In a spring training interview in March, Houston Astros owner Jim Crane created a stir in Oklahoma City when Crane mentioned possibly building a ballpark in the Woodlands, moving his Triple-A team to the suburb 30 miles north of Houston.
It was big news in OKC since the Astros' Triple-A team currently is the tenant at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
Some fans believed Crane's off-the-cuff remark meant the RedHawks would be lining up moving vans at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
Bottom line is the RedHawks will never leave Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
Owned by Mandalay Baseball Properties, which runs five minor league teams, the RedHawks are assured of having a team in the Pacific Coast League for years to come.
“There are multiple factors in play,” said RedHawks president/general manager Michael Byrnes. “The nice thing for us is we're attractive. Major league clubs are going to be interested in this property.”
Two of Oklahoma City's top selling points include: (1) a state-of-the-art facility that ranked eighth this season among 160 minor league venues; (2) OKC's middle-of-the-country location is a huge asset when Major League teams promote and demote players.
The hidden factor rarely mentioned is the PCL owns territorial rights (more on that later).
“We'll have this experience in Bricktown no matter what,” Byrnes said. “It's just a matter of which players are wearing the RedHawks uniforms. Our goal is to provide a clean ballpark, focus on customer service and hope to have a baseball partner that can put a competitive team together on the field.”
Many fans were bummed the Rangers left after the 2009 season, ending a 28-year relationship. The pleasant surprise has been the Astros have supplied some star talent.
The year before relocating to OKC, the Astros' Triple-A team finished 57-87 in Round Rock.
The three years the Astros' Triple-A team has been in OKC the RedHawks have posted 68, 78 and 82 wins. They're 26 games above .500. This past season, they had the best record in the PCL.
But minor league baseball, for fans, often is about watching rising stars. This past season, future Astros stars George Springer, Jon Singleton, Jared Cosart and Jonathan Villar all played more three or more months with the RedHawks.
More stars are coming like former Stanford ace Mark Appel, this year's No. 1 overall pick. Carlos Correa, the No. 1 overall pick in 2012 out of Puerto Rico, played in low-Class A this year as an 18-year-old shortstop.
“We've been really pleased all along with the relationship with the Astros,” Byrnes said. “They told us they were going to go through a rebuilding process. We've seen the fruits of that. They've put very competitive teams together.
“As an organization, they've had the best record in all the minors the past two years. Their process is progressing nicely. People that pay real close attention to baseball recognize some elite prospects are coming through here. We've been fortunate.”
One key reason OKC is all but assured of being home to a Triple-A team is PCL officials own territorial rights.
Insiders say Oklahoma City is one of the league's cherished commodities. No way PCL brass would approve a scenario where Oklahoma City isn't in the 16-team league.
Regardless how The Woodlands story unfolds, Oklahoma City is assured of being home to a PCL team.
“Being centrally located will always make us attractive,” Byrnes said. “We have a fantastic ballpark. Clubs like having their players treated well, which is a top priority for us. You put all those together and we have a lot to offer. It's just a question of which Major League team we'll be affiliated with.”