Brady Aiken had been a member of the Astros organization for mere minutes when team president Reid Ryan took to Twitter on Thursday evening with a photo of a jersey bearing the No. 1 overall pick’s last night being displayed in the team store.
“We move fast around here,” Ryan wrote in his Tweet.
— Reid Ryan (@robertreidryan) June 5, 2014
But not that fast, right? After all, the Astros supposedly were going down to the wire before settling on Aiken—the first prep lefthander to go No. 1 since Brien Taylor in 1991—over potential top picks such as N.C. State’s Carlos Rodon and Texas high school fireballer Tyler Kolek.
As it turns out, Aiken’s jersey is not for sale—at least not yet.
“It’s a funny thing, I came out of the draft room and I was walking down to the field and I see one of the ladies in our store come walking out with the Aiken jersey with the No. 1 on the back,” Reid said. “This was literally minutes after the draft. So I say, ‘What do you have there?’ ”
What she had was one of a few jerseys Astros director of retail and merchandising Tom Jennings printed to honor the newest Astro. Jennings hung one on a mannequin outside of the team store, and not surprisingly, Astros fans noticed.
“During the game, people were coming up to it and taking pictures around it,” Ryan said. “It ended up getting its own life around the ballpark.”
The cellar-dwelling Astros haven’t given their fans much to cheer about at Minute Maid Park the past few years beyond three-straight No. 1 overall picks in the draft and several major leaguer-for-prospects trades. So it shouldn’t be a surprise their fans know about Aiken—Reid said the team posted his image on the scoreboard in the bottom of the first inning Thursday to applause—and a group of prospects rising up the minor league ladder.
The Astros aren’t only counting on their young talent to win on the field, but also to build a team identity off of it.
“If you look at the Astros over our 50-plus year history, you can go down the list and say there was always a player with us for a decade,” said Ryan, the son of Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, who now serves as an executive advisor to his son. “Dierker, Wynn, Niekro, Cedeno, Cruz, Ryan. Those kinds of guys. Then there was Bagwell, Biggio, Berkman. You can just sort of go down the line with the guys we had.
“Now our fans are looking for that next group of players we can build an emotional bond around and we’re starting to see that next group of players come up. It’s the guys we have taken in the last couple of drafts that our fan base thinks that these are going to be our guys.”
Homegrown outfielder George Springer led the charge to the majors earlier this spring and first baseman Jon Singleton (a 2011 trade-deadline acquisition from the Phillies) followed in his footsteps last week after signing a team-friendly, five-year contract.
“They both got standing ovations from the crowd (during their debuts), Reid said of Springer and Singleton. “I’ve been around the game my whole life and I’ve never seen that before. There is so much buzz that comes with prospects now. I think our fans are ready to have these guys up here now . . .
“We’ve really amassed a lot of talent the last couple of years and it is starting to percolate to the upper-levels and now the major leagues. I think more than anything fans are starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel and that there are brighter days ahead.”