Saturday, May 7, 2016

New Orleans Zephyrs 3 at Round Rock Express 5 (PCL) - May 6, 2016


Sometimes these sports road trips work out really well and sometimes they don't. This one couldn't have been much better in terms of weather and driving, but a few of the games weren't particularly interesting. That all changed when I arrived in Round Rock for the only AAA game on the journey. The Express are the affiliate of the Texas Rangers, and Yu Darvish is on the rehab circuit after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year. He pitched 2 innings on Sunday in AA Frisco the day after I was there, but with Frisco on the road now, his next start was to be this night in Round Rock. Surprisingly, I never saw Darvish in Japan, though I did seem him pitch in New York a couple of years ago in one of the worst games ever, but I was excited to see him in a much more relaxed setting.



Anyway, after driving 500 miles from Little Rock, I had little time to relax at my hotel before heading over to Dell Diamond. The stadium was opened in 2000 to house a Double-A team (also named the Express in honour of Nolan Ryan, who is an owner along with his son Reid) that moved to Corpus Christi when the Ryans bought the Edmonton Trappers in 2004. The ballpark is surrounded by a couple of residential areas with baseball-related street names, but they are too far to park, so you will have to pay $10 (the most in minor league baseball) to park in the team's expansive (and expensive) lot.



When I reached the ticket window next to the Right Field Gate, I heard that the game was sold out, but that statement only referred to the seats; lawn tickets were still available for the weird price of $8.66. I've seen this trend more and more where the ticket price is set to a round number and then tax is added on, which is annoying for those who pay cash. Other ticket prices ranged from $12 to $18 (save $2 by purchasing before game day and another $2 if the game takes place Sunday through Wednesday), so it is only the parking that is overpriced.



Rather than wait for someone with an extra, I pulled out the credit card and bought a lawn ticket, though there was already no room there as gates had opened a few minutes before. Prior to entering, I tried to find a spot from which to take a full picture of the exterior of the venue, but it was too far to walk in the heat, so all I took was the shot above.



One interesting aspect of the stadium is that there are two concourses. The inner concourse is quite narrow at spots, though it has views of the field, while the outer concourse is separated from the field and much more spacious. This is where you can walk around to avoid the crowds, as you can see below.



It is along this exterior concourse that you will find Guest Services, as well as the lineups, presented electronically, something I have not seen before.



The stadium is massive, even for AAA, with a Home Run Porch beyond left field that is completely shaded and would be ideal on a sunny afternoon.



The view of the outfield from the Home Run Porch...



... and the seating bowl. Obviously choose a seat along third base if you want to avoid the setting sun, though it was no longer an issue by the third inning.



There is a beer garden which is used as a group area. Due to the large crowd (final attendance was 13,194, the fourth largest in stadium history), concession stands were crowded and I did not buy any food; though the options were quite tempting, prices were slightly higher than average for AAA. In the 6th inning, however, there was a Friday Night special announced in which all 24-oz. beers were $4 ($5 for 32 ounces), including the nicer ones (i.e. not just Bud or Bud Light). That sent people galloping to the beer stands, and I was right behind them. I'm not sure having this sort of deal near the end of the game is the best idea as many fans were loading up by buying two large beers (that's 64 ounces you need to drink in an hour) but I didn't see any obvious problems afterwards.



One design feature I liked here was the curved dugouts, as you can see below. This means that all the infield seats face the pitchers mound, something that should be implemented in all new parks. There are standing areas along the concourse which are great vantage points, though there is nothing on which to rest your drink or scorebook. After Darvish finished, I moved down as ushers were no longer checking tickets and a few fans started leaving.



Finally, the mandatory shot from behind home plate.



Overall, Dell Diamond is an excellent facility with one flaw: overpriced parking. This is AAA ball and parking for any minor league should never exceed $5. The stadium is beautiful, the fans (many of whom were Japanese on this night) were excellent, a lot of families out for fireworks night, food options were good, and I really appreciated the aesthetic design. I generally like to keep my outlay at a minor league game under $20 and that is tough here with parking taking up half of my budget right off the bat. Next time I visit Round Rock, I'll bring some friends.

The Game

Darvish (below before the game) was only scheduled to pitch three innings, which he did. He already has the velocity, reaching 97 on one pitch, but still appeared tentative on occasion. He gave up one run while walking one and striking out three. He finished with 50 pitches, 30 of which were strikes.



Round Rock had scored two in the first on three doubles off Chris Narveson, but Darvish's replacement, Jimmy Reyes, allowed the Zephyrs (Miami's affiliate) to take the lead in the 5th on three walks and two singles. The game moved quickly into the bottom of the 8th with Round Rock trailing 3-2. Andre Rienzo (a Brazilian) was in his second inning of work for New Orleans and walked Michael McKenry to lead things off before plunking Brett Nicholas. A sacrifice brought Patrick Kivlehan to the plate and he laced a double to center field to give the Express the lead. Pedro Ciriaco followed with a single for some insurance and Luke Jackson worked around a single and a walk to earn the save as Round Rock won 5-3.



Nicholas is the Player to Watch as he finished 3/3 with two doubles and was the catcher, showing no nerves at being Darvish's battery mate.

Notes

The name above the scoreboard needs to be fixed.



The Zephyrs are going to change their name next season. Given how much of minor league baseball is going to these weird and wonderful names, it will be interesting to see what they choose, but you can bet it will be some sort of anthropomorphic creature with a link to New Orleans waterways. Swamp Monsters anyone?

Best,

Sean

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