ROUND ROCK, Texas - With the 2018 season on the horizon, the Round Rock Express announced the three candidates eligible for enshrinement into the franchise's Hall of Fame this summer: infielder Brooks Conrad , pitcher Kirk Saarloos or pitcher Chris Sampson. Fans can vote via an online poll at RoundRockExpress.com today through Friday, February 2.
Conrad appeared in 519 games for the E-Train from 2004-2007, a milestone that still ranks as the most career games played in franchise history. He burst onto the scene with the Double-A Express in 2004, finishing either first or second on the team in runs scored, hits, doubles, triples and RBI, earning both an invitation to the Texas League All-Star Game as well as team MVP honors in the process.
As the franchise moved to Triple-A in 2005, so did Conrad. Over the next three seasons, he left his mark on the record books. Saving the best for last, Conrad's frenetic 2007 campaign saw single-season records set for games played (139), at-bats (533) and total bases (284), helping him set a myriad of career high-water marks. Conrad holds all-time franchise records for career at-bats (1,963), runs scored (353), hits (507), doubles (136), triples (27), extra-base hits (243), total bases (937) and RBI (304).
He was acquired by the Oakland Athletics in 2008 and ultimately made his major league debut with the team later that season. After stints in the bigs with the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, Tampa Bay Rays and San Diego Padres, Conrad retired following the 2016 season in which he suited up for the Sugar Land Skeeters at age 36. He currently serves as a minor league coach within the Kansas City Royals organization.
Despite appearing in just 13 career games with the Express, Saarloos made the most of his time in Round Rock. The righty posted a team-best 1.40 ERA (13 ER/83.1 IP) in 2002, compiling a 10-1 record along the way. Saarloos surrendered just one home run in his 13 starts for the E-Train, baffling hitters with nearly a 4:1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio (82 K/21 BB).
Saarloos' heroics that season not only earned him Express Pitcher of the Year honors, but the fireballer was tabbed by SportsTicker as the 2002 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He was promoted from Double-A Round Rock straight to the Houston Astros, where he made his major league debut on June 18, 2002. His first career victory came just 11 days later in an 8-5 win over the Texas Rangers. Saarloos went on to appear for the Oakland Athletics and Cincinnati Reds over the course of a seven-year professional career. He currently serves as the pitching coach at Texas Christian University.
Sampson spent parts of five seasons with the Express. His Double-A debut came in Round Rock at the conclusion of the 2004 season. Like his teammate Conrad, Sampson rejoined the E-Train after the franchise joined the ranks of Triple-A.
The 2006 campaign saw Sampson set the single-season franchise record for WHIP (minimum 100.0 innings pitched), posting a 0.99 mark. He also tallied the lowest walks-per-nine-innings mark on the team, issuing just 14 free passes in 125.2 innings. Sampson's efforts in 2006 earned him Express Pitcher of the Year honors.
Among all Express pitchers who have thrown at least 150.0 career innings, Sampson currently holds franchise records for ERA (2.64) and WHIP (1.060). He made his major league debut with the Astros in 2006, where he went on to post a 20-15 record with a 4.42 ERA across five professional seasons. He appeared in 174 games at the major league level, including 33 starts, all with the Astros.
The winner will be decided between the fan vote and a panel of Express front office staff and current Hall of Fame members. He will be enshrined into the Hall during a special pregame ceremony scheduled for Saturday, July 28 as Round Rock is set to take on the Reno Aces.
The Express open the 2018 season on Thursday, April 5 with a five-game series against the Memphis Redbirds (St. Louis Cardinals affiliate) at Dell Diamond. Season memberships and flex plan ticket packages are on sale now.
For more information on the Express, visit www.RoundRockExpress.com or call (512) 255-2255. Keep up with the Express on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter!