ST. PETERSBURG — The last time the Astros played at Tropicana Field, the scene was electric as the Rays ripped off two straight wins to even up the 2019 American League Division Series before roaring crowds of 32,251 and 32,178.
A lot has happened since then. Most significantly that the Astros in January 2020 were chastised and punished for their sign stealing scheme during the 2017 season.
And since fans weren’t allowed in ballparks last season due to the pandemic, the Astros — who open a weekend series at the Trop tonight — have been hearing plenty now about their past transgressions, with fans referencing, and in a couple cases, tossing inflatable and real trash cans (a device in the cheating scheme) onto the field and holding signs calling them the Asterisks, cheaters and less kind things. Stadium PA crews have mixed in songs with cheating themes and lyrics.
“I’ve seen the trash can videos and everything else of that sort. We’ll see if there’s any fans at the Trop that do anything, but I try to blank that stuff out honestly,” Rays infielder Mike Brosseau said.
“I think we’ve kind of put (the scandal) behind (us). We obviously always remember, but I think at the same time, there’s new staff over there, there’s new players, it’s a new year. As far as everything goes off the field and where they stand with me, they’re fine. It’s just baseball now.”
The Astros won the 2019 division series in the decisive fifth game, then last year the Rays prevailed with higher stakes, beating the Astros in a seven-game AL Championship Series.
Manager Kevin Cash said he’d like the Trop crowd to be loud this weekend — for the right reason.
“I hope our fans are cheering the heck out of us,” he said. “The last time we faced them in this ballpark, it was a pretty special moment for the organization and for the bay area. Our fans were just so supportive and behind us, and hopefully that’s the attitude, mentality that they carry over to this series.
“We know Houston’s a very talented team. Certainly last year, we went to the wire with them in Game 7. But as far as the past stuff with the scandals or whatever, I hope we’ve all moved past that. It’s a new group, and we’re going to just try to find a way to play good baseball and win games.”
Dusty Baker, who took over as manager in 2020, said during the first week of the season he hoped that would be the case, but early returns were not encouraging.
“You can tell the amount of hostility and the amount of hatred in the stands,” Baker said in Anaheim, Calif. “How many in the stands have never done anything wrong in their life? We paid the price for it. How many people have not cheated on a test or whatever at some point in time. I mean it’s easy if you live in glass houses, but I don’t think anybody lives in glass houses.
“I think that sometimes we need to look at ourselves before you spew hate on somebody else. It’s a sad situation for America, to me, when you hear things — I mean what are the kids supposed to think in the stands? And some of them are kids that are following their parents. It’s sad to me. People make mistakes. We paid for ours, and I wish they’d leave it alone.”
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