By Brandon Porter
As the Sugar Land Skeeters inaugural season inches closer to reality, the organization continues to develop the franchise on its projected path.
Skeeters President Matt O’Brien, who started in minor league baseball in 1993 as an intern for the Kansas City Royals’ Class A affiliate Kane County Cougars, said the team is on track with its original plans.
“The construction part of the stadium is following the plan laid out, so that is going well,” he said. “And the business side of what we are doing is growing and evolving everyday.”
O’Brien added that they can not take a “cookie cutter” approach with the building of both the ballpark and the organization and that there are some unique dynamics to the city of Sugar Land and the Greater Houston area that will fit into the final development.
Recently, the Skeeters released the design for a Texas-shaped video board and a retro bullpen cart, and as the front office continues to release new amenities to the public, they are working on their “most important player”—the mascot.
“We have partnered with two of the nations finest mascot and branding organizations to help us develop what our vision of a Skeeter is,” O’Brien said. “What we can say is that it is going to be a fan favorite and it is going to be iconic for all of Sugar Land. We are building a mascot that immediately makes you smile.”
Now that the ground breaking has concluded for StarTex Power Field, construction can begin. O’Brien stated that he is using ideas from other stadiums to make Sugar Land’s ballpark the best minor league stadium in the country.
“Every park is built using information from the last one and seeing how you can improve on it,” he said. “We just recently took a staff trip to Round Rock and they talked about what they liked and what they would do differently. That ballpark is beautiful and we hope we can pick an idea or two from that stadium and build something that is nicer.”
The Dell Diamond in Round Rock was built in 2000 and is the home of Texas Rangers’ Class AAA affiliate Round Rock Express, formerly of the Houston Astros.
The Skeeters have interviewed numerous coaching candidates and have not made a choice nor whittled their options down yet. They do not plan to make a decision on the manager until the fall at the earliest and roster decisions until next year. The final roster will not play together until the beginning of spring training with most of the best players being added later as those players get released from other teams or major league organizations.
O’Brien said there are benefits in hiring a coach or a player who has connections to Texas.
“It is definitely appealing from the fan perspective to be able to recognize a name,” he said. “Minor leagues across the country are filled with people you know and do not know, so I guess there is added appeal to know or have seen the person somewhere before.”
Coaches with ties to the community are former major league players Gary Gaetti who was the Astros hitting coach from 2004-06, and former Astros Dickie Thon, whose son plays for the Long Island Ducks, and Terry Puhl, who currently coaches for the University of Houston-Victoria.
Players with local ties are also of interest to O’Brien, including former Astro Mike Lamb. Lamb currently plays for the Camden Riversharks and is batting .312 with five home runs and 24 RBIs. Other former Astros to have played in the Atlantic League include outfielders Kevin Bass, Carl Everett and Daryle Ward, and pitchers Jose Lima, Brandon Puffer and Dan Miceli.
Since 2007, the Astros have purchased the contracts of 11 former Atlantic League players including current Class AAA pitcher Andy Van Hekken in 2008 while a member of the Somerset Patriots. Van Hekken has a 4.09 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 33 innings for the Oklahoma City RedHawks.
The current rebuilding period of the Astros is not being viewed as a positive for the Skeeters as they move closer to Opening Day. O’Brien stated that when the Astros win, it builds a baseball mindset for the Greater Houston area.
“We would rather see the Astros succeed than struggle, because when they are succeeding people are going to baseball games and talking about baseball and that is good for everybody,” he said. “We want Minute Maid Park and our stadium filled every night because that is just more baseball fans. When your teams are winning and you are having a good time, that associates a good feeling with baseball and that will help us the most.”
StarTex Power Field will hold events year round. Apart from the Skeeters games, the team hopes to hold championships at both the high school and collegiate levels, car shows, charity walks, football and soccer games, and concerts and festivals. Any event that needs parking, bathrooms, open space and a fixed gate, O’Brien said they are interested.
Some of these events outside of Skeeters baseball O’Brien said he would like to make annual. One such event would be a college baseball tournament.
“I am intrigued by a college tournament and how that gets put together is something we are looking at, but it just does not happen over night,” he said. “I would say that within the next few years we would have a college baseball tournament in some fashion and who plays may evolve each year. The one they have at Minute Maid Park is amazing. The draw to get those teams is fantastic and so we would love to emulate that sort of tournament.”