Sports fans in America’s seventh-largest city dream of one day luring a Major League Baseball team.
Although that is a long shot, one player who knows the area well believes the growing I-35 corridor in South Central Texas could make it work.
“If you combine San Antonio and Austin, maybe put a team in between the two, I think you could support it,” said the Rangers’ Lance Berkman, a New Braunfels Canyon native who was part of Texas’ 5-4 win over San Diego in an exhibition game Friday night.
“The way the whole Austin-San Antonio area has grown is unbelievable. Just my town, New Braunfels, has about tripled in size.”
San Antonio, which has the Double-A Missions, is the biggest city without an MLB team and, if you combine it with Austin, the metro area of over 4 million would rank ahead of 14 major-league markets.
The Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays are candidates to move somewhere.
“People love to connect the dots,” said Reid Ryan, CEO of Ryan-Sanders Baseball and the Round Rock Express, “but the configuration of the Alamodome is not ideal for Major League Baseball. For two exhibition games, it works.”
So San Antonio will settle for its first Big League weekend, a huge hit at the box office. A crowd of 34,641 attended Friday’s game and 35,000 more are expected Saturday.
Nolan Ryan and company are intent on making this Rangers country. Historically, it was Astros territory, but the ‘Stros have hit rock bottom on the field while the Rangers soar.
“We want to be Texas’ team,” the Rangers CEO said. “We feel like there are opportunities for us to expand our brand, and San Antonio is a big one.”
Said J.J. Gottsch, executive vice president of Ryan-Sanders Baseball, “we saw what the Cowboys did 20 or 30 years ago in planting their flag here. They have passionate fans here and, once they get behind something, they’re behind it.”
Ramon Alvarez, public relations director for Fox Sports Southwest, said Rangers’ ratings in San Antonio were three times larger than the Astros last year.
Fox Sports Southwest has an aggressive marketing campaign for the Rangers in Central and South Texas. Meanwhile, the Astros have switched to the new Comcast Houston regional sports network, which has been unable to land any carriage deals along the I-35 corridor.
San Antonio is buying in, judging by the large and enthusiastic crowd willing to fork over big-league prices ($55 for lower-box seats).
“You don’t get crowds this loud for spring training games,” Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler said.
The 20-year-old Alamodome, built to attract the NFL not MLB, is a quirky place for baseball, which had never been played in the building before. There is a 285-foot short porch in right field; it’s 350 down the left-field line and a mammoth 420 in left center. Most of the 52,000 seats are in the outfield - and high up. There are no dugouts.
Express alum Leonys Martin looked good for Texas with two hits and two steals. San Diego clubbed three homers, including one by impressive rookie third baseman Jeff Gyorko.
Huston Street was treated rudely in his return to his home state, taking the loss. The Padres closer, a Longhorn and Westlake ex, gave up three runs on four hits while recording just one out in the sixth inning.
Today: Texas vs. San Diego, final exhibition, San Antonio, 1:05 p.m. (FOXSW). Tickets: $10-20 (upper deck and outfield only)
Sunday: Texas at Houston, Opening Night, 7:05 (ESPN). Tickets: $25-160 (higher priced available)