The Astros Score One With Locals

My parents instilled in me the need to always seek the positive in any situation. They probably didn’t have baseball in mind when initiating my moral compass, but many situations often employ baseball in my world.

In the midst of a losing season chock-full of injuries, an ownership change, unruly fans parading through the outfield outsmarting and embarrassing security, and repetitive loses (did I mention that already?), it’s time we focus on something the Astros are doing right.

Focusing on their local community.

You might remember an article I wrote a few months back – Houston Astros Outsource Creativity – Out Of Their Hometown. I was reacting to a press release announcing the team’s proud choice to outsource this season’s marketing campaign. In doing so they neglected thousands of fully qualified creative geniuses residing right here in Houston – some of which are loyal season ticket holders even. Ones that undoubtedly could have come up with something better. (I still stand by the fact it’s excessively ironic that an agency IN CALIFORNIA developed the slogan, We Are Your Hometown Team.)

In a job market like the one we are stuck in for the foreseeable future, it’s hard not to notice (and subsequently call out) organizations and businesses that forego local resources and push work out of our community on a silver platter. A Texas born and bred entrepreneur, JR Cohen, founded a phenomenal movement repudiating this outsourcing concept known as #SLGT, which stands for Support Local Grow Together.

What started as a simple Twitter hashtag has now turned into a way of life designed to enlighten Houstonians on the vast amount of resources here in our very own city. Resources in the likes of capable workers, supplies and materials. While it’s not realistic to expect businesses as large as the Astros to use local in every aspect, it is appreciated and recognized by us locals when they do.

As a former Astros employee, my Outsourcing Creativity piece really ruffled the feathers of some of my old co-workers. Chatting with a friend, Bobby Forrest, who happens to be VP of Building Operations, I got on my soapbox defending my stance and the importance of utilizing local resources (as well as sermonizing how the creative minds in Houston rarely get enough credit).

As a rebuttal of sorts, Forrest pointed out that they used almost 90% of local contractors and businesses during the renovations to Minute Maid Park earlier this season. While obvious, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that Major League Baseball has an abundance of resources at their disposal for such undertakings. Resources that would likely be more affordable and make the lives of Astros employees, like Forrest and his staff, much easier.

Certainly the biggest “change” at Minute Maid this season was the addition of El Grande, the 1080i HD scoreboard (the Astros are the first team in Major League Baseball to have this type of scoreboard) in the outfield. With dimensions extending 54ft. tall x 124ft. wide and a process taking 4+ years (planning, proposals, bidding and construction combined), Daktronics, the out-of-the-area scoreboard manufacturer came to the table with a list of vendors (that were also out of the area) they usually work with. Abiding by a formal bidding process, checking referrals and going on positive testimonials from others, Forrest felt confident in hiring NEC, a respected local contractor to install all three video boards.

Over the years, Drayton McLane, the newly-former-Astros-owner, has taken the brunt of many fans disappointments maintaining he was an unfit mother – at least when it came to running a professional baseball team. While I may or may not agree with the above sentiment, there is one undeniable quality about Drayton – he appreciated and respected staff and fans alike. How many other team owners do you see regularly walking the concourse allowing themselves to be accessible to almost any and every fan (aside from Mark Cuban of course)?

Taking care of fans far and away includes supporting and employing local vendors (many of which are the actual fans) as it adds jobs and stabilizes our local economy. I’d say making a concerted effort to hire the guy next-door instead of the hair gel addict from the Jersey Shore counts as taking care of your fans, right?

Leading the Astros front office for nearly two decades, Drayton has encouraged the use of local and minority-owned businesses whenever possible. Forrest reiterated this Drayton initiative during our formal interview but said the Astros would not sacrifice quality and safety simply for the sake of using local businesses, hence the detailed bidding process and reference checks.

Flooring across the stadium was upgraded (eco-friendly vinyl “wood look” floors on the Club Level and Media Dining and carpet on the Club Level all using post-consumer content) and the bidding process for the project was like that of any other. “Texas Floor Covering came back with the best plan for not only our stadium but also our community. We were very happy with their work and would use them again”, Forrest said.

Insperity Club

Other notable renovations this season were the Press Box and the addition of the Insperity Club (which boasts eco-friendly reclaimed glass counter tops and automatic lighting features) by local General Contractor, Regas Construction.

Reputable companies like the Astros going on record about their dedication to the local community serve as a leader for other businesses across Houston. If local contractors and businesses are good enough for a multi-million dollar project for the Astros they’re probably good enough for almost anyone, yes?

Listening to Forrest talk about the changes they’ve implemented across the ballpark this year it’s hard to tell if he’s a proud parent or a kid at Christmas. Either way, he and the rest of the front office have an immense amount of pride in their updated ballpark, as they should.

As of now, it’s the only thing Astros fans (and staff) can hang their hat on.