When David Matranga arrived in Round Rock in 2000, the slick-fielding shortstop from Pepperdine University thought he was just passing briefly through Central Texas as part of his profession travels. But by the time he left, Matranga had become a Round Rock homeowner, a local business entrepreneur, a community activist and a fan favorite of enormous, and enduring, proportions. He had appeared in 335 Express games, been instrumental in the franchise winning its first and only championship and bonded, both on and off the field, with his adopted community in a manner rare for a professional athlete.
The city and the player forged a mutual admiration society of sorts in those early years, and Matranga still can't say enough about his experiences with the fans who ultimately became his friends and neighbors.
"I'll always cherish my time in Round Rock," he said. "I just can't explain how special it was to be there and how much it meant, and still means, to me."
As the sparkplug shortstop on the Texas League championship team in the inaugural 2000 season of the Express Matranga accumulated a large and loyal local following, but the Astros organization didn't seem to share that enthusiasm. Despite his success at shortstop the season before, Matranga was moved to second base in spring training in 2001. He wasn't even assured of holding that job by the Astros; but, as a sixth-round draft pick, he was used to having to prove himself. And he did precisely that when the Express season began, responding to the challenge with his best minor league year, hitting .302 and recording double digits in home runs and stolen bases before being promoted to Triple-A New Orleans.
It was a satisfying sustained response but nothing matched the excitement accompanying his dramatic debut as a Major Leaguer. That came June 27, 2003, at Minute Maid Park against the Texas Rangers. Matranga made a fifth-inning, pinch-hit appearance and smashed a home run into the left-field seats in his very first big league at-bat. He is one of only four Astros to accomplish the feat, joining Jose Sosa (1975) and fellow former Express members Charlton Jimerson (2006) and Mark Saccomanno (2008). The cheers from his Round Rock fans could probably be heard all the way to Houston.
Matranga moved through five different organizations following his Astros years, playing at the Triple-A level with the Angels, with whom he got back to the big leagues briefly in 2005, Padres, Rangers, Royals and Marlins. All the teams he joined were PCL opponents of the Express so he got the opportunity to regularly return to Dell Diamond, if admittedly in a visitor's uniform. Each return found the fans invariably giving him an ovation of the sort usually reserved only for home-team heroes. His final assignment as a player was in New Orleans, the same team he had originally left Round Rock to join.
Matranga still owns a house in Round Rock, one that former Express pitching coach Burt Hooton occupied during the season a few years ago, but he's no longer a Central Texas resident. The California native relocated with his wife Sarah and growing family - he has three children now - to Surprise, Ariz., the current Spring Training home of the Express.
"We moved out here in October of 2006 to get closer to family so they could see the kids easier and everyone could be together," he said. "That's the only thing that could get me to leave Round Rock."
Matranga's playing days ended after a dozen years of professional baseball but he seized on an opportunity to remain involved in the game, becoming a certified agent for PSI Sports Management. The move into advising and representing players was an easy and logical career segue for Matranga. As a former client, he already had an established relationship with PSI and had in fact discussed working with the firm while he was still playing. The job demands as a sports agent were also a perfect fit for his personality.
"I've always enjoyed helping people, whether it was teammates or friends or anyone," Matranga said. "And I've always liked to teach, in clinics or just one-to-one. This allows me to pass on what I learned in my career to help others in their careers, so it's just what I wanted to do."
PSI handles 50 or so players, including former Express slugger Luke Scott, on a regular basis. Matranga is proud of the client list but his primary source of pride is the manner in which the agency deals with its clients.
"We're here to do more than just get our clients contracts and endorsements," he said. "We compete with all the big name agencies with more clients than they can remember, but we do things differently because we handle everything ourselves. We have our own training program and even have a workout facility in Southern California."
Agents don't get to wear uniforms or take the field but Matranga is satisfied he's still personally involved in the activity he loves.
"Of course, I miss the game," he said, ''but I feel like I'm helping others play it and by doing that helping the game of baseball itself. That keeps me smiling every day I go to work."