Two years ago, San Antonio seized the UIL state basketball tournaments from Austin. The Alamo City will not grab the area’s Triple-A baseball team, as well, Round Rock Express officials said Thursday.
Express and Pacific Coast League officials strongly refuted an Express-News report that the 16-year-old minor-league franchise might move to San Antonio, with the PCL president, Branch Rickey III, calling it “ludicrous.”
“We’ve got a long-term lease with the city of Round Rock and a Player Development Contract with the Rangers through 2018,” said Express CEO Reese Ryan. “We’re completely happy here. It’s one of the best markets in the country.
“No way the Express are leaving Round Rock.”
Rickey was just as emphatic.
“The Express is one of the most successful franchises among 160-plus minor-league clubs in the United States,” he told the American-Statesman. “The idea that they are vacating Round Rock is ludicrous.”
Round Rock has finished first or second in the PCL in attendance for nine years in a row. In 2015, the Express reported selling 595,012 tickets, trailing only Sacramento. In 2013, Forbes magazine placed the Express’ value at $35 million, second to Sacramento’s $38 million among all minor-league baseball clubs.
An affiliation switch is possible for 2019 — the American-Statesman has previously reported about the Houston Astros’ desire to reconnect with the Express, which could allow San Antonio to rope the Rangers if a deal could be reached for a Triple-A franchise.
Well-placed sources do not see this as a play by Ryan-Sanders Baseball, which operates the Express, to eventually land a major-league team within the Austin-San Antonio corridor. Last month, a FoxSports.com writer listed Austin as his No. 2 expansion candidate behind Montreal.
“A long, long shot,” one high-ranking MLB club official told the Statesman. “The Astros and Rangers would fight it every step of the way.”
A prominent Minor League Baseball official added: “Not impossible, but improbable. I know of several cities that’ve been investigated to see if they could support MLB that would rank ahead of San Antonio and probably Austin, too.”
Meanwhile, the Rangers’ top farm club will continue to reside in Round Rock, despite the Express-News report that the Rangers want to put the team in San Antonio and have met with Alamo City leaders more than once to discuss a move.
Minor League Baseball allows for negotiating an affiliation switch during a brief period after a Player Development Contract has expired between a minor-league and a major-league club. A contact can be terminated early if both clubs agree, but that seldom happens.
“When you have a partner and you talk about another partner, it’s in bad taste,” Rickey said. “It’s like a married couple talking about another’s significant other. Beyond bad form, it falls into a category called tampering.”
Tampering could subject a club to fines or other penalties.
The Rangers issued a brief statement to the American-Statesman that read: “We are very happy with our working relationship with the Round Rock Express with a current agreement that runs through 2018.”
During a interview last month in Arizona, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels told the Statesman that the “Central Texas market has been big for us. It is a battleground between the Rangers and Astros, and we enjoy being there.”
Ryan, whose brother Reid is the Astros president, said Round Rock’s marriage to the Rangers has worked for both sides and he looks forward to their next three years together.
“They love our market, and they’ve stocked us with good teams,” said Reese Ryan, whose father, Nolan, a Hall of Fame pitcher, acts as a special advisor to Astros owner Jim Crane. “When our PDC is up, we’ll sit down and visit and see if it continues to be a fit for them and us.”
If San Antonio clears significant hurdles to land a Triple-A team to replace the Double-A Missions, the city could be a desirable landing spot for the Rangers, who’ve had success with the annual Big League Weekend there. This year’s two preseason games between the Rangers and Royals drew a combined 61,128 to the Alamodome in March.
A new stadium would need to be built — the Alamodome doesn’t offer the right configuration for baseball — and there are questions whether Minor League Baseball would allow two Triple-A franchises to be so close together.
“We have territories we are very careful not to misunderstand between leagues and teams in a league,” Rickey said. “We don’t want to damage someone else’s operation.”