The Astros alienated a minor league superfan

I’m someone who writes about the more obscure side of baseball. I’d even go so far as to say that I focus on that obscure side more than anyone else currently writing for any of the mainstream baseball sites. That being said, the chances of me ever firing up my Chromebook to write anything about the Corpus Christi Hooks that wasn’t rooted in discussing prospects seemed to be less than zero. Here we are about to end the month of February in the year 2020 and I find myself compelled to write about the Hooks in detail.

The reason the Hooks find themselves in a non-prospect based article on a site like Beyond the Box Score is for one important reason; they are an affiliate of the Houston Astros. The Hooks are a Double-A Texas League squad who have been affiliated with the Astros since 1991. During that time the Hooks have performed their role in the Major League Baseball-Minor League Baseball affiliation system admirably. Prospects come and go, games take place, local fans get to see cheap baseball, and the Astros have a place for their future stars to hone their skills. That’s all to say that until this past week the Hooks were as bland and as boring as the majority of MLB affiliate clubs all are.

Bob Hilliard has been a major Hooks fan for some years now. He’s a season-ticket holder, has sponsored company nights at the ballfield for his law firm, and in addition to regular seats has also been behind his firm purchasing a regularly used luxury suite. In every way possible, Hilliard is the ideal MiLB big money fan. He’s not exactly a common fan, he’s also not a super corporate fan, but he is a fan with some amount of purchasing power behind his name. He supports the team, brings in revenue, ties the team into the community, and does so in an innocuous “this is the minor leagues” sort of way.

Recently Hilliard found himself without his season-tickets, his firm’s luxury suite, or the yearly HMG (Hilliard, Martinez, Gonzalez; Hilliard’s law firm) company night. The news came in the form of an email from Hooks General Manager Wes Weigle. All told, according to Hilliard, cutting ties with him will cost the Hooks around $45,000 a year. For a minor league club that is not a small chunk of change. There had to be a good reason behind cutting off not just a consistent source of revenue but a diehard fan of a team that counts on developing diehard fans to stay in business.

Hilliard’s law firm recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of Astros fans seeking damages in wake of the Astros cheating scandal. The lawsuit is simple: the season-ticket holders Hilliard represents want their money back for what they view as a fraudulent experience during the Astros cheating years. There hasn’t been any action in the lawsuit—it was just filed after all—but the Astros had to know that lawsuits such as this one were on the way.

The Hooks should have nothing to do with these proceedings; they are just a minor league affiliate of the Astros. If Weigle or the Hooks were willing to talk about this issue I’m sure that they would argue this move has nothing to do with Hilliard’s lawsuit. They aren’t talking though, and in the view of the obvious context, it’s clear that the actions they took against Hilliard are one hundred percent rooted in his lawsuit against their parent club.

The actions taken by the Hooks are both cowardly and damaging. No minor league club should be actively working against their best interests, especially when we all know that affiliations have, do, and will change. Maybe the Astros ordered the Hooks to take away Hilliard’s tickets and amenities, or perhaps the Hooks took the action on their own.

Either way, it’s an incredibly spiteful and shortsighted move. The Astros risk nothing but short-term damage in the public eye, but their public image is already tainted to a level where this makes no difference to them. The Hooks have lost an important booster of their club and risk, in the long run, alienating more fans. If in a few years the Astros move on from the Hooks then what actual gain did the Hooks take from alienating fans to appease a crooked parent organization?

Whether Hilliard wins his client’s lawsuit against the Astros or not, he has been told that his local minor league club does not need or want his support. The Hooks willingly took on the role of mercenary for their parent club and levied a calculated attack against all of their fans. That’s the thing with minor league baseball, it’s a very small world. Other Hooks fans will know what has happened and over time there’s a good chance that more and more Hooks fans will turn away from the team. The Hooks didn’t have to do this, but they decided to dredge through the same sewers as their parent club and now they will have to reap what they have sown.

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