Houston's baseball beginnings

The birth of professional baseball in Houston started with a bang

The 2012 Astros sport throwback Colt 45's uniforms. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Fifty-five years ago, the Houston Astros entered Major League Baseball — just not as the Astros. Back then, they were the Colt 45s. Named after the gun. Before establishing a pro team, Houston had a minor league team from 1888 until 1961 that went by the name of the Houston Buffaloes. In 1962, Major League Baseball allowed the Houston team to enter the National League along with the New York Mets as expansion franchises.

The first job was coming up with a name. The owners of the new franchise crowdsourced the idea to people around Houston. They held a “Name the Team” contest that was eventually won by William Irving Neder. The Houstonian argued that the Colt .45 was emblematic of the Texas frontier’s reputation and fit well with Houston’s image. The owners agreed, and the Colt .45s were born.

On opening day of 1962, the Colt .45s won their first game 11-2 against the Cubs behind a six RBI day from Roman Melias, playing in front of 25,271 people at Colt Stadium. From there, the team went through mostly early expansion woes. The Colt .45s went 196-288 over their first three seasons. Then, three years later, the Colt .45s were gone. It wasn’t because the name was mediocre. There was just a clearly better option.

America’s Manned Spacecraft Center, which was a training facility for astronauts, was 25 miles from Houston. In a little over two years, Houston becoming the epicenter of American space exploration completely altered the country-wide perception of the city. It became known as the home of astronauts, so the new team name ideally would reflect that.

One of the primary reasons Houston was granted a franchise in the first place was the promise of a new stadium. The idea was that Houston would have a beautiful place with modern amenities that would be high-tech to mirror the burgeoning space program in the city. The stadium would be climate controlled so that summertime Houston heat would not discourage fans from coming to day games.

In January 1962, a ceremony was held at the site of the dome where Colt .45s (the guns, not the team) were shot into the flat, bare land. Three years later, the city delivered when it unveiled a brand-new domed stadium. The name of the structure: the Astrodome. With a home called the Astrodome, it was only a matter of time until the name changed. The new name announcement came on December 1, 1964.

The president of the club, Judge Ray Hofheinz, told the UPI that the change was to keep up with the times and that “the name was taken from the stars and indicated we are on the ascendancy.” He also said that Houston “is the space age capital of the world and with our new domed stadium, we think it will also make Houston the sports capital of the world.”

Over a half-century later, the Astros are still the Astros, even if the Astrodome isn’t where they play. But, no matter how many times they change venues or names, the Astros will always be the original Colt .45s.

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