By Evan Ren
Killeen Daily Herald
ROUND ROCK It may not have been the best-kept secret in the world, but at last, it's official: The Round Rock Express will become the Houston Astros' Triple-A affiliate, beginning next season.
Ending months of speculation, the announcement came at a mid-day news conference Thursday at Dell Diamond, with Express President Reid Ryan breaking the news. He was then followed to the podium by general manager Jay Miller, Astros Director of Player Development Tim Purpura, and principle owners Don Sanders and Nolan Ryan.
Slated to join the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 2005, the Express' contract with Houston will last through 2008. The new Corpus Christi Hooks franchise, the latest venture for Ryan Sanders Baseball, will become the Astros' Double-A affiliate next year, replacing the Express in the Texas League.
"We could not be more excited about being the new Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros," Reid Ryan said.
"Round Rock, Texas, is Astros country and I know our fans are going to be happy about this announcement.
"I do not know of another major league organization that has as quality individuals in the front office and on the field as the Houston Astros, and we feel lucky to be part of the organization."
The agreement can trace its origins to October of last year when Ryan Sanders Baseball purchased the Triple-A Edmonton Trappers, and announced their intention to move the franchise to Central Texas.
Rumors quickly spread that an affiliation with the Montreal Expos would be dropped in favor of one with Houston, given the fact that the Astros' contract with Triple-A New Orleans was entering its final year.
But with the threat of a $50,000 tampering fine looming for anyone who dared to leak the information, nothing official ever surfaced prior to Thursday's gathering.
"We're extremely happy to have our top two levels consolidated under one ownership group," Purpurra said.
"We've thoroughly enjoyed our relationship with the Ryans. It's a special situation here and we're thrilled to be a part of it."
As a result of the deal, Houston's top two affiliates will both be within driving distance of the parent club, giving the Astros the ability to shuttle players between leagues at a moment's notice.
The move also gives Houston the ability to give a large portion of its minor league players quick access to its team doctors and training personnel a huge money saver in itself.
"We think its going to be real beneficial for the Astros," said Nolan of the deal. "It makes it much easier for player movement, from call-ups to send-downs to rehabs.
"This is a very special day, because we felt that it was only appropriate to bring Triple-A baseball to Round Rock, and we're just as excited about Corpus Christi and the response we've gotten down there."
Round Rock will make its PCL debut when it hosts the Omaha Royals on April 7, 2005.
Contact Evan Ren at firstname.lastname@example.org