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For the Express, there’s nothing quite like opening a season at home

An 8-foot, 800-pound statue of Nolan Ryan will greet fans outside the home plate entrance to Dell Diamond. A lush green playing field and a new sound system have been installed inside the ballpark, along with two additional dining areas.

The Round Rock Express assembled for a workout Tuesday on media day, and next up is opening night on Thursday against the Nashville Sounds.

“We did about our 17th walk-through this morning. We’re ready,” Express president Chris Almendarez said. “Our advance sales are good for the opening series. I expect we’ll have our best crowd Friday night with the fireworks and the start of the weekend.”

The Express expect about 9,000 fans Thursday night and close to 10,000 on Friday and Saturday nights before dropping off for the Sunday matinee. The weather forecast is immaculate for the weekend.

Round Rock opened on the road two of the last three years despite being a warm-weather club, but Pacific Coast League officials have stressed the scheduling complexity of a 16-team, geographically far-flung league that covers three time zones.

The Express led the PCL in home attendance last year, averaging 8,637 tickets sold, and are excited to throw the first pitch at home.

“I think there’s more buzz when you start close to Major League Baseball’s Opening Day,” Almendarez said. “When you’re removed from that by a week, you lose some pizzazz.”

Outfielder Travis Snider, a first-time member of the Express who played in Omaha last year, said, “It makes more sense to open in the warm-weather cities like Round Rock. This is much better than freezing.”

The Express will serve up the heat, the new field, the Austin-based Big House Sound system and these additions:

  • Nolan Ryan’s Beef Fireball Grill in the outfield, with a mini-beer garden.
  • The Hall of Fame Grille in the Intel Club, featuring memorabilia from Ryan’s playing career, signed balls from Joe DiMaggio, Sandy Koufax and other greats.
  • LED lights throughout the stadium and parking lots.
  • Wallpads around the field as a safety measure.
  • Two new retail locations, one down the third-base line and another near the right-field entrance.

Short hops: Manager Jason Wood said Tyler Wagner, 26, who made his big league debut for the Diamondbacks in 2016, will be the Express’ starting pitcher Thursday night. … Keone Kela, 23, who spent the last two years with the Rangers, is the team’s closer, with R.J. Alvarez as his primary setup man. … Texas State alum Jason Martinson, who spent seven years in the Nationals organization, will be the super-utility player and is likely to play nearly every day in the infield.

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