NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In a year when they finished 1-2 in the American League West, the Rangers were 16th in the major leagues in attendance, while the Astros were 22nd. Ticket sales usually pick up following a successful season, and both teams were coming off losing efforts in 2014.In the Nos. 5 (Dallas-Fort Worth) and 10 (Houston) media markets in the United States, there is room to grow, and with both teams entering 2016 with heightened expectations, there is an opportunity for baseball to capture more of
the heart of a state where football is unquestionably king, but passion for the diamond is lurking. MORE: Top 10 Astros of all time | Don't sleep on Rangers in West That passion was plainly evident in September as the Rangers took five out of seven games from the Astros, with five of the games drawing crowds of more than 30,000. It’s not just about a made-up boot trophy anymore when the Lone Star State rivals play. “Specifically in the state of Texas, you have two teams that clearly define great parts of our state, and there are a lot of great areas of our state,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Tuesday at the winter meetings. “Rangers-Astros is already, and can be, a terrific rivalry. Both teams are good. We duked it out the entire season. We were ahead most of the season, they had a terrific second half and they ended up coming out on top.”MORE: Benches cleared in JulyThe real race, of course, is to see which Texas team can win the World Series first; if it does not happen in 2016, it will be a combined 100 seasons for the two teams in the state with three pennants, two for Texas and one for Houston.Until somebody gets those bragging rights, which they are now directly fighting for as division rivals, it’s all about that in-state prize. With both teams set up well to contend for years, things are getting interesting.“For a Texas guy, yeah, I hope that’s a rivalry that lasts the length of baseball,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “At any given time, to have the eyes of the baseball world on the two teams in the state of Texas is pretty special for me.”AWARDS FOR ASTROS: Correa SN's top AL rookie | Keuchel wins AL Cy YoungIt can be pretty special for the sport, as well, given the seats that can be filled and the frenzy that a rivalry can generate.“What it means for baseball is you have two really good teams who have built their teams in somewhat different ways, but arrive on the scene prepared to win,” Hinch said. “The same can be said for some of the Northeast rivalries. The West Coast has its own set of rivalries, too. … I know that having lived in Texas now for a year (and) been a part of the Astros, this organization, there’s something different about the Astros-Rangers than some of the other times you play.”It has a chance to get even better in 2016, and that’s good for everybody, in and out of Texas.