ROUND ROCK, Texas — When the Round Rock Express left the field following the final game of the 2019 season on Sept. 13, 2019, they could have never known that would be the final game at Dell Diamond for 601 days.
One pandemic and an affiliation switch later, the 2021 season is set to begin this week.
Team President Chris Almendarez said that he and his staff are looking forward to bringing baseball back to Dell Diamond.
"Come Thursday night, opening day, it's going to be emotional," he said.
Almendarez had to lay off 40% of his staff when the pandemic began. He said that given what we've all been through for the past 14 months, watching a ballgame at the ballpark should be a fun and welcome experience.
"We tell people all the time when you walk into the Dell Diamond, for three hours, no matter what's going on, you can enjoy a baseball game, a cold Bud Light and a hot dog. And I think that's what people need," Almendarez said.
Despite not having minor league baseball for a year and a half, the folks at Dell Diamond have kept busy. They've hosted a rodeo, concerts, a college summer league team and even COVID-19 vaccinations.
More than 60,000 people have been vaccinated in the Dell Diamond parking lot.
"Probably the biggest accomplishment that's probably going to be under my belt is the fact that we were part of the vaccination group that helped Williamson County and the City of Round Rock move this thing forward," Almendarez said.
The Express is now once again part of the Texas Rangers system. The team has a 10-year deal to serve as the Rangers AAA affiliate beginning this season. The Express was part of the Rangers organization from 2011 until 2018.
The team will open the season Thursday and play its first 12 games at Dell Diamond. The team will follow Major League Baseball's masks rules, and Dell Diamond will have sections reserved for those who wish to social distance in the ballpark.
Almendarez is planning for a great opening night crowd.
"Right now, we've got almost 5,000 tickets out. That's a number that's higher than what the Boston Red Sox did for their home opener," he said. "If we can say we had better attendance than the Boston Red Sox, I will take it."
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