Josh Hill remembers staring at his phone, shocked that Astros pitcher Lance McCullers had just sent him a direct message. It was June 23, 2020, and Hill was little more than an Astros superfan at the time. The previous fall, Hill and a friend who goes by the pseudonym Apollo Dez, had started Apollo Media, a company that produces blogs, podcasts, and merchandise about Houston sports through a lens of hometown pride. 

McCullers had seen Apollo’s “H-Town vs. Everyone” T-shirt in Astros colors, and he wanted to know if he could have some shipped to him. The nascent company wasn’t ready to fulfill express orders, but Hill offered to drop off the shirts personally. When McCullers messaged back with his address, Hill and Dez dropped everything and raced across town. The three men spent almost an hour standing in McCullers’s front yard, talking baseball and the COVID-postponed season to come. The Astros had closed 2019 embroiled in a sign-stealing scandal, and the pandemic still threatened to cancel the entire 2020 MLB season. 

Hill drove away from McCullers’s house with no expectations. “You never know if they’re just being polite or just want to tap in with the community,” he says. Soon after, he remembers seeing McCullers on TV, wearing the shirt during a press conference. After a moment of “freaking out,” he called Dez and the two spent a few joyous minutes basking in their success. Hill says it was the boost their young company needed. Pretty soon, several Astros players started wearing Apollo’s “H-Town vs. Everyone” shirt during batting practice and at press conferences.

Lance McCullers celebrates while wearing an Apollo Media shirt.Courtesy of Houston Astros

Dez, who goes by his moniker because he wants the focus “to always be on Apollo,” says Apollo Media was already in the works when the Athletic broke the news of the Astros cheating scandal on November 12, 2019. The controversy, which national media and baseball fans outside of Houston considered the Astros’ nadir, wound up shaping the identity of the young digital media brand. While waiting for the 2020 season to begin, Apollo Media began hosting Twitch streams to preview the season. Angry fans would often log in to lambaste the Astros, and the Apollo Media crew responded by unapologetically leaning into some of the criticism. They learned to take the banter in stride and with a sense of humor, but they refused to condemn the current roster for transgressions committed during the 2017 season.

Despite the company-line bravado, Hill says he knows the team cheated and admits it was wrong. But after acknowledging that, and after the team had apologized and been punished by the league, what else could he do? While national sports media and fans across the country continued to hold the Astros’ sins against the franchise through the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Apollo veered in the opposite direction. The Houston upstarts didn’t condone the team’s prior cheating, but they also refused to blame the 2021 version of the team—which is tied 1–1 in this year’s World Series after last night’s 7–2 win over Atlanta, and which includes only five players from the 2017 championship roster that was caught stealing signs—for wrongdoing its members either hadn’t committed or were several years removed from. 

“We have to be the voice that has these players’ backs and has the city’s back,” Hill says. He’s been an Astros fan since he was four years old and has no intention of letting the stigma of the 2017 team change that. For Apollo Media, that attitude translated into a brash, defiant voice that defined the feelings of Houston fans who hadn’t abandoned the Astros. Dez says the idea of “H-Town vs. Everyone” was born out of the criticism that continued years after the franchise’s 2017 transgressions. With national media narratives painting the Astros as outcasts of the baseball world, Apollo’s embrace of the team gave fans something to rally around. Houston fans felt seen and represented by the company’s unabashed pride in their city and the Astros. 

Cristina Sosa, a fan who has followed the Astros since 2005, says she believes the team was “made a scapegoat by MLB” and that Apollo Media has “helped unite other Astros fans who have felt the same.”

And the company has been rewarded for telling Astros fans what they want to hear. In less than two years, Apollo Media went from a loose alliance of fewer than a dozen content creators to a network of more than fifty contributors. Its Twitter following swelled from a few hundred to 15,000 in that same time.

Meanwhile, the hometown love kept growing and Apollo Media kept creating new T-shirt designs to represent specific players, like one reading “The Framchise” in reference to pitcher Framber Valdez, and another portraying the unique windup motion of Luis Garcia. Both players have worn their signature shirts before and after games on nationally televised broadcasts. Hill says they never know when or if the players will wear Apollo’s shirts. “We’re just as surprised as everybody else,” he says, adding that usually another fan will screenshot the broadcast and tag them before they get to it. The players’ embrace of the brand signifies a bond between the team and its supporters.

During this year’s American League Championship Series, when the Astros played the Red Sox, Dez tweeted for Astros fans to coordinate and attend a game at Boston’s Fenway Park. A sizable contingent of Houston supporters turned out for game five, which the Astros won 9–1. After the game, the Astros’ Twitter account posted a photo of Dez in attendance with the caption “Houston vs. all y’all,” an apparent nod to Apollo’s slogan.

A secondary effect of Apollo’s rise has been the camaraderie built between Houston fans and baseball diehards from other cities. This week, Dez will meet with guest Ashland Scott, a Braves fan who runs the “Mansplain Baseball Elsewhere” podcast, for a discussion about the first two games of the World Series. Even amid a tense World Series matchup, opposing fans are finding a way to sit at the table together.

“There’s people I really respect from different fan bases that are content creators or just have really good baseball minds that I enjoy bantering with,” Hill says. They all interact via social media, along with fans of other teams, and while banter is common, the various sides keep things upbeat. “I have tons of friends that I did not have a year and a half ago, because of baseball,” Scott says. She even made the trek to Houston to attend an Astros game near the end of the season. “At the end of the day, we all love this sport,” she says.

As the World Series stretches through the weekend and perhaps into next week, narratives about deservedness and revenge will continue to play out. But in the spirit of America’s pastime, Apollo Media helped inspire an outpouring of love and unity for the home team. That spark of energy is great for Houston—and perhaps in a larger sense, for baseball itself.