ROUND ROCK, Texas -- The afternoon rain that forced the festivities indoors at Dell Diamond on Thursday evening did little to dampen the long-awaited announcement that the Astros had reached a four-year agreement with the Round Rock Express to be their new Triple-A affiliate.The move had long been rumored since
ROUND ROCK, Texas -- The afternoon rain that forced the festivities indoors at Dell Diamond on Thursday evening did little to dampen the long-awaited announcement that the Astros had reached a four-year agreement with the Round Rock Express to be their new Triple-A affiliate.
The move had long been rumored since Reid Ryan, who founded the Express in 2000, became the Astros' president of business operations in 2013, with his father -- Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan -- following him to Houston shortly after. The four-year contract between the Astros and the Express is the longest allowed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but the enthusiasm on both sides suggests this will be a long-term relationship.
Round Rock served as Houston's Double-A affiliate from 2000-04 and then as its Triple-A affiliate from 2005-10. The Astros' Triple-A affiliate had been in Fresno for the past four seasons (2015-18). The Express were founded as a Double-A franchise in 2000 by Ryan Sanders Baseball, a group made up of Nolan Ryan, his sons Reid and Reese, Houston businessman Don Sanders and his sons, Bret and Brad.
"Everybody's kind of known we were going to try to come back over here, but we wanted to respect the process because all of the other teams, both Major League and Minor League, are going through their process," Reid Ryan said. "We didn't want to take away from anybody else."
More than 600 fans RSVP'd for Thursday's announcement, which was originally scheduled for the infield at Dell Diamond. In addition to announcing a deal with the Astros after eight years as the Rangers' Triple-A club, the Express unveiled new uniforms and a 20-year anniversary logo.
"We're really excited," Reese Ryan said. "I've got a deep history with the Astros, and it's good to be a part of what Reid and everybody in Houston created, and to have these folks come through Round Rock on their way to Houston, we couldn't be more excited."
In addition to being considered one of the top Minor League venues in the country, Dell Diamond is only 170 miles from Houston, which will make shuffling players between Triple-A and the Houston much easier. The Express averaged 8,809 fans per game this season, which was the third-highest average in Minor League Baseball. The Astros' Double-A team is in Corpus Christi, Texas, which is only 220 miles from Houston.
"It makes it easier on all of our [Minor League] rovers, our coaches, our player development people," Reid Ryan said. "It also makes it easier for us in Houston when we need a player. The Hooks and Express are going to be close if we need one of them to get to the Astros quickly. There's a ton of development reasons this works for us, and also a ton of marketing reasons in continuing to grow our fan base."
Round Rock president Chris Almendarez, a Houston native who grew up cheering the Astros, flashed some Astros socks and smiled from ear to ear talking about the new affiliation.
"Growing up in Houston and being a diehard Astros fan for most of my life and playing baseball at the University of Houston, you talk about dreams come true," he said. "Nolan and I share the same birthdate, so Nolan has been my childhood idol since I was 7 years old. … To get back and connect with Reid and be able to wear the Astros shirt is a very exciting day."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.