Enthusiastic fans turn out for Astros' FanFest
Current, former players take part in festivities at charity event
HOUSTON -- For most Astros fans, this was their last chance to see their favorite players before they packed their bags to bask in the Florida sun for six weeks of Spring Training.
Hundreds of Astros fans filled every nook and cranny of Minute Maid Park on Saturday to take part in the team's annual FanFest, a charity event in which fans were admitted to the ballpark for free and took part in games, gathered autographs and participated in "Talkin' Baseball" sessions with members of the front office and players.
With the Astros celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, more than 20 former Astros players were also in attendance to mingle with fans and take a walk down memory lane. Nostalgia was the theme of the day.
"It was neat to see so many Astros players from years past, as well as so many of the guys from this year's team," Astros fan Jessica Vadasz said. "It gets you excited about the upcoming season."
The weekend, which began with the Houston Baseball Dinner on Friday, kicked off what will be a year-long celebration of 50 years of Major League Baseball in Houston. Fans even had the chance to sign their name to a 50th anniversary mural, which will be on display at Minute Maid Park throughout the season.
There were even plenty of activities for younger fans, who had the opportunity to play in bounce houses in the outfield as well as listen to Hall of Fame broadcaster Milo Hamilton read a children's story.
"FanFest was a great opportunity for our fans to connect with the team," Astros president and CEO George Postolos said. "The chance for them to meet and interact with current and former players -- and with Hamilton -- was really special." Amid the festivities, the Astros unveiled several plans and initiatives for the season during FanFest:
Astros Walk of Fame: Areas outside of Minute Maid Park will be dedicated to honoring the best of the past. This year, names that will be made indelible on the grounds surrounding the ballpark include all nine retired numbers plus one player from each decade, as voted on by a panel of experts.
Flashback Fridays: The Astros will wear retro jerseys from past decades for every Friday home game this season, starting with the Colt .45s' uniform.
Great Moments bobbleheads: Most Astros fans remember Mike Scott's no-hitter, Jeff Kent's walk-off homer in Game 5 of the 2004 National League Championship Series and Chris Burke's game-winning homer in Game 5 of the Division Series in 2005.
As for the 2012 season, many current players -- including Brian Bogusevic, Jason Bourgeois, Jason Castro, Chris Johnson, J.D. Martinez, Bud Norris, Jed Lowrie and Chris Snyder -- signed autographs for fans.
"Everybody's been very welcoming," said newcomer Lowrie, who was acquired from the Red Sox following last season.
Postolos, general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager Brad Mills took part in question-and-answer sessions with fans, most of whom were relieved that the club decided not to change its name, as had been floated a few weeks prior.
"Jeff and I really enjoyed our discussions with the fans," Postolos said. "It was a chance for us to relay to them our new direction for the franchise and to let them know how important they are to us. As always, they provided us with great perspective and valuable feedback." With new ownership and management and an Astros name that will remain, all that's left for the club is to hit the field, which it will do on Monday in Kissimmee, Fla., with the start of Spring Training.
"I can't wait to get going and get in the box again and face live pitching," Martinez said. "It's been months since I've been out there."