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Mr. Pettitte comes to town

Rehab start draws largest crowd in Central Texas history

Andy Pettitte, perennial World Series hero of the Yankees and now a member of Houston's rotation, was the starting pitcher for the Texas League's Round Rock Express on June 18, 2004. The Frisco RoughRiders opposed Pettitte, who used the stint as a tune-up before coming off the disabled list for the Astros.

His pitching performance wasn't quite dazzling, but the crowd at Round Rock's Dell Diamond certainly was! The attendance that night was 13,414, large even by Round Rock standards. The figure was the highest in franchise history, and may well be the largest crowd ever to watch a baseball game in Central Texas. The very next night, the Express, which led all of Minor League baseball at that point in the season with an average crowd of 9,855, welcomed its 3-millionth fan. This is an astonishing feat when you consider that the Express reached this milestone in just four-and-a-half seasons! During the 314-game span that it took the team to hit 3 million, the average attendance was 9,571 per game.

The outfield berms at the Dell Diamond were overflowing the night Andy Pettitte pitched for the Express. Following his three-inning stint, the left-hander signed autographs from the home bullpen.

Pettitte, coming off a forearm injury, wasn't razor-sharp against Frisco, as he allowed two earned runs and a walk in his three innings of work in Round Rock. Ian Kinsler, one of the hottest hitters in the Minors, lined a home run off Pettitte in his final inning of work, giving the RoughRiders a 2-0 lead. The Express, with the best record in the Texas League, came back to win the game 6-5 in 10 innings.

Interestingly, Pettitte is one of four current Astros players who, pending approval, will own a minority interest in Ryan Sanders Baseball, the parent company of the Express. Nolan Ryan is the Principal Owner in that entity. Undoubtedly, both he and Pettitte were glad to see the overflow crowd!

And the crowds followed every move of the Astros' left-hander. Never have pre-game warm-ups in the Express bullpen garnered such attention, and a throng surrounded the 'pen again when Pettitte threw a few extra pitches after his three innings of work. He then thrilled the onlookers by signing autographs until he retired to the clubhouse.

The overflow crowd on June 18, 2004 was treated to a come-from-behind win by the Express. On the far right of this shot, you can see the "Home Run Porch" seating that was added to the Dell Diamond in anticipation of the move to Triple-A in 2005.

In each of the Express' first four seasons, the franchise has broken the all-time Class Double-A attendance record. The phenomenal success at the gate has, in a manner of speaking, earned the fans of Central Texas a promotion. Starting in 2005, the Dell Diamond will be the home of a franchise in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, while the current Double-A team will move 200 miles south to play as the Corpus Christi Hooks. The PCL squad will retain the Express team name. Both franchises will be owned by Ryan Sanders Baseball.