by Patrick Despain
According to a report that surfaced on Wednesday evening, the Texas Rangers may find their AAA team in San Antonio in the near future. The proposed plan is a new downtown ballpark in one of Texas’ largest cities. Currently, Round Rock is home to the Rangers highest level minor league team, the Express, but according to the San Antonio Express News, they could move into the state’s 3rd largest television market and the state’s 2nd largest individual city.
The Rangers AAA team in Round Rock is currently owned by the Ryan-Sanders Baseball Group headed by former Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan. Rumors have swirled for years that when the team’s PDC (Player Development Contract) runs out at the end of the 2018 season, the Express would look to bring the Houston organization in to replace the Rangers. Houston’s AAA team currently resides in Fresno, California, a very long way from Houston.
The report from the Alamo City says the current ownership group of the AA San Antonio Missions, the Elmore Sports Group, has been talking with the Rangers about coming on-board to be the organization to fill a new downtown ballpark with a AAA team. The current Missions team, which is a AA team would be moved in order to clear the way for Triple-A baseball in San Antonio.
According to BallParkDigest.com, things are not as clear cut as the initial report may seem. It appears the San Antonio Spurs have the right to veto any new downtown venue that could compete with the Spurs’ AT&T Center. Approaching the Spurs and the San Antonio city council might be much easier with a partnership with the Rangers. With the split between the Rangers and Nolan Ryan comes the threat of Houston going to Round Rock, leaving the Rangers to find a replacement. Being left out in the cold to try to find a minor league home is never fun, as the Rangers found out two years ago with their High-A team.
Two years ago the Rangers High-A team was the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. As you can imagine, a ballpark in Myrtle Beach is a beautiful one, with great weather and with Chuck Greenberg as the owner, they don’t skimp on anything. Take a trip to Frisco and see the RoughRiders, also owned by Greenberg and you’ll see what I mean. When the Rangers PDC was up in Myrtle Beach, the Rangers could not come to an agreement with the Pelicans and the Cubs swooped in and made the deal. Then, after not being able to land with the Carolina Mudcats, they were forced to take the remaining available team, the High Desert Mavericks, located in scenic Adelanto, California.
High Desert is terrible for baseball, as in pitching. The wind constantly blows at 20-30 mph and the surrounding landscape looks like a scene from a spaghetti western. Most teams that have been forced to take their High-A team to Adelanto usually skip that level with their most talented pitchers due to the inflated hitting stats in the California League, but especially High Desert. To cap off the disaster of High Desert, is the City Council of Adelanto trying to void the stadium contract of the High Desert Mavericks and are trying to force them out of the stadium due to financial reasons, leaving the team possibly without a home pending litigation.
The Rangers tried to position themselves last year with a purchase of the Wilmington Blue Rocks, a class High-A team in the Carolina League, pending the purchase and relocation of another team, but all of that fell through. The failure of that deal left them with no real options outside of High Desert for the immediate future.
The Elmore Sports Group or some of their members own several minor league teams. Those teams are the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), the Inland Empire 66ers (High A; California League), the Bakersfield Blaze (High A; California League), the Eugene Emeralds (short season A; Northwest League), the Helena Brewers (rookie; Pioneer League) and the Idaho Falls Chukars (rookie; Pioneer League), and are in the process of buying the Lynchburg Hillcats (High A; Carolina League).
This might be a plan regarding a move to San Antonio, would be that the Colorado Springs Sky Sox would move to San Antonio and be the Rangers AAA affiliate and become the San Antonio Missions. The current Missions AA team would move, possibly to Amarillo which has been looking to get a minor league team and Colorado Springs would be left out in the cold as far as minor league baseball is concerned. The attendance in Colorado Springs has been dismal dropping them to the bottom of the Pacific Coast League for several years. The Elmore Sports Group would likely be licking their collective chops to move a team with poor attendance in the 91st largest tv market and weather that does not cooperate year round to San Antonio. A city that is the 32nd largest tv market and has only one professional sports franchise in the Spurs and beautiful weather in the winter, spring and fall. The tourist market is also attractive for a downtown San Antonio stadium, if it is within walking distance of the River Walk and other tourist attractions. The walk-up attendance could be lucrative.
As was mentioned earlier, Elmore is trying to purchase the Lynchburg Hillcats of the Carolina League. Does a partnership with the Elmore Sports Group open up a possibilty for the Rangers to get out of High Desert? Maybe, likely not, but it sure doesn’t hurt to ask when negotiating with them in regards to San Antonio. The “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” thing has been in play in business since the written word was invented, maybe before that. Lynchburg is signed with the Cleveland Indians through the 2018 season. The Rangers are committed to High Desert through the end of this year. The timeline doesn’t match-up for a High Desert to Lynchburg unless the Rangers find a temporary home for 2017 and ’18, or re-up with High Desert for two years.
With the Astros almost certain to take their AAA team to Round Rock, the Rangers are being proactive to make sure another High Desert situation doesn’t happen.. If they are able to parlay that into a move back to the Carolina League for their High-A team, then this will be a huge win.