The Round Rock Express came up one rally short in pursuit of their first minor league baseball attendance title.
Nonetheless, the Express gave their fans a good memory to take into the offseason, pounding the division champion Memphis Redbirds 9-3 Thursday night in what could be their last home game as a Texas Rangers affiliate.
Round Rock’s player development contract with the Rangers expires in mere weeks, and there is plenty of speculation that the World Series champion Houston Astros will come calling.
“We’ll deal with that at the appropriate time,” Express CEO Reese Ryan told the American-Statesman. “We’ve enjoyed our relationship with the Rangers, and we’ll explore our options when the window opens in September.”
Round Rock will be a major catch, whether it’s with the Rangers or Astros. The Express led the Pacific Coast League in home attendance with an 8,809 average and sold 616,636 tickets for 2018.
Only the Charlotte Knights, the Chicago White Sox’s Triple-A team in the International League, topped Round Rock among 256 minor league franchises. Charlotte, in one fewer home date, peddled 619,639 tickets for an 8,980 average.
Round Rock came into the week with the overall lead, but Charlotte drew 29,663 for its final three-game home series that ended Thursday night and the Express pulled 25,908 for the Memphis series.
“Our fan base has been tremendous, sticking with us through the ups and downs,” Round Rock Manager Jason Wood said. “We appreciate that kind of support.”
The numbers were more impressive considering the Express (63-73) struggled to a 30-40 record at Dell Diamond and are firmly in last place in their division.
Memphis (81-55), for the second year in a row, is the class of the 16-team league and playoff-bound. The Redbirds won the PCL championship in 2017.
Round Rock, however, fought Memphis to an 8-8 season draw after losing 18 of the previous 20 games to the St. Louis Cardinals’ Triple-A juggernaut.
The Express never looked better than Thursday night, building a 7-0 lead after two innings and cruising home.
Catcher Juan Centeno went 3 for 4 with four RBIs, including a bases-clearing double in the second. Nick Torres had two RBIs, Tommy Joseph collected three hits and two runs scored and Willie Calhoun had a pair of hits and runs scored.
Express starter Chris Tillman, who went 74-60 for the Baltimore Orioles, worked the first four innings, allowing two runs, and Richelson Pena collected the win with four innings and just one run allowed.
Round Rock finishes the season with four games at Iowa.