Officials from the Cleburne Railroaders baseball team updated Pinnacle 50 members on the upcoming season and The Depot on Friday.
Railroaders President John Junker was on hand joined by pitching coach Mike Jeffcoat, who also works in Railroaders sales in the off season, and Director of Sales David Kirk.
Although the season wrapped in September and won’t resume until May activity aplenty remains ongoing, Junker said.
Cleburne voters in 2015 approved $25 million in bonds to purchase land and construct The Depot, which serves as a baseball stadium and family entertainment complex. Plans call for developing the land surrounding The Depot into a mix of retail, restaurant and entertainment businesses.
New Era Partners, the company charged with developing the retail portion of Cleburne Station, assumed ownership and operation of the Railroaders last year. The reconstituted team in their third year back — they had previously fielded teams in 1906 and 1911 — narrowly missed the playoffs. Junker said moves are being made in the offseason to ensure and even better 2020 season.
“So this was our first year,” Junker said. “It was a learning experience for sure, but it was a really good year.”
The Railroaders, under previous ownership, went 33-66 in 2018 but in 2019 posted a 57-43 record.
Injuries, unfortunately, wreaked havoc on an otherwise promising season, Jeffcoat said.
“We had a lot of injuries, which all teams have, but we had more than our share,” Jeffcoat said. “That probably cost us 10 or more games and made a huge difference. We would have made the playoffs otherwise. Instead we were one game away from making it and ended up tied for second place.”
That said, the team recorded dramatic improvement over its first two seasons back, Junker and Jeffcoat said.
Attendance increased by 20 percent.
“Our wins and attendance were drastically improved,” Jeffcoat said. “Josh Robertson, our general manager, is working hard to find some more key players for next year and we’re going to continue to keep working toward improving.”
Junker ran through highlights of last season.
“The Railroaders had more wins than they’ve ever had,” Junker said. “Josh Robertson, who brings 20 years of experience to the table, was chosen as executive of the year for the American Association of Independent Baseball. Five of our players were chosen to play in the All-Star game, and we hired Brent Clevlen, John Rodriguez and [Mike Jeffcoat] all ex MLB guys and guys with coaching experience.”
Junker, whose background is in golf property management said he knows the value of bringing good people on board.
“That’s why we made sure to get baseball guys, people who know what they’re doing,” Junker said. “Always surround yourself with good people. People who know their craft more than you do.”
Junker likewise credited others for the team’s success.
“When I got here we met with the American Association, met with the leadership of Cleburne and the voice we heard was, ‘Let’s get a competitive team on the field and get credibility for the team.’
“And that’s been our goal and is our goal moving forward, to create that sense of pride that the Railroaders are Cleburne and Johnson County’s team. Sure we want to build attendance and sponsorships but more importantly we want to build on that sense of pride and culture in the community.”
Which requires involvement, Junker said.
“All of us and our ownership group, and I have to credit [New Era CEO Daryn Eudaly] there, we’re committed. We’re committed to Cleburne and Johnson County. Not only do we want to bring a winner to the baseball side but we want to be more than a baseball team. Our players are excited about visiting schools to read to kids, about participating in Meals-on-Wheels. Next year we’re going to be involved in Christmas in Action.”
Pinnacle Bank Vice President Guy James told Junker that, even though he’s only been in Cleburne a short while, he and his crew have made a positive difference.
“You’re such an all-in community leader,” James said. “That’s been so evident from the turnaround since you came on board and I just want you to know how much we sure appreciate you and your team.”
Junker and Jeffcoat both praised the fans’ support over the past three years as well as the enthusiasm of the players.
“Grass roots baseball is what I call it,” Jeffcoat said. “You’ll see guys hustling with a little bit different attitude, maybe better attitude than the major league players because they have a lot to prove. They’re hungry and want to get a chance to go to the major leagues, and we want them to get that opportunity to go to the next level.”
Such is not unheard of, Jeffcoat said, noting that the pitcher for the World Series champion Washington Nationals, Max Scherzer, once played for the Fort Worth Cats.
Not to mention the entertainment on hand at The Depot both during and outside of baseball games, Jeffcoat said.
We’re very proud of the product we’re putting on the baseball field,” Jeffcoat said. “If you’ve never been I strongly encourage you and think you’ll be very impressed.”
Jeffcoat, who played for the Cleveland Indians, San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers, said he was lucky enough, during his time with the Rangers, to score the locker next to Nolan Ryan, or so he thought.
“I thought, ‘Man this is great.’” Jeffcoat said. “But it didn’t take long to figure out why that locker was available. Because, after the game, there would be about 100 reporters in there surrounding Nolan and no way for me to get to my locker.”
The entertainment options, concerts and other events, are going to increase in the year ahead, Jeffcoat added.
Although he’s new to Cleburne, having arrived about three weeks ago, Kirk said he’s excited to be here.
“The ultimate deciding factor for me was seeing the commitment they have to the Railroaders around and the vision of where they want to go,” Kirk said.
Kirk, who played college ball, brings the perspective of both a true fan of the game in addition to more than a decade of sports sales experience.
Kirk characterized The Depot as a gem abounding with possibility and echoed Junker and Jeffcoat’s big-picture vision.
“Baseball is our focal point but we need other things,” Kirk said. “I see The Depot as a community gathering place of pride and, to that end, we’re going to do more than baseball there. We had our first big concert last week, for example.
“But there’s so much growth potential with that stadium that we’re going to be able to build on and make it an even more exciting and entertaining place.”
Pinnacle Bank Vice President Tim Whitlock agreed.
“I hear so many great things about that stadium from people in the Metroplex and outside of Johnson County,” Whitlock said. “I’m not sure we here realize what we have.”
Pinnacle 50 Club consists of local officials and leaders who meet monthly to enjoy presentations and discuss issues affecting Cleburne and the county.