The Pen: How did the Astros wind up with baseball’s best-dressed fans?

<img class="caas-img has-preview" alt="Sep 22, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Fans wait for the start of a game between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Angels at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/jjTDeRX3QtmX_E5z1fPu5g–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTY0MDtoPTQyMi4xMDkwOTA5MDkwOTA5/https://s.yimg.com/uu/api/res/1.2/m29SmrnHQWGtC_aYrNZBBQ–~B/aD0xNDUxO3c9MjIwMDtzbT0xO2FwcGlkPXl0YWNoeW9u/https://media-mbst-pub-ue1.s3.amazonaws.com/creatr-images/2019-10/78e42e80-f1b7-11e9-8ef6-087b4b41179a” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/jjTDeRX3QtmX_E5z1fPu5g–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTY0MDtoPTQyMi4xMDkwOTA5MDkwOTA5/https://s.yimg.com/uu/api/res/1.2/m29SmrnHQWGtC_aYrNZBBQ–~B/aD0xNDUxO3c9MjIwMDtzbT0xO2FwcGlkPXl0YWNoeW9u/https://media-mbst-pub-ue1.s3.amazonaws.com/creatr-images/2019-10/78e42e80-f1b7-11e9-8ef6-087b4b41179a”>
Sep 22, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Fans wait for the start of a game between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Angels at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

About three hours before Game 2 of the ALCS between the Yankees and Astros I spotted a man outside Minute Maid Park wearing head-to-toe tequila sunrise.

For the 80-degree day in Houston he was wearing a generic throwback jersey from the ‘80s, an era when the Astros sported red, yellow and orange stripes — a colorway known as the tequila sunrise. Paired with that, tequila sunrise-striped shorts with a superimposed Astros “H.” Where those stopped, a few inches of exposed skin before picking up the pattern again in tequila sunrise knee-high socks. His shoes were the navy Astros-blue Vans with tequila sunrise panels that I saw dozens of times during a long weekend in Houston.

I was in the middle of seeking out subjects for this very story about Astros fans and their notably creative flair for showcasing their commitment to the team through clothing that borders on costume. My proof this is a real phenomenon is simply that within my first nine innings at Minute Maid Park, I went from not knowing Astros fans were so stylish to needing to know why. This is why I noticed him; but also why his getup — which could charitably be described as “loud” — failed to merit an interview. Astros-ified entire outfits and accessories, most often rendered in the throwback hues (by which I never mean the short-lived brick-red situation), were rampant around Minute Maid as the team eliminated the Rays and opened a series against the Yankees last weekend.

(Yahoo illustration/Amber Matsumoto)(Yahoo illustration/Amber Matsumoto)
(Yahoo illustration/Amber Matsumoto)

Cowboy hats, naturally. Woven straw with a bespoke collection of Texas sport pins worn by a man with a handlebar mustache who hands out business cards with a poem and a proclamation of “no business, no plans, no money, no worries” on them. But also comically oversized orange foam versions worn in packs by handsome young adults with José Altuve jerseys.

Sweaters and skirts and a surprisingly tasteful leather tote printed with all the classic baseball iconography with an Astros bent. Belt buckles and earrings and oversized pendants often paired with Mardi Gras beads in bright, pearlescent orange and yellow. And suits. So many suits creating traffic cone-colored carnival barkers, walking polyester rally towels, that on weeknights beg the question: What did they wear to work?

And if you bought the suit — which will set you back $130 for the pants and $495 for the jacket — you probably didn’t stop there. A be-suited fan named Morgan Barsi (a general counsel as his day job!) showed me his Astros cufflinks, and how well they matched his orange-trimmed Apple Watch. Orange, of course, for the Astros.

A family of Astros fans with their suits and custom-made hats. (Photo by Hannah Keyser.)A family of Astros fans with their suits and custom-made hats. (Photo by Hannah Keyser.)
A family of Astros fans with their suits and custom-made hats. (Photo by Hannah Keyser.)

A whole family of suit-wearers — mom, dad and 13-year-old Devin — tell me that they dress this way for over 50 Astros games every year. Fourteen years ago, when the Astros were in their first World Series, Doug Opfer was included in a story about how the team was the worst dressed in history for wearing an already-throwback J.R. Richard tequila sunrise jersey. But nostalgia drives trends in 2019, giving us a renewed appreciation for kitschy ‘70s style and now reporters ask him and Monica Leon — who had to have her jacket tailored to fit a woman’s frame, if you’re looking for a hyperlocal business venture in the Houston area — about the homemade muppet-like hats they’ve chosen to pair with their Astros suits.

“We started out two years ago with the Orbit hat; we used to wear three Orbit hats,” Opfer says. “This year, to be part of the colorful celebration of the team, we went ahead and brought two of his cousins — well we have others, but today, two of his cousins — in. We have Megabit and Gigabit.”

“Not many of my friends know,” says Devin of his role in the family business cheerleading for the Astros.

Later, they’ll be shown on the broadcast of the game holding giant cutout letters that say “JV” for starter Justin Verlander and “K.”

There’s a mix of ingenuity and market demand on display. A local math teacher named Beverly Gill explains that Verlander’s wife, supermodel Kate Upton, helped to popularize the throwback colorway by famously wearing a surprisingly stylish vintage-inspired cardigan on the field after the 2017 World Series win. It’s a great look, to be honest, but Kate didn’t pair hers with a homemade “TAKE IT BACK” trophy hat along with Astros: skirt, fanny pack, Houston skyline shirt, necklace, sunglasses and orange rain boots that have been liberally decorated with the appropriate adhesives.

If you’ve noticed this phenomenon from afar it’s probably in the form of space helmet-clad fans featured on Astros’ broadcasts. And one fan in particular. Ron Duck has been wearing his custom airbrushed Astros helmet, “ASTRONAUT” jersey, and comically oversized glove to dozens of games every year for the past three years. It’s a recipe that lands him on television “almost every game.”

He’s easy to find, too: Up against the railing of the home run porch in left-center field, right next to the classic petrol pump that tallies all the Astros home runs hit since Minute Maid Park opened.

“Always here, this is my spot,” he says, and then he corrects himself. “Not my spot, OU-UR spot, WOOO!,” turning the last part into a chant that encourages the surrounding fans to join in.

I ask him how well known he is within the community, but before he can answer a man dressed confoundingly in Mets gear interrupts to ask if he can get a picture with Duck.

The astronaut’s wife is a cowgirl, Sarah Duck, who is bedazzled in orange and blue from her ombre manicure to her 40-minute eyeshadow, to the scrunchie on her wrist and her custom cowboy boots. She had the shoes already and paid $150 for the careful application of a ten-gallon hat’s worth of glitter. Her ten-gallon hat is sparkly Astros, too.

Accessorizing in team colors is a big thing in Houston. (Photo by Hannah Keyser.)Accessorizing in team colors is a big thing in Houston. (Photo by Hannah Keyser.)
Accessorizing in team colors is a big thing in Houston. (Photo by Hannah Keyser.)

The whole time I’ve been trying to figure out why Astros fans are so notable in their attire, but of course they can’t know what distinguishes their hometown from the places they didn’t grow up. A couple dressed in spacesuits explain that the old Astrodome groundskeepers used to wear their own version of the now-semi-common ode to Space City. Maybe this is where it started. In 2010, the Astros ground crew broke out the NASA-inspired outfits as part of a throwback promotion and Paul Lukas, who tracks on-field style, used the occasion to dig up records and renderings of all the old retro-futuristic uniforms worn by stadium personnel. They’re space age-y and elaborate and it’s easy to see how they could have spawned a culture of treating a day at the park like a costume party.

That’s something. But ultimately, Sarah Duck comes closest to an accidental explanation. She pimped her cowboy boots because she saw a woman at the stadium with sparkly Astros wedges who told her about an artist on Instagram that customizes clothing. One fan dresses up for the game because the other fans dress up for the game. The environment encourages eccentricity by embracing it and putting it on display. Trends spread quickly amongst a fanbase with a lot to get excited about. The very act of rooting for a sports franchise involves buying into a community and convincing yourself that it distinguishes you in some way from all the other sports fans. If you look close enough, I’m sure every city finds a way to make that literal — in Houston, they just wear it on their sleeve.

Notes from the Clubhouse

With the Astros on the precipice of another World Series appearance — and in their third straight year of playing deep into October — I asked a couple different players who have been there for all the recent success how they accommodate the physical toll of six months of baseball plus another three weeks, needing to be at their best and sharpest at the end of all that.

Josh Reddick: “I think everybody’s tired at this point but it goes back to the rule: The body that stays in motion tends to stay in motion. The more we keep going, the better our bodies are going to feel and we worry about that a week or two after the season when our bodies really start hurting. If we keep going, especially in the playoffs, adrenaline takes over everything and you don’t really feel it a lot.”

Jake Marisnick: “You feel the short rest in between seasons. But for the most part, you got your adrenaline going. Once it’s all said and done and you’re sitting on your couch feeling sore, I don’t think anyone is going to complain about that now.

“When you step on the field in front of that many fans screaming, whether you’re home or away, you stay locked in, you’re ready to go. The season, once you get towards the end, Game 162, you start to feel the wear and tear, but I’m telling you once you step on the field in the playoffs, it all goes away.”

Justin Verlander, who will get the start as the Astros try to clinch Friday night:I prepare for this in the offseason, this is what all the hard work was for. I don’t work my ass off to be ready in April, I work so hard so that I’m strong in November and October … and, honestly, I usually feel my best when September, October roll around.”

Notes from the stands

The only single performance I really remember seeing live in a nonprofessional capacity is San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner’s complete game shutout in the 2016 NL wild-card game. Noah Syndergaard was so good for the Mets in that game and yet, simply because he needed to be, Bumgarner was better. It almost felt too easy: Bumgarner being exactly as amazing as he needed to be to get his team deeper into the postseason. It wasn’t even his most impressive October performance, but having been there for that is something I’ll never forget.

This week I asked you about which postseason games are seared into your memory and was reminded of the way historical events coalesce and condense over time into a single iconic instant or name.

Like how many of your childhoods were ruined by The Sid Bream Game.

Or Robin Ventura’s ‘Grand Slam Single.’

More recently, the David Freese Game.

Or José Bautista’s bat flip.

There were so many good answers (too many to include them all here) but I can’t believe none of you said The 18 Inning Game. It was 18 innings!!!

For next week, I want to know whether or not you care about the fluctuating baseball controversy, and why or why not. Tell me on Twitter or at hannah.keyser@yahoosports.com.

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