HOUSTON -- Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan said Tuesday the club plans to relocate the large signs above left field at Minute Maid Park that were put in place as part of its Community Leaders program to a spot that won't block views of the train, skyline or fireworks.
Ryan said the signs would be relocated across the left-field and left-center-field facade, just below the railroad tracks. The signs will be moved by Opening Day.
"We've listened to the fans," he said. "This is a great program, and it's unlike any program that's ever been launched in professional sports that we know of, and what we wanted to do is respect everybody. These corporate partners we have are doing some unbelievable things in the city.
"Fans appreciate the program, but what they want is to be able to see the train, see the fireworks, be able to see the skyline at night. Where the signs are located, it sort of took away from what are some of the best attributes of the stadium and the things that people have come to love over the years."
Astros owner Jim Crane personally developed plan, which offered corporations the opportunity to partner with the Astros and the Astros In Action Foundation to become part of a team to improve baseball and softball fields in inner-city neighborhoods.
Through its corporate partnerships, the Community Leaders program will ultimately contribute $18 million to the city of Houston over a five-year period for youth baseball and softball programs at zero cost to the city's taxpayers. The program will provides money for equipment, uniforms and more. The businesses that took part were recognized with their logo on large signs that went up at the ballpark in 2012.
Last year, 14 youth baseball and softball fields were renovated by the program and repairs are currently underway at four additional fields, which are expected to reopen early this year. The Astros Foundation provides free programming at the parks, including clinics for both children and their coaches. Several current and former Astros players took part in clinics and field-opening ceremonies in 2013, along with Crane and Ryan.
Ryan said the businesses who are part of the program agreed to the move, along with the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority.
"It will be much higher visibility for them on a nightly basis," Ryan said. "It sort of helps us wins with the fans that appreciate attributes of the stadiums they had in the past. It helps win with the program."
The Astros will also construct a Community Leaders Education Zone at Minute Maid Park. The new area will provide information and photos of the program and track its progress moving forward. Included will be a list of the parks that have been refurbished, along with their matching corporate sponsors, as well as the fields being targeted for future renovations.
"What we've done is come up with a win-win for everybody that lets us take this program to the next level," Ryan said. "It's kind of like Community Leaders 2.0 in the fact that it's off to a great start and these tweaks we're making to the program are going to make it that much better, and moving the signs are part of the overall, 'How do we make this better for everybody?'"
The corporate sponsors that are partnering with the Astros for the Community Leaders program BlueCross BlueShield of Texas, Calpine, Champion Energy, Halliburton, Lexus, Nabors, National Oilwell Varco, Occidental Petroleum and Schlumberger. In addition to providing dollars, the corporate sponsors also provide employees to work as volunteers at their respective parks.
Meanwhile, the Astros' championship banners and the "DK" sign honoring the memory of former Astros pitcher Darryl Kile will also be moved. The banners will be placed on the left-field light towers, and the "DK" sign will be placed in a prominent location to be determined in the near future.