Fourteen days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

Clean slate, ya’ll. The 2011 season is over, the ownership and entire front office has changed. The club is moving to the AL next season and all moves and decisions this season will be made with an eye toward that fact. No, the Astros will not be competitive in 2012 but they will not be boring. By all accounts they have drafted well lately and are successfully rebuilding the farm system. The new owner has employed a new business model (Moneyball) and hired respected and talented people to execute it (Those folks who helped make the St. Louis Cardinals club very successful). If you like to watch a grand project develop from a concept to full fruition, this is the time to begin paying attention to the Houston Astros.

Now, a few personal notes and observations about other aspects of the game/business, including the framework that holds the emotional connection of the fans to the franchise.

I’m glad the ownership decided to keep the franchise name. The trial balloon of a possible name change was floated last week and was immediately shot down by the fans. I applaud Crane for throwing that idea out there, though, because it did create a spark in the fans and it reminded us of how important this club really is to us, even after suffering through the demoralizing times of the past few seasons.

Astros is unique as a team name. It’s not an animal (Tigers, Orioles, Blue Jays), an article of clothing (Sox), or just another terrestrial occupation (Padres, Rangers, Pirates). Dude, these are spacemen! And I remember the time when the Astrodome infield dirt was raked in the fifth inning of each home game by a team of groundskeepers dressed in space suits.

So what happened over the course of the last 50 years to erode the connection between the team name and those things, like the logo, the uniforms, the colors and the mascot, that surround and support it? In essence, how did we get from here:

to here:

Short answer is that when the previous owner had the new stadium built and the team moved from the Astrodome, it is rumored that he designed all of the above mentioned things to support the new team name, the Diesels. But the fans gave the name a thumbs down and insisted that the team remain the Astros. Owner says, Ok fine, but I already spent all of this money on re-branding. I’ll just slap Astros in place of where Diesels would have been and all will be peachy keen. The result was dissonance beyond belief. Spaceman meets locomotive.

Let’s start with the basics, team colors and uniforms. Through the years the Astros tinkered with various combinations of navy blue and orange.

Some subdued

Some outrageous.

In the 90’s they opted for a bit of gold and left out the orange. But even in the 90’s, the styling was progressive, forward looking and a bit edgy.

The current colors are sand, brick and black. Now, we might associate deep space with black but sand and brick are about as terrestrial as one can get. Add some pinstripes (for the dapper space traveler) and the team name written in a script reminiscent of a sign for an early 20th century ice cream parlor and you have Astros not as space travelers but as time travelers. Backward. On an abstract level the syling may be classy but in the context of the Astros franchise it’s a mess and it’s bugged the hell out of me for twelve years.

Next, why is a steam locomotive operated by a man in bib overalls hauling a load of what looks like pumpkins across the outfield wall? Why? Did this poor fellow fall out of a parallel universe, perhaps the Island of Sodor, and happen to land lock, stock and barrel on the outfield wall in a major league stadium?

I know that the site was once Union Station but there is a perfectly good restored locomotive resting on a stretch of track outside the park to honor that fact.

Finally, and again I remind you that the team name is the Astros, how in the name of all that is holy did we get from the dear animated Chester Charge (CHARGE!!) and Orbit, the cute extraterrestrial mascot…

Click on image to animate (he would also land on rockets, motorcycles, giraffes..to a bugle playing CHARGE!)

Orbit!

…to this travesty??

A freaking jackrabbit?? No! No! A thousand times, No! The Astros should not have a mascot that lives in a hole in the ground. It draws too much attention to our place in the standings of late. Lose the jackrabbit.

So there’s my rant on the last Astros re-branding. Nothing will change in this sphere during the 2012 season and that’s fine with me as long as all energies and efforts are directed toward improving the product on the field. From what I have observed over the last month, I’m optimistic that real progress is being made toward that end. But come 2013 and the move to the AL, I would dearly love to see the dynamic, intrepid and forward looking spirit worthy of the name Astros reflected in the team brand and its surroundings.

That is all.

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