Space Cowboys Fly Into New Baseball Era In Sugar Land

SUGAR LAND – Patti Lawlor hung around third base, shuffling through some dead grass in the field in an outdated shirt that marked Sugar Land Skeeters’ 2018 Atlantic League Championship.

Baseball earrings bobbed off both shoulders. Her husband, Dan, wore a faded powder blue shirt with a yellow Skeeter across the chest.

The couple has called Sugar Land home for 29 years. Their summer routine included trips to Constellation Field, first as curious spectators and then “Silver Skeeters,” the group of older fans promised exclusive benefits and VIP treatment. Baseball in the city has transformed from independent to important – a place for first-class prospects rather than retired basketball players or other ridiculous novelties.

The makeover culminated on a chilly Saturday afternoon at Constellation Field. The Lawlors witnessed a total upheaval. The Skeeters died and the Space Cowboys came to life. The Astros unveiled a total rebrand of their Class AAA club, clearly with the intention of removing any association with the team’s past as an independent ball staple.

“We used this last year to rethink how we talk about baseball in the city of Sugar Land and to connect Sugar Land with our Astros family and part of our Astros community,” said Anita Sehgal, senior vice president marketing and communication of Astros. “The overall evolution from independent baseball to Triple-A presented us with a great opportunity to create a new chapter for Sugar Land baseball and to connect the relaunch of our new identity with significant investment in our overall fan experience.”

The Sugar Land Space Cowboys now look almost nothing like their Skeeters heritage. Yellow is out of the color scheme and replaced by orange. The shades of blue are lighter and inspired by photos of the Earth from space. The mascot is no longer a mosquito, but a blue cosmic dog named Orion, a seemingly distant cousin of Orbit, the neon green alien mascot of the Astros.

Decision-makers honed the Space Cowboys name early on, according to Creighton Kahoalii, the senior vice president of Astros’ affiliated businesses, who indicated there were no other legitimate finalists in the renaming process. The team touted NASA’s Houston location, coupled with Texas’ long history of cowboys, as driving forces.

“The most successful minor league teams often have creative and fun names, really unique names,” Sehgal said. “In our case, we wanted an identity that reflected a connection to the Astros and Astros family, but stood out as a unique identity that aligns closely with Sugar Land’s values: a vibrant, thriving, forward-thinking and family-oriented community. ”

The Astros now own three of their full-season affiliates: Class AA Corpus Christi and Class A Fayetteville Woodpeckers. Corpus Christi kept its Hooks nickname after the takeover. The Astros have renamed the Woodpeckers – formerly known as the Buies Creek Astros.

“The Hooks identity, we felt it was founded right there on the coast and it fit and it was good,” said Kahoalii. “The fan reaction to the change from the Skeeter to the Space Cowboy is sentimental, it means people care about our team and we’re excited that people do. We think when people give this one a chance, they’ll find that they can also embrace this brand.”

Rumors of a rebrand started shortly after Astros owner Jim Crane bought the club from the Zlotnik family in April 2021. The Skeeters brand has been a staple of the Sugar Land area since the franchise’s inception in 2012.

Citizens had what Astros officials called an “emotional” reaction to the rebrand — especially after the Space Cowboys name was leaked early last week.

News of the premature leak reached Sugar Land mayor Joe Zimmerman in Washington DC, where he attended a conference of the country’s mayors. He left in Texas for a torrent of text messages with differing opinions.

“Some people have expressed concerns,” Zimmerman said. ‘Why not the Skeeters? Why change it? But look at the storyline and look at the connection to the Astros organization, it all makes sense. I am a businessman. I’m not a full-time politician, so that makes perfect sense to me. The investment we have made in the future. Last year was a shortened year. (The Astros) literally put $9 million into this facility without a (fully executed) contract. That’s commitment. And we made that same commitment to them.”

Sentimental value still sometimes outweighs the price of doing such things. Even with a team store open and stocked with Space Cowboys merchandise, Skeeters’ clothing still stood out from the crowd of more than 5,000 people gathered at Constellation Field. Bianca Medina, a Pasadena native who started attending games last season, wore one of the Skeeters’ throwback jerseys.

“It’s definitely different. I like it, but it’s just different because I’m used to the Skeeters,” said Medina. “Honestly, (the name) isn’t my favorite. The colors and jerseys are really nice, but I have to get used to the name.”

She’s not alone.

“We’ve supported the team when they were Skeeters, in the beginning, until now,” said Patti Lawlor. “We will support them as the Space Cowboys. I just can’t bear to say ‘Go Cowboys’. We have to come up with something else.”

There’s plenty of time left to do it. The Space Cowboys will make their official debut in an exhibition game against the Astros at Constellation Field on March 28. The two teams will meet again on March 29 at Minute Maid Park, two days left to clear the memories of the Skeeters and the future of Sugar Land baseball.

“They were champions several times,” Patti quickly notes.

As she did so, Dan turned his back on him. The back of his shirt had a message that now everything on the front will survive.

“Sugar Land,” it said, “there is no equal.”

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