HOUSTON -- It was another brick in the wall in the reconstruction of the Houston Astros, and it came with the promise of so much more. They did it up right, too, with live music and a light show and 5,000 fans gathered on the field at Minute Maid Park on Friday night for the release of new uniforms and colors, a new logo and even a new mascot -- Orbit, a not-too-distant cousin of the Astrodome-era mascot of the same name. It was symbolic that some of the franchise's best young Minor Leaguers -- outfielder George Springer, first baseman Jonathan Singleton, shortstop Carlos Correa and others -- were asked to model the new threads.
The Astros have a vision of what this franchise will look like in the not-too-distant future, and this was an evening to give the fans who signed up for every available pass to the event a glimpse. "The uniforms are great," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "Obviously, I was more excited about the young men who were on the stage. They looked great in those uniforms. This is a great milestone for us, but we've got a lot of work to do." In returning to the blue and orange colors of a previous era, the Astros saluted their past with new uniforms that have a clean, traditional look, a design built to last. "Very nice, very nice," outfielder Justin Maxwell said. "We definitely packed the house, and it's exciting." This was the kind of evening Jim Crane promised the moment he bought the Astros almost a year ago. He said he would build a great franchise. He would do it one day at a time by hiring talented people and giving them the resources to do their jobs. There would be no shortcuts. That means, he would not sign a bunch of old guys to mask the weaknesses in the farm system. The Astros would focus on rebuilding the Minor Leagues, modeling themselves after clubs like the Nationals, Rangers and Rays. Once the Astros are good again, they'll have a chance to be good for a long time. Nothing that has happened in the last year -- not even 107 losses -- has dampened Crane's enthusiasm for his original blueprint. Along the way, he has changed almost everything. There's a new general manager (Luhnow) and a new manager (Bo Porter) and dozens of new employees. There have been wholesale changes on the field, too. The Astros may have struggled in 2012, but at least they did it with a bunch of kids who busted their tails and have a chance to get better. "I think we're really far along," Crane said. If Crane needed a reminder that there are thousands and thousands of fans who care deeply about this baseball team, he was reminded of it on Friday. He has had other reminders, like last winter when he floated the idea of changing the name of the franchise. He found out that, after 47 years as the Astros, they're embedded in the hearts and minds of generations of Houstonians. That response might have been his best day as an owner, a reminder of the emotional attachment between a sports team and its community. He had another one of those days on Friday when fans came out early and lined up to buy merchandise and reflect on their attachment to this baseball team. "You've got some diehard fans here," Crane said, "and when we get the team turned around, I think we're going to pick right up next year and keep building on that." In reflecting on his first year as the Astros owner, he said, "We had a lot of work to do. We've got a lot of things we wanted to get accomplished finished. You're never done until you're winning ballgames on the field. This year will have more cohesiveness. We've just had a lot of changes. I feel very good about the changes we've had, and I'm looking forward to the future."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.