LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The fourth time was the charm.
Nominated for the fourth year in a row, the Round Rock Express finally received the coveted Larry MacPhail Trophy, awarded annually to a team that has excelled in promotional and community effort.
The Express, the Triple-A Pacific Coast League affiliate of the Houston Astros, have only been in existence since 2000 but have been hugely successful on the field and off.
The team nickname is not coincidental. Local legend Nolan Ryan, aka "The Ryan Express," is principal owner, and his son, Reid, a former Minor League pitcher, is the team's founder and CEO.
Located in an Austin suburb, the team broke the all-time Double-A attendance record in each of its first five years before being "promoted" to Triple-A in 2005, when the Edmonton Trappers franchise relocated to the Lone Star State and The Dell Diamond.
The club continued to draw fans in record numbers with a variety of creative promotions, but it gave back as much to the community as it took in with its ticket sales.
Each year, the club has selected one organization or project on which to focus its charitable efforts.
In 2006, it was building a Miracle League field that gave 14,000-plus handicapped kids in the greater Austin area the opportunity to play baseball. The specially adapted field features a surface designed to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers, and to take into the account the needs of children with both physical and mental disabilities.
The Nolan Ryan Foundation started things off with a $250,000 naming gift that provided the initial construction funding and the Express took it from there, starting with proceeds from their annual charity bowling tournament in late 2005.
More activities and fundraisers followed throughout the season.
But the Miracle League field was not the only endeavor to benefit from the Express' attention and largesse. One of the team's annual events is a charity golf classic that raises more than $36,000 a year, part of which goes to Ryan's foundation to sponsor youth education and community projects.
Round Rock also has been involved with helping local chapters of several dozen organizations, including the American Cancer Society, Big Brothers and Sisters, DARE, Habitat for Humanity and various relief efforts for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
"To be honored by Minor League Baseball with such an award reflects on the effort and dedication our staff gives year in and year out," said Express President Jay Miller. "We, as an organization, strive to give our fans the best of baseball because they represent the spirit of the game. This is quite an honor for us."
Added Reid Ryan, "We've assembled a seasoned and diverse staff, which consistently comes up with new and innovative ways to give back to the Express community, which is what baseball in Central Texas should be about."
The long deserved award caps an outstanding season on the field as well as off, as the Express made it to the Pacific Coast League Finals before falling to the Tucson Sidewinders.
The Astros organization is understandably proud of the accomplishments of its top affiliate.
"The award is an extreme honor because the club is really an extension of (Astros chairman and CEO) Drayton McLane's compassion and commitment to community service," said Paul Ricciarini, the Astros senior director of player personnel.
The award was named in honor of MacPhail, a longtime executive known for his creative mind. Among the innovations he instituted were night baseball, air travel and pension plans.
The award was created in 1966 and Round Rock is just the third Texas-based team to win and the first since 1993, when the now-defunct El Paso Diablos were honored.