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HOUSTON Just about every morning, a crowd of guys gathers in the New York Bagel and Deli to eat breakfast, drink coffee and shoot the breeze about baseball.

Sitting at the counter, a retired high school coach named Dick Smith one of those people who seems to know everything about anything that ever happened in a ballpark bluntly tells his buddies, I love the National League.

As the deli s owner strolls around the crowd, he asks customers what they think about the Astros leaving the Senior Circuit for the American League.

And at one table occupied by chattering retirees, he s startled by the response.

I am quitting the Astros! said a woman who s one of his regulars.

You re quitting the Astros? he asks. That s harsh.

But that s the harsh truth. Now Astros fans have one more thing to complain about.

After watching their cellar-dwelling club collapse into the worst team in baseball, long-suffering fans now must swallow the news that the Astros are getting strong-armed out of the National League. Major League Baseball wanted to even up the number of teams in its leagues and divisions. So before Jim Crane s consortium could buy the team, he reportedly had to agree to move it into the American League.

Baseball is a game of traditions, but this move will flush away decades of history dear to Houston sports fans. Gone will be the rivalries with the Cardinals and the Cubs, the fear and loathing of Albert Pujols. Instead, Astros fans face the prospect of repeated I-45 series against the Texas Rangers and lots of late games against west coast teams.

And don t even get them started on the designated hitter.

Are kids going to be sitting up at 9:00 at night when they ought to be doing their studies? asked Drew Garner, a New York Bagel and Deli regular whose son, Phil, used to manage the Astros. It looks like it s going to be hard for young people.

Houston sports fans learn to live with ups and downs, but sometimes the downs can really get them down. Nonetheless, quite a few of the patrons at the deli are optimistic about the sale. They re hoping new management will bring newfound success to a team and a city that s grown accustomed to failure.

New management, new everything, maybe some new players and the wins will take care of a lot of the hurt and the pain, said Ed Gavrila, one of the deli s owners.

And the big rivalry with the Rangers, it s going be huge, he added. That ll be big time. And it ll put more people in the seats. I really think it s going to help.

Maybe it ll help the home crowd go from 25,000 to 40, said Smith, sitting across the counter.

But Garner, a retired clergyman who can t seem to say a bad word about anybody, counsels caution.

It may be a boon for us or it may not, he warned. Baseball people in this town thought it was going be three great years after my son was fired.

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