HOUSTON -- The Astros passed out more than 26,000 vouchers for their annual FanFest on Saturday at Minute Maid Park, and the crush of orange-and-blue-clad fans who clamored for autographs and pictures with players while taking part in other activities was a clear sign that the team is as popular as it's been in years.
Established players like Jose Altuve, Collin McHugh and George Springer and new Astros Charlie Morton and Brian McCann were among more than two dozen current and former players who took part in the day-long festival that included fan activities like running the bases, throwing in the bullpen and question-and-answer forums with players.
"It's great," Altuve said. "I've been doing this for the last five years and it keeps getting better and better, with more fans every year, and that's why we're here."
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who participated in a Q&A session with the fans along with manager A.J. Hinch, said he feels an energy around town when talking about the Astros.
"Fans are optimistic, as am I, that this is going to be a really fun season at Minute Maid Park," he said. "Not only is the stadium changing, but we've got some new faces and our lineup is going to be a lot of fun to watch."
The Astros, who are remodeling center field at the ballpark after removing Tal's Hill at the end of last season, signed Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran and traded for McCann, bolstering a lineup that already featured a young core of Altuve, Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.
"Our players understand our hopes and where we are," Hinch said. "I want us to embrace that, I want us to take it seriously and have a good time. Winning an offseason or being active in adding all these guys doesn't mean anything. You have to go out and play the games."
Springer's fun-loving personality made him a huge hit with the fans. He said the anticipation level he felt from the fans for the upcoming season was significant.
"Obviously, this is a big time for us," he said. "It was actually put in perspective [Friday] night [at the team's annual Diamond Dreams Gala] when somebody said, the quote was, 'This is the year we expect a lot of things to happen.' I was well, 'Well, all right.' It's fun. It's a good time for us."
Morton, who threw in the bullpen at Minute Maid Park on Friday, said meeting so many of his new teammates before Spring Training is beneficial.
"I love FanFest," he said. "It gives you an opportunity to meet everybody. It gives you an opportunity to thank people -- 'Thanks for coming up, thanks for your support.' You do get a sense of how people feel about the team. It makes the experience all that much more rewarding, so I was really glad I could make it."
McCann, who spent the past three years with the Yankees after nine years with the Braves, could sense the excitement as well.
"The buzz is incredible," he said. "Everybody's excited about the season and they should be. This is a talented team that can do a lot of things and can beat you in a lot of different ways. I think everyone, all the fans, are excited and the players are excited as well."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.