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Big League Weekend faces Final Four hurdle next year


The Alamodome will host UIL and NCAA Final Four basketball games in March.

The Rangers and Indians split this year’s games and drew almost 50,000 fans.

For the past five years, Big League Weekend has hauled megasized crowds into the Alamodome for a pair of spring training games.

To pull it off again next year, Ryan Sanders Baseball, owner of the Round Rock Express and creator of the concept, will have to jump through hoops. Literally.

The NCAA Men’s Final Four is coming to the Alamodome in 2018 at the end of March. The UIL basketball tournaments occupy the first half of the month.

“There’s a really good chance we might not be able to make this work next year, at least in the format we’ve been doing it,” said J.J. Gottsch, chief operating officer of Ryan Sanders. “But we don’t want to take one year off, either. When you draw 50,000 for two exhibition games, you’ve hit on something.”

Texas smacked four home runs to beat Cleveland 8-4 Saturday before 28,674 fans, the afternoon after a 3-2 Indians win that drew 21,252.

The 10 Big League Weekend games have averaged 28,219, which dwarfs the major league spring training norm of 7,673 in 2016. But the contract between Ryan Sanders and the city of San Antonio has run out, and next year’s Alamodome calendar doesn’t allow for a weekend that works.

“They need 15 or 16 days to set up for the Final Four (March 31),” Gottsch said. “You’ve got the UIL state boys and girls before that. We build a baseball field in here every year, then have to tear it down and store it. That takes time.

“We’re looking at a nontraditional path. We could squeeze it in during weekdays in mid-March, like Wednesday-Thursday, but would fans still come out? Or we could try to do something involving (the Double-A San Antonio Missions’) Wolff Stadium or Dell Diamond — or a combination of both.”

Gottsch brought up another potential problem.

“Teams are talking about doing international exhibition games to grow the brand, so that could further limit our options,” he said.

What Ryan Sanders doesn’t want to do is throw in the towel.

“Absolutely, this is an event that continues to be worth doing,” Gottsch said. “Drawing more than 20,000 for exhibition games, are you kidding me? We don’t want to just disappear for a year. Fans know what we’ve got here, and they appreciate it. The vibe, the energy in the stadium is good.”

Players enjoy themselves in this converted football stadium and hope a solution can be found for 2018.

“We call it indoor arena baseball, but it’s a lot of fun,” said Texas outfielder Jared Hoying, a mainstay with the Express the past three years. “The dimensions are odd, the angles are weird, but the fans show up in huge numbers, and it’s such a nice diversion from spring training.”

Cleveland outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall, who homered Friday, said: “It’s an unusual setup, for sure, but the atmosphere is big league. The fans really seem to be into it.”

Texas enjoyed the short right field porch a bunch Saturday, homering four times. Outfielders Cesar Puello and Scott Heineman and catchers Alex Burg and Charles Moorman each went deep, three to right. Puello’s three-run shot in the second set the tone.

Friday recap: Cleveland hit three solo homers in the first two innings and made those stand up with excellent pitching from All-Star starter Danny Salazar and his bullpen. Second baseman Josh Morgan, 21, the Rangers’ No. 6 prospect according to Baseball America, had two hits and a couple of web gems for Texas.

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