Orbit And The History Of The Houston Astros Mascots
The fuzzy green alien leads a decades-long parade of memorable Houston baseball mascots, including a couple of furry critters and a 19th-century soldier!
Orbit is the Houston Astros’ chubby, fuzzy, award-winning alien mascot. And, curiously, he’s on his second “mission” in his current position.
From 1990 through 1999, when the team’s home was the Astrodome, Orbit energized his team and the Dome faithful. For some reason, he gave way to a seven-foot-tall railroad conductor jackrabbit named Junction Jack.
As the Astros were moving downtown, adjacent to the 103-year-old Union Station train depot, perhaps a desert-dwelling, long-eared leporid seemed appropriate.
Junction Jack ultimately retired (with his unofficial, non-mascot “relatives,” Junction Julie and Junction Jesse), it’s widely-believed, to a hill country carrot ranch somewhere in the Texas hill country, which opened the door for Orbit’s return.
Think Beyonce’s Got Moves? All the Single Orbits:
Social Media Outcry
Concurrent with Junction Jack’s exit was a sudden Facebook uprising in 2010 with the loud “Bring Back Orbit” fan-driven clarion call. The goal, of course, was to encourage Houston’s baseball suits to consider bringing back the popular green leader of cheers with the orange antennas.
Re-inserted into his Astros’ mascot role in November, 2012, Orbit (aka Homerunus Spectacularus from the Grand Slam Galaxy) was brought back to help kick off the Astros’ new retro colors and uniform. This coincided with the team’s switch from the National League to the American League for the 2013 season, and effectively sent the long-eared baseball bunny, Jack, back into his Junction hole.
The Man Under the Fuzz
In the early fall of 2012, the Astros conducted a two-month-long contest to fill the newly-reconstituted Orbit costume. The winner was one Richard Tapia, a 2003 University of Texas graduate. Tapia had extensive mascot experience that he was sure helped push him over the top.
He was his high school’s mascot, and he manifested his sports excitement in the guise of UT’s Hook ‘Em, the school’s boot-scootin’, hat-doffin’ Longhorn steer. Tapia even went pro portraying the Round Rock Express’ bulldog, Spike, just prior to his being tapped as Orbit.
“I’ve been doing this for 13 years now,” Tapia proudly told the Texas Exes publication, Alcalde, in November 2012. “I brought the judges a detailed business plan, and told them what I brought to the table in terms of the creative and the business side of the job.” Tapia now holds the title of the Astros’ Senior Manager of Entertainment Marketing.
The Grand Slam Galaxy’s Gift to Space City
Discounting any origin story that might result in some sort of “Big Bang Theory,” the Astros’ Publicity Department provides the following official Orbit bio: “After the 1999 season, Houston Astros mascot, Orbit, hitched a ride on the space shuttle Discovery to visit his home back in the Grand Slam Galaxy. After founding an intergalactic school for kids and serving diligently in his community, Orbit yearned for Houston and the best fans in baseball.
“Time in space sure makes the years fly. After Orbit heard the outcry from fans asking him to come back to their beloved Houston Astros, he knew it was time to return. Orbit is back and ready to lead the Houston Astros and their fans into a new era of baseball.” Orbit won the 2015 Best Mascot by Gameops.com, the first MLB mascot to win the award.
If one lime-green alien wasn’t enough, the Astros introduced his “evil twin,” Norbit, in early May 2016. As one might guess, as fun and family-friendly as Orbit is and has been….well, Norbit, from the get-go, was up to no good, right down to his Snidely Whiplash handlebar mustache, backwards cap, and black slash line through his “00”jersey number:
Not to be outdone, #1/2, Lil’ Bit, made his debut in 2016!
Orbit, since his 2012 return, has since become quite the decorated alien, as he was named a 2014 All-Star, and that year traveled with the MLB All-Stars to Japan. He was also the first MLB mascot to win the Best Mascot Award by Gameops.com.
1960s and Beyond
Orbit, as long-time Colt .45s and Astros fans will fondly remember, wasn’t the first Astros mascot, or even the first on-field representative of Houston’s baseball team.
The first Astros mascot wasn’t furry, and didn’t even sport an oversized head (at least according to his agent), but was fairly short-lived. He was an actual human, comedian Bill Dana, who was initially introduced to fans in January 1965 by Astrodome creator and team president Roy Hofheinz.
Dana appeared as his comedic alter-ego, Jose Jimenez, “the honorary eighth astronaut,” in full Astros uniform, and performed comedy skits before games.
Also in the Astros’ early days of the 1960s and into the ’90s, the Astrodome had a house band: The Astronuts were a four-piece Dixieland band who delighted fans in the stands between innings with banjo, trombone, trumpet, and tuba.
Also (and clearly not mascots), for many years, orange-suited, helmeted “Earthmen” groundskeepers dragged the infield periodically during games. Serving as ushers were fetching females roaming the concourse and field boxes, known as “Spacettes.” They dressed in suitably “space-age” style suits, replete with Jackie Kennedy-esque pill box hats.
“Chet” in Charge, 1970s
Following closely on the heels of Ted Giannoulas’ iconic 1974 San Diego Chicken (Padres), the Astros debuted their very first “traditional” mascot, Chester Charge in April 1977. Charge had a short life span, and was retired in 1979.
Chester Charge was a 45-pound costumed cartoon Texas Cavalry soldier (portrayed by Reed Robinson), occasionally on horseback, with limited game-time activities, including a pre-game appearance, 7th-inning stretch shenanigans, and post-win base-rounding. He’d usually appear at the sound of a bugle call (and the crowd bellowing “Charge!”) as the Dome’s spectacular scoreboard lit up after an Astros homer and win.
The first Chester Charge was played by Steve Ross, who was then an 18-year-old high school student. The creation of Chester Charge and the captivating scoreboard graphics were devised by Houston cartoonist Ed Henderson.
The ‘80s: Bunnies ‘n’ Dillos ‘n’ Rainbows!
Astrojack, a humanoid rabbit, and Astrodillo, an anthropomorphic armadillo, were mascots for the Astros in the 1980s. They wore the Astros’ iconic “rainbow” uniforms of the time, and were also the team’s first mascots to entertain in the stands.
Before games and during breaks between innings, ‘Jack and ‘Dillo would also race around the field on three-wheelers and perform skits with The Astronuts. The creator of Astrojack and Astrodillo, Logan Goodson, would go on to create Junction Jack.
1990s, Mascot Mayhem Ensues
General Admission (shamelessly punning on the $4 bleacher seats of the Astrodome) was a mascot in the mid-to-late 1990s whose ultimate fate was unpredictable. He was played by a middle-aged male and wore a traditional U.S. Cavalry uniform complete with gold stars he would apply to his uni for every Astros dinger hit in the Dome.
Also, whenever an Astro hit a homer, The General would fire a cannon from his outfield perch that would sometimes startle fans seated nearby. Nevertheless, the General’s Dome time was limited.
Fun, if not disturbing, fact: General Admission’s “public execution” made him the only Major League mascot ever to be "killed" in front of fans: At the end of 1999’s final game at the Astrodome, Orbit pointed his ray gun (reportedly named “Ronald”—Ronald Ray Gun) at General Admission, and zapped him, unceremoniously, right between the eyes. Hey, it happens.
“Track”-ing Spring “Train”-ing
A gentleman named Michael Kenny was the man in the General’s costume that fateful night. Altruistic to a fault, and always ones to take care of their own, Astros brass (in 2000) saw fit to award Kenny the job of conducting the Enron Field (as it was originally and briefly known) train looming on its track above the outfield.
The train (25% larger than a real-life locomotive), with its car filled with oranges following closely behind, inches its way down the track behind the Crawford Boxes during home run celebrations. Kenny is currently Senior Director of Guest Services for the ‘Stros.
Kenny’s job on the track lasted just one year, however. In 2001, Bobby Vazquez, then an intern with the team’s promotions department, decided to slip on the engineer’s overalls. “I just happened to be in the right place," Vasquez (aka “Bobby Dynamite”) told the Houston Chronicle in 2015.
Immensely popular with fans, Vazquez blows the horn and rings the bell on the train, particularly when an Astro hits a dinger. "Are you kidding me? I've got the greatest job in the world," Vasquez added, almost giddily. "I get to come to the best stadium in baseball and drive the train for the team I've loved all my life. Who could want anything more?"
Vasquez is in his mid-’40s; he figures he might have another decade in him on the track. "I'll do this until they tell me I can't do it anymore. Why would I want to stop?"
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