David Elmore, the owner of San Antonio’s current Minor League (Double-A) team, and the City’s mayor jointly announced that Triple-A baseball would come to town in 2019. Because I live in Round Rock, a San Antonio resident said to me “I heard on the news that your Round Rock Express is moving here.” Well, not exactly. In fact, not at all.
While I have no inside knowledge of the discussions that are taking place about this news development, I thought I’d share what appears to me to be the case, using a Question & Answer format:
Q – WHAT’S ALL THIS ABOUT A NEW BALLPARK FOR SAN ANTONIO?
A – There has been talk for years that the Alamo City needs a new park, and it certainly needs to be closer to the business district (where attractions like the Alamo, the River Walk and the Tower of the Americas are located), and not out on the western edge of town where the current park is located. Triple-A baseball certainly WON’T come to SA without a new park.
Q – SO EXACTLY WHERE WILL THE NEW PARK BE BUILT?
A – We don’t know for sure, but it won’t be near the current facility. Likely spots are all near downtown.
Q – WHO WILL BUILD IT AND HOW WILL IT BE PAID FOR?
A – Ahh, now you’re asking the really hard questions. Where the money will come from hasn’t, well, been determined yet. One would assume this will be a city and/or county project, so taxpayers will be asked to fund the construction (since news reports indicate the owner of the team isn’t willing to pay for it). However, exactly what tax(es) will be used to pay for it hasn’t been determined.
Q — WILL THE PUBLIC GET TO VOTE ON THIS EXPENDITURE OF FUNDS?
A — Very possibly so, especially if new taxes will need to be levied on, well, someone or something. However, no election was held regarding the new ballpark in Columbia, SC because an existing tax (on “prepared meals”) is being used to pay off the bonds that were issued to pay for the construction. Interestingly, no public vote was held to approve the construction of the AT&T Center in 2002 (as far as I can tell) because it was paid for with hotel and rental-car taxes, money from the Spurs and the sale of naming rights.
Q — IS THERE SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE CITY’S CURRENT PARK?
A — Well, yes and no. When Nelson Wolff Municipal Stadium opened in 1994, it was truly one of the showplaces of all of Minor League baseball. No one seemed to mind the location, and attendance was great. However, now it is *by far* the oldest park in the Texas League. And in my opinion, it is the eighth best park in the eight-team league. Is there a desperate need to replace it right away? No, not for Double-A baseball. But no Triple-A team would come to San Antonio to play in The Wolff. It would take a new park.
Q — IF THE NEW PARK GETS BUILT, WHAT TEAM WILL PLAY IN IT? THE ROUND ROCK EXPRESS?
A – It will absolutely NOT be the Express. The team in Round Rock, which is about 100 miles to the north of San Antonio, is one of the most successful minor-league franchises ever, in any sport. In fact, they used to be a Double-A team, but after breaking the all-time attendance record for Double-A baseball five years in a row, they “moved up” to Triple-A. How this happened, though, is how it would happen in San Antonio. In order for Round Rock to become Triple-A, another Triple-A team had to be acquired and moved there. In this case, Nolan Ryan’s ownership group bought the Edmonton Trappers and moved them to Round Rock, and the former Double-A franchise in Round Rock moved to Corpus Christi.
For San Antonio to become a Triple-A market, their current Double-A team (the Missions) would move elsewhere (Amarillo, which is seriously talking about a new ballpark, is a likely bet) and an existing Triple-A franchise would come to town. In this case, the Elmore Sports Group, which owns the Missions remember, just happens to own a Triple-A team that has long wanted a new ballpark, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox. Colorado Springs is without a doubt, one of America’s most beautiful cities, but there’s nothing about their ballpark that takes advantage of this fact. Anyway, that’s the franchise that is likely to come to SA if a new park is built.
Q — BUT WHY IS THERE CONFUSION ABOUT THE EXPRESS MOVING TO SAN ANTONIO?
A — That’s because of the *affiliation* of the Express. Right now, the Rangers are the parent club of the Express. The Rangers and the Express signed a Player Development Contract (PDC) that went into effect in 2011. Prior to that, the Astros were the parent. The affiliation with the Rangers made sense, because Nolan Ryan was part of the group that owned the Rangers … but not any more. Now Nolan is an executive advisor with the Astros, and Nolan’s son Reid just happens to be the current president of the Astros. Look for the Astros to reunite with the Express as soon as the current PDC with the Rangers expires.
That would leave the Rangers out in the cold. They couldn’t return to Oklahoma City, which is where their Triple-A team was before Round Rock, because the Dodgers now *own* the franchise there. Therefore, if they get shoved out of Round Rock, their second choice would undoubtedly be a franchise in San Antonio. This is a TV market that the Rangers covet, so much so that they’ve played exhibition games at the Alamo Dome the past four springs. The current MLB parent of the Sky Sox is the Brewers, who certainly have no following in Texas. If the team relocates to SA, they might love to be affiliated with the Rangers. But if that happens, it won’t be because the Express relocated 100 miles to the south. They aren’t going *anywhere.*
Q — COULD SAN ANTONIO SUPPORT A TRIPLE-A TEAM?
A — Sure. While the city probably doesn’t have the money (in the way of disposable income of the populace and corporate-sponsorship money from big companies, because not a lot are headquartered there) for Major League Baseball, a Triple-A team could do fine. There’s enough population, to say the least, since it’s the seventh biggest city in the country. Sure, the Missions only finished sixth in the eight-team Texas League in attendance last year, but keep in mind that was in a horribly located ballpark, nowhere near the team’s fan base. A Triple-A team in a new downtown park would do well. Very well.
Q — COULD THE ARRANGEMENT TO BRING TRIPLE-A BASEBALL TO SAN ANTONIO FALL THROUGH?
A — Absolutely. There were no guarantees in the announcement that came from the Mayor and David Elmore. If it falls through, it would undoubtedly be due to the fact that a new ballpark didn’t materialize.
Personally, I’d love to see it happen. There would be a natural rivalry between the clubs in Round Rock and San Antonio, and in a city with as many tourist attractions and entertainment options as the Alamo City, a shiny new ballpark would fit in perfectly.