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For Guy Yount, the highlight of the year comes on opening day of the baseball season. This year the Houston publisher is stretching out the celebration: Yount has tickets to not one but three opening days, in Houston, Chicago and San Francisco. "I love my Astros," he says, the image of earnestness in his olive-green suit and ponytail. "I love baseball."
Ever since Enron bought the naming rights to the new downtown ballpark for $100 million, fans have been speculating about what catchy Enron Field nickname might grab the popular imagination, $agrave; la the BOB (Bank One Ballpark) in Phoenix or the Jake (Jacobs Field) in Cleveland. A couple of Houston Chronicle sportswriters have been lobbying for the Gashouse; the Ron, the BUS (Ballpark at Union Station) and the Patio have also been floated.
But Yount hated all of these, so he decided to promote his own: the EF (pronounced like the letter f). He launched a campaign to implant the moniker in the city's consciousness. Yount printed EF Tshirts and caps that said, "the EF, Houston's downtown ballpark." He sent promotional packages to national media outlets that included baseballs inscribed in Magic Marker with "Have a ball on opening day." He dispatched his baseball-headed mascot, EFFY, to woo kids at Funday in the Park. He created a Web site, www.the-ef com.
And he did it all without permission from the Houston Astros, Enron or anyone else. When the Astros became aware of Yount's scheme, the club's lawyer sent him a cease-and-desist letter. He ceased and desisted. Sort of.
The EF T-shirts and caps have been replaced by EF T-shirts with "EastDowntown Fan" instead of "Houston's downtown ballpark," and with the word "Club" inserted under "The EF." The top of the Web home page now reads, "Welcome to the EastDo Fan Club." (EastDo, short for "east downtown," follows in the abbreviating tradition of the famed SoHo district of New York, and Denver's NoDo.) Underneath the Web greeting is an artist's rendering of Enron Field, which Yount purchased from the Vern Christensen architectural firm. Beneath the illustration is the EastDo Fan Club motto: "EF you build it -- they will join."
And Yount is printing 30,000 EF Club membership cards, which he plans to distribute free to all comers. In fact, he's got a permit to stand across the street from Enron Field on opening day and hand them out to ticket holders.
Yount insists he only wants to promote downtown's neglected East End, which he defines as everything east of Travis. The EF club card allows bearers discounts or perks at various businesses, such as a free glass of lemonade at Irma's restaurant. "I think you're gonna see the east side of downtown turn into the next Heights," he says. "That's what we're promoting: the area."
The EF stands for EastDowntown Fan, a more manageable form of his original concept, "EastDowntown FieldofDreams," Young says. "It was never meant to stand for Enron Field."
That's not the way Bob Borachoff recalls it. Borachoff, whose company runs Funday, says Yount pitched a plan to him on February 8 to give Enron Field a nickname for the people. "He told me that he had invented a logo, and that for the good of the city, the stadium should be called the EF," Borachoff says. Amused by the sheer bravado of the idea, he granted Yount permission for EFFY to crash Funday.
Yount says he decided to pitch the EF as a ballpark nickname only after his East End efforts were well under way. "People came to us" and suggested it, he says. But as soon as the Astros complained, he says, he stopped.
Whether the current incarnation of his concept will pass the rather sensitive trademark infringement detectors of the Astros' lawyers is an issue that has yet to be addressed. Team spokesman Rob Matwick knew only of the cease-and-desist letter and is unaware of any monitoring for compliance. But he's sure of the team's position on a ballpark nickname. "There is no nickname," Matwick says. "It's Enron Field. That's it."
Yount, whose family publishes the glossy city guide Key Magazine, believes his East End campaign stands on solid ground. The prospect of incurring the wrath of mighty Enron or Major League Baseball might deter the average promoter, but not him. "We can do it, and we're gonna do it, and there's nothing anybody can do about it," he says.
Borachoff has no doubt that Yount will stick to his guns. "He's the most aggressive salesman I've ever seen," Borachoff says. "He'll fight this till he's dead."
E-mail Bob Burtman at email@example.com.