ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — After missing out on the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, minor league baseball is set to return to Round Rock on Thursday when the Round Rock Express host Oklahoma City in a delayed 2021 season opener.
“It’s back to baseball, so I couldn’t be more excited,” Express manager Kenny Holmberg said. “I know the fans here, the front office and our players, our staff, we’re very excited to get back on the field and play the game of baseball.”
The Express have gone through a lot of changes in the past 14 months since they last played a game. Most notably, they switched affiliations from the Houston Astros to the Texas Rangers, and team founder Reid Ryan also returned to the club as CEO of Ryan Sanders Sports and Entertainment, which owns the team.
The pandemic not only caused all of last season to be canceled, it also delayed the start of this season by around a month.
During April, Dell Diamond played host to the Rangers’ Alternate Site — a pandemic-born concept to keep up to 28 players in shape and ready if they’re called up to the big leagues.
But those alternate site games were just exhibitions. On Thursday, the real games start for the E Train for the first time since Sept. 13, 2019, 601 days ago, when Round Rock lost to Sacramento River Cats in the the Pacific Coast League Championship Series.
“The heart and soul of the Round Rock Express is our culture,” team president Chris Almandarez said. “What’s our mission? It’s to bring joy through the game of baseball to folks that walk into Dell Diamond. We’re excited. It’s gonna be emotional.”
The affiliation swap from Astros to Rangers brings utility player Delino DeShields back to the Express. The longtime Ranger spent last season with Cleveland, but is back with the Texas organization and in Round Rock, where he played in 2015 before getting called up.
“I’m excited for opening day,” DeShields said. “It’s been a long time since there’s been fans in the stadium. I know everybody’s excited to get here and watch some baseball. I’m just looking forward to getting out there and giving the fans what they want. Hopefully, that’s ultimately bring a championship back. It’s gonna be fun.”
To his point about the fans, according to Almandarez, there are nearly 6,000 tickets sold for the season opener.
“I think that’s gonna be the biggest thing, is just welcoming folks back into Dell Diamond,” Almandarez said. “Major League Baseball is still mandating that we’ve gotta wear masks. If we gotta wear masks and stand on one foot for the whole nine innings, we’re gonna do whatever we can to play baseball because I think not having baseball in our lives was tough for everyone.”
What to know before going to the game
The first pitch for the Express and Oklahoma City Dodgers is at 7:05 p.m. at Dell Diamond. Here’s what you need to know for seating at the ballpark.
The Express have received permission to fully open all seats in the lower seating bowl from Sections 112-128 and the outfield berms as well as the Home Run Porch.
A safety buffer zone will be enforced in the outfield berm areas surrounding both bullpens. Sections 110-111 will remain in a pod-style seating format for fans who wish to remain socially distanced, which is a plan approved by Major League Baseball.