An Interview w/ Round Rock Express GM Chris Almendarez

On top of that, what I specifically look for, and this is the kind of thing that our staff looks for, is just people who’re going to be professional and show up. I spoke the other day to [a] high school and I was talking to some seniors. The thing that I said was that 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. You’ve got to set some goals and just run with it—and that’s how we roll around here.”

At the Winter Meetings, Minor League President Pat O’Conner met with Joe Torre about the possible installation of a pitch clock for Triple-A and Double-A games in 2015. To Almendarez, this sounds like a good idea. As he opines that “if it speeds the game up, I’m excited for it. I think that sometimes the games can drag out. I met with our Vice-President of our league the other day on the phone, and we were talking about it. They did it in the fall league and it cut I think about 17 minutes off the time, which is just incredible. I think If it helps the game, I’m all for it.”

Recently-retired Express president Dave Fendrick won the 2014 Pacific Coast League Executive of the Year, which is a testament to how good this Express front office is. When asked to speak about Fendrick, and what he meant to this organization, Almendarez sang nothing but praise. He said it was something that was “well deserved”, calling Fendrick his “mentor, and one of the best guys in all of baseball” while also referring to him as “the gold standard”.

The Express have also been in the top 2 of the PCL attendance every year since their entrance to the league in 2005, which is astounding. Almendarez attributes this to the ownership group, firstly. He then expressed his sentiments and reasoning as to how they are able to keep up such a high attendance for a minor league team on a consistent yearly basis:

“I think we’ve got the best ownership group in all of baseball, in the Ryan’s. Baseball is very good to their family, and one of the things they want to do is pay it forward.

So, one of the things that we do every summer is we look at finances, and we start saying ‘what’re things we need to do to improve the experience of the park’. Two years ago we put in almost $2 million worth of video boards and LED outfield boards. Last year we built a new concession stand and beer garden and put in the new baseball field. Every year we’re saying ‘how do we get better?’ It’s always trying to enhance that fan experience.

The other thing is that I think we’ve got the best staff in baseball, so we challenge our staff to come up with great ideas and creative ideas, to come up with some happenings or some theme nights—80’s night and a concert on top of that after a baseball game. What’re some type of things that’re going to make people decide to spend their disposable income here, versus going to the movies or down to Austin.

I think it’s being relevant, I think our marketing staff does a great job of knowing what’s going on in the community or the central Texas area. Any decision we make, we look at what’s the best interest to the fans and how does this affect our fans. Last year, we might’ve had a little bit of a parking increase, but at the end of the day we haven’t had a parking increase in 10 years. We’ve got to raise up the little things to be able to still put more money back into the organization. We had a lot [of improvements] the last two years prior that were out front, and so this is one of those years where we’re doing some, but it’s just more behind the scenes.”

When asked what his favorite part of the job was, Almendarez’ said that it was not just that he gets to work for the best staff in all of baseball, it’s the chance he gets to get to meet people:

“Whether it’s fans, our season ticket holders, our sponsors, the new manager that comes in with the team, the other teammates or the players—just kind of the comradery of those guys, it’s why I played the game as a small kid. One of the biggest things [at the Winter Meetings] was that the San Diego chicken was out there, and I felt like I was 10-years old again seeing the San Diego chicken. Maybe the best part of my job is that it makes me feel like I’m still a kid—being involved with baseball.”

Among the MLB regulars that spent time with the Express last season was starter Derek Holland. Holland, recovering from a torn cartilage in his left knee, spent August with the Express—even coaching first base on occasion.

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