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How sweet it is: Sugar Land baseball evolves

From indy to Astros, Skeeters to Space Cowboys, a busy two years
Constellation Field is the home of Houston's Triple-A affiliate, the Sugar Land Space Cowboys.
May 27, 2022

SUGAR LAND, TEXAS -- Located approximately 20 miles to the southwest of Houston, Sugar Land was originally established as Imperial Sugar’s company town. First incorporated as a city in 1959, it has evolved over the decades into a master-planned community of over 110,000 people. Sugar Land’s recent growth -- in

SUGAR LAND, TEXAS -- Located approximately 20 miles to the southwest of Houston, Sugar Land was originally established as Imperial Sugar’s company town. First incorporated as a city in 1959, it has evolved over the decades into a master-planned community of over 110,000 people.

Sugar Land’s recent growth -- in 1980 its population was still under 10,000 -- is exemplified by the 2012 arrival of the city's first professional baseball stadium. For the first nine years of its existence, Constellation Field hosted the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League. 2021 marked the start of a new era, as the Skeeters were bought by the Houston Astros and named the organization’s Triple-A affiliate. Sugar Land, now operating in the Pacific Coast League, took another significant step away from its indy roots prior to this season. The mosquito-inspired Skeeters' identity was swatted away, in favor of the frontier/cosmos mash-up that are the Space Cowboys.

A mural on the Constellation Field concourse, welcoming fans to a bold new era of Sugar Land baseball.

When it comes to the changes that have taken place at Constellation Field over the last two years, the above summarization barely scratches the surface. Space Cowboys general manager Tyler Stamm, who has worked for the franchise since its 2012 inception, summed it up in one word: “Bonkers.”

“We’ve put, I think, more into this organization the last two years, activity and effort, than we did in the first nine,” said Stamm, who started out as an intern and was named general manager in 2018. “And we did a lot in those first nine years, but the transition to [the Astros] ownership, changing the name, putting now 13 million dollars into the ballpark in renovations. It’s a whole different, better product. All of that to say, it’s been crazy. Absolutely a wild ride.”

A big part of that ride was the excitement and uncertainty that accompanied the Astros’ purchase of the club.

“Houston came in, from the beginning, and said, ‘Hey, this is your group, you guys have been here,’” said Stamm. “And it’s still the same [front office] group that was here, in the Atlantic League. We’ve had to evolve a lot, do things differently. Our processes are a lot cleaner…. We’re owned by the Astros, right? So we just do things better now. There were definitely a lot of anxieties, but they’ve done a great job of taking care of us and holding our hand along the way to clean it up.”

Constellation Field's Galaxy Gifts is named after the Astrodome's first team store.

The Houston organization, which also owns Single-A Fayetteville and Double-A Corpus Christi, has taken a hands-on approach with their Minor League clubs in recent years. Creighton Kahoalii, Astros’ senior vice president, affiliate business operations, serves as the primary conduit between the parent club and Sugar Land.

“For our partnership with the city of Sugar Land, there was a significant capital investment in making sure we had good player facilities. From clubhouses to cages to workout spaces,” said Kahoalii. “And the playing surface itself was certainly priority one and probably the biggest change between an independent club and a big league club.

"Then on the business side we really wanted to establish a brand identity that was different from its independent heritage,” he continued. “So this year there was a lot of investment into some of our fan-facing amenities. Updates to our clubs and suites. A new partnership with our concessionaires to make sure that our food offerings were improved. Upgraded our kids areas, and installed some new interactive areas. We wanted that to be a more elevated experience than what may have been experienced in independent ball.”

Tracy McGrady, pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters in 2014.

Elevated experience or not, there are irreplicable aspects of the independent Skeeters era that will be missed, including the ability to sign players who fall outside the parameters of affiliated ball. Roger Clemens played for the club in 2012, at the age of 50, pitching eight scoreless innings over two starts (in his second start his catcher was his son, Koby). Two years later, recently retired NBA star Tracy McGrady made the Opening Day roster and went on to compile a 6.75 ERA over four starts. Other notable players through the years, amid a churning roster of up-and-comers, down-and-outers and total outliers, included Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Lane and Scott Kazmir.

And then there’s what Jay Ferry, a fan of the Sugar Land Skeeters since day one, calls the “folklore” of independent baseball.

"The first season, we had two catchers,” Ferry recalled. “One was thrown out and the other had hurt his wrist and he couldn’t stick in the game. The team had to go find Jeff Scott, who was the bullpen catcher, at a Wendy’s, and bring him to the game to catch the end of it. He had a few passed balls but he did OK. So you got to see those sort of things go on at the ballpark.”

Ferry is a fountain of Skeeters anecdotes, folkloric and otherwise. While he misses the scrappier nature of independent ball, and the relationships fostered with coaches and players who arrived as relative unknowns, he didn’t hesitate to renew his season tickets for the Space Cowboys era. Benefits include the higher quality of play and the chance to watch top prospects and appearances by rehabbing Houston Astros.

A pair of Sugar Land baseball lifers: PA announcer Shane Brown and season ticket holder Jay Ferry.

Shane Brown, Sugar Land's longtime PA announcer, feels similarly.

“It’s a great thing, I think, to have your Triple-A team in your backyard because everybody’s already familiar with the organization," said Brown. "And there’s something to be said about being able to come down here and see Lance McCullers Jr. on a rehab assignment. And you’re 15 feet away from him, with a ticket you’re able to afford."

But now that he's a gameday employee in the Houston Astros organization, Brown has had to tweak his approach on the mic.

“I do miss making fun of the opposing team, though,” he added, with a laugh. “I could really talk some trash.”

From Skeeters to Space Cowboys, Clemens to McCullers, the Atlantic League to the Pacific Coast, Sugar Land’s first decade in professional baseball has been an eventful one.

“I don’t feel like those things happen to most teams, but there’s something about Sugar Land, man,” said Stamm. “We’ve just had a lot of big stuff happen here, you know?”

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.