An Interview w/ Round Rock Express GM Chris Almendarez

“I was always the kid who showed up early and stayed late after practice and just did everything I could to better myself. I really think that if you take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.”

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to speak over the phone with Chris Almendarez, General Manager of the Texas Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate, the Round Rock Express.

Almendarez played collegiate baseball at Stephen F. Austin, then Howard Junior College and finally for the University of Houston, where he graduated in 1996 with a Mass Communications degree. In 2003, Almendarez described how he met Reid Ryan—founder of the Express and son of Nolan Ryan. Then in 2005 Almendarez’ youngest son began playing baseball with Reid Ryan’s son on a youth baseball team coached by the two fathers. This led to Almendarez’ family “[getting] close to the [Ryan’s] family” and they even began to vacation with them. At the time, Almendarez worked at a corporate pharmaceutical company.

However, Almendarez recalled a conversation he had with Ryan in 2008 in which the topic of working in baseball came up. As Almendarez described the conversation he had with Ryan about getting into baseball, it was as simple as this: “He just said ‘hey man, would you ever consider getting into baseball?’ And you know, I think going back to every kid wanting to get into baseball, and I was like ‘Yeah!’”. After that, Almendarez was on the fast track. Once he joined the Express as a senior account executive in 2009, it did not take long—6 months to be exact—until he was promoted to director. Then a year and a half later he was promoted to Assistant GM of Baseball Operations. He stayed at that post until September 2013, when Almendarez was named the GM of the Round Rock Express.

In describing what he did in his various roles, Almendarez attributed his first Express job as one in which he was tasked with “selling corporate sponsorships and season tickets in groups”. Following his promotion to director, his responsibility then was, as he put it, to “[Oversee] all of the amateur baseball stuff, so a lot of the high school games that were played in the area, everything kind of ran through me.” His next post, Assistant GM of Baseball Operations, was personnel-wise that is small, as there’s only about four people on Almendarez’ staff working with him in dealing with the Rangers, which he attributes to the “lack of baseball operations at [the Express’] level.”

Now as General Manager, Almendarez said that as far as personnel goes, he “deals with the farm director [Mike Daly] on a weekly basis, and he’ll tell me what players are coming and going from here.” However, Almendarez also described his day to day job, as he “Oversees the day to day business operations of [the Express]. I work closely with the president, I report to Dave Fendrick—now with Jay Miller–and then to ownership. All the staff and everything kind of runs up through me with the different department heads. And then you go back to again, our job is filling the stands—which is what I do.”

Almendarez then discussed the hiring process, as well as the culture of the Express:

“One of the things that we’ve done a couple years ago is create a hiring committee. So when we have a position available, basically we have a hiring committee that I will appoint. Typically, what I try to do—depending on what department it is—I’ll get that department head, I’ll get someone, maybe a colleague that would be within that department, and then somebody else I think would be a good fit to kind of teach them what our culture is about here.

So once we choose that committee, once the résumés are coming in, there is a point person of those three that will get all the résumés. Then, they will kind of sift through them and see the people that they want to take to the next level, and they’ll respond to all of them. Each of them will probably break them down to their top 10, and then once they get to their top 10 they’ll talk about the candidates—then they’ll go down to their top 5. Typically when they get to their top 5 we’ll start doing phone interviews, a couple might do phone interviews, and then once they get to their top 3 they’ll give their recommendation to me.

So I’ve got the ultimate say on who we’re going to hire, but what [this process] does is allow me to not just bring a friend in and say ‘Hey, we’re going to hire this kid.’ We want to make sure that our staff has a chance to see if it’ll be a good fit all the way around. We’re very proud of the culture we’ve built around here, and I want to make sure that we bring somebody in that’s going to get along with our staff more than anything, [especially] if you work in a team environment.

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