Triple-A Texas Ranger affiliate is eager to top 2011 season success / By Chad Swiatecki
It was like flipping a light switch. That’s how quickly the fortunes and on-field performance of the Round Rock Express changed last year when the Triple-A baseball club changed its affiliation to the Texas Rangers from its longtime parent team in Houston. Gone were the has-beens and never-would-be prospects of one of the major league’s most moribund franchises, replaced by a farm system stocked with talent eager to perform and earn a spot with the two-time World Series challengers. A record of 87 wins and 57 losses (an exact flip of the W-L record from a year prior) put the Express in the playoffs, and fans had a reasonable chance of seeing major-league talent on any given night as injured or still seasoning young Rangers made a stop at Dell Diamond to play their way in to shape and in to “The Show.” Manager Bobby Jones was named Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year in 2011 and reached 1,500 career wins in mid-August. Countless individual and team franchise records were broken, including Chad Tracy’s 109 RBI.
“The Rangers have an approach of building from within and that gave us an immediate boost,” says Express General Manager George King of the shot in the arm given to the team by switching to the Rangers’ system. The move came thanks to the purchase of the big-league club by legendary pitcher Nolan Ryan, who already owned the Express. “We made the playoffs for the first time in years, and you have great young guys like [pitching prospect]Neil Ramirez coming through who are headed to the Rangers down the road.”
Express fans shouldn’t hold their breath when it comes to getting a visit from prized Japanese free-agent pitcher Yu Darvish, who signed a $60 million contract on top of a $51 million negotiating fee paid to his homeland team by the Rangers. But there will be plenty of off-the-field attractions to keep fans interested during warm summer nights as well. The club will continue promotions such as fireworks for Friday home games (switched to infield displays because of drought conditions) to keep youngsters entertained, and an April 2 exhibition game with the Rangers should see the ballpark filled right to its capacity of nearly 12,000.
“There are so many things going on off the field, as well as the game itself, from the fun zone, to the climbing area. As long as you keep an eye out for line drives, there’s always something new to try,” says Larry Little, director of communications for the Express.
With tickets ranging from $6 to $14, a night out with the Express won’t pinch the pocketbook.
“From our beginnings in the Double-A days, we’ve been about being a viable, affordable entertainment option,” Little says. “Now we’ve gone to a farm system that’s one of the best out there, and last year we had one-third of a starting lineup for the team that’s been to two World Series. That’s a huge boost for us.”
big names in round rock
The rosters of minor-league baseball teams are the very definition of fluid, so it’s tough to predict which players will spend a lot of time in an Express uniform in 2012. But these fresh and returning prospects are almost certain to shine when they take the field at Dell Diamond. Get to know them while you can.
Jurickson Profar (shortstop): Touted as the best shortstop prospect in years, Profar (who’s only 19) spent last season at the Single-A level and should make his way to Round Rock fairly quickly. Expect unusual power, and a keen eye and glove.
Neil Ramirez (right-handed pitcher): He impressed and surprised just about everyone during last year’s promotion to Round Rock. It wouldn’t be a stretch to see Ramirez make the trip to Arlington at some point this season.
Martin Perez (left-handed pitcher): It’s not a make-or-break season for the promising Venezuelan, but lots of bumpy starts came with his promotion to the Express last year. He’s got a nasty arsenal of pitches that could make him a No. 1 starter someday.
Conor Jackson (first base/outfield): The Austin native is a new signing to the Rangers organization after spending the majority of last season with Oakland and Boston, where he hit .244 and played four positions.
Leonys Martin (outfielder): A fan favorite in the making, Martin defected from his native Cuba in 2010, did a bid with the Express last year and was a late-seasoncall up to the Rangers. A visit by the slugger should be brief.
Yu Darvish (right-handed pitcher): OK, this is a tease since any Round Rock appearance by the high-priced free agent would probably mean he was on an injury rehab stint. Perish the thought!
The Round Rock Express will host the back-to-back American League Champion Texas Rangers in an exhibition game April 2 at Dell Diamond. The first pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m., and tickets go on sale to the general public March 3. The Express begin their 13th season and eighth season as a PCL member on April 5 at Iowa. Round Rock’s home schedule begins April 13, when the Express hosts the Iowa Cubs and Omaha Storm Chasers in a consecutive four-game series. Season ticket packages are currently available through the Dell Diamond box office or online. Individual tickets for Express games go on sale March 3. For more information, visit the Round Rock Express website.
Seven Days of Dell Diamond Fun
Sundays: Kids giveaways with pre-game events outside the stadium and post-game, run the bases (12 and younger).
Mondays: $1 hot dogs and sodas all night.
Tuesdays: Half-price tickets for groups of 20 or more (advance purchase only).
Wednesdays: Kids 12 and younger receive a free hot dog, chips and a soda.
Thursdays: Thirsty Thursday beer specials and $1 sodas.
Fridays: Fireworks shows following the game.
Saturdays: Promotional giveaways and post-game concerts on select Saturdays throughout the season.