest annual scheduled rivalry game in the state involves Oklahoma.

The Cowboys rule the NFL in the state, and even if they didn't, they don't cross paths with the Texans enough for that to become a true rivalry.

Texas teams in the NBA have been on a stunning tear of success over the last couple decades ... but no one's really sure exactly whom to hate. The San Antonio Spurs are the rivals of the Houston Rockets, unless they're the rivals of the Dallas Mavericks, unless those two teams are rivals. The idea of a Texas rivalry in basketball is completely fluid, a question worth asking every year.

After some research and Internet sleuthing, I can confirm that there is only one NHL team in Texas. So that's out.

This Rangers/Astros thing could be huge, baby, just huge. They'll play each other 18 times every season until the end of time, and if they can ever string together several good seasons in a row, the rivalry will grow and expand and becoming a living, self-aware entity. It could become one of the biggest rivalries in any sport, something that rivals Giants/Dodgers, Cubs/Cardinals, or even Yankees/Red Sox in baseball. All it needs is time.

Not a year or two, mind you. We're talking time on a geological scale, here. The rivalry will need decades and decades of series like this one, titles won and lost, walk-offs and memorable dingers, hated players on each side. When the Rangers swept the Astros in August, they started the series eight games back. The idea of the Rangers contending was still a novelty, with them hanging around the fringes of the wild card race, but nothing more. This series is just the start of something delirious and beautiful.

Think of your favorite ballpark in the world. It doesn't matter where it is or which one it is, just put it in your mind's eye. Now picture yourself walking around that park the day before it opened for the first time. If it's Wrigley or Fenway, you're looking at shiny, unsullied seats, just waiting for someone to sit in them for the first time. It would be impossible not to think some variation of "This place is going to house so many brilliant moments, so many exciting memories, so many ups and downs." A new ballpark is an empty frame for all of the beautiful baseball to come. All that needs to happen are the moments.

The Rangers-Astros rivalry is at that stage right now. It's a park that hasn't opened yet, and it might become an instant classic, or it might need to be weathered and broken in over decades and decades to get the respect it deserves. But it's built, and it would be an upset if it didn't live up to its promise over the next several years.

Things could get a boost if there were only someone willing to break a few unwritten rules.


But I'm not sure if either team has a player quite like that. No, this thing will have to move organically. I wouldn't be opposed to a couple brushback pitches, though, just to speed things along.

Edit: I missed this when it happened. It qualifies! Wheeeeeee!

It's September, and both the Astros and Rangers are fighting for the same division. They told us it would happen. We didn't believe them. Now that it's here, you can see just how freaking big this could be. Welcome to the first day of the rest of this rivalry's life.