The Cleburne Railroaders will begin play in the independent American Association for the 2017 season, as circuit owners officially approved the move at league meetings in Fargo.
“It’s a tremendous thrill,” said Railroaders President Robbie Fenyes. “It was our goal all along to join the American Association, which is the premier league for professional minor league independent baseball and we’re excited to be bringing their brand of baseball to Cleburne.”
The team’s ballpark, The Depot, is currently under construction in an effort that’s coming along quickly. Besides hosting pro baseball, The Depot is also planned as a community event center, including soccer matches. Cleburne is located in the southwestern corner of the greater Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Populous is designing the ballpark; Hunt Construction is in charge of construction. Taxpayers funded the city-owned ballpark after voters approved the issuance of $25 million in bonds and a half cent increase to the city’s sales tax rate. Initial plans called for 1,750 fixed seats in addition to grass berms and other seating areas. That number has since increased, but not on the taxpayers’ dime. Yesterday the team’s mascot, Spike, was unveiled to the public.
“It’s that important for Cleburne,” Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain said. “I wanted to share with the league officials how enthusiastic the people in Cleburne are about the Railroaders’ return. Our acceptance into the American Association marks yet another great day in Cleburne. It’s exciting that the Railroaders will play in the premiere league and I look forward to a lot of great games and rivalries at The Depot in the years to come.”
The move put the American Association officially at 13 teams, but that assumes the return of the Joplin Blasters — a return that most certainly will not happen, though nothing official has been announced. (UPDATE: League Commissioner Miles Wolff said Friday afternoon that the Blasters were out of the American Association.) The Blasters ownership is being sued by Joplin for $12 million for breach of contract and fraud, and the city has taken possession of Joe Becker Stadium and all the equipment inside. A motions hearing on the lawsuit is set for Oct. 13.