The Cleburne Railroaders are set to open the 2019 season against Sioux Falls on May 16 at The Depot, and it’s time for Cleburne, Johnson County and surrounding communities to jump on the train.
The first two seasons of Railroader baseball certainly had its fair share of ups and downs — with more downs than ups — but the organization has essentially undergone a complete makeover after a new ownership group took over in November 2018 and installed a new and experienced front office along with a new and proven coaching staff.
Cleburne outfielder K.C. Huth is the only player remaining since day 1, along with radio broadcaster Brad Allred.
While Huth is like most players in independent baseball who are striving to get their shot with an affiliated organization, the former West Virginia Mountaineer said he’s grateful to be with an organization like the Railroaders going on three years now.
“There’s a good side and bad side to it,” Huth said. “For me, the good thing is I love it here. There’s nowhere else I’d rather play in independent ball. The bad thing is I want to be in affiliated ball. But it’s an honor to be here for my third year. It says something about this organization and what they see in me. I try to carry myself on and off the field as in I’m representing this Railroader organization. It’s a blessing.
“For me and Brad being the only ones around here since day 1, we’ve seen low lows and we’ve seen some highs, but hopefully this year we can have more consistency with the highs.”
Those “low lows” include winning only 40 percent of their games the past two seasons, including a 33-66 mark last season. But expectations from throughout the organization are high that the Railroaders will be one of the best teams in the American Association this year.
And a lot of that faith starts at the top with a new director of baseball operations in Josh Robertson along with new manager Brent Clevlen, both of whom have been highly successful in the American Association.
Robertson built Wichita into one of the premier clubs in the American Association as the Wingnuts won 678 games against 459 losses in 11 seasons. Last year, Clevlen led the Wingnuts to a 61-39 record in his managerial debut following a record-setting career as a player across 16 seasons.
Aside from winning a league championship, the top goal of the Railroaders is to get players to Major League organizations, and Robertson knows how to do that as he has sent 42 players to MLB-affiliated organizations.
With newcomers such as Robertson and Clevlen, among others, there’s a new feel to Railroaders baseball. And Huth has already seen a big difference within the club this offseason and throughout the first few days of spring training.
“Every year we kind of start with the same excitement and we think this team is going to be different than the year before, but this year I think there was a little more preparation in the management and office side of things,” Huth said. “They’ve done some deep digging to find some really good players.
“I’m excited. We’ve got a team full of athletes and we’ve got a team full of guys who know how to win. We all have one thing in mind and that’s to get a championship. We’re excited.”
The Railroaders made national headlines last summer when they signed former MLB great Rafael Palmeiro and his son, Patrick. And the father-son duo are back for year 2 with the Railroaders. Like Huth, Rafael Palmeiro has seen a huge change within the club.
“I think it starts with the ownership,” Palmeiro said. “We have a new ownership group that came in and recognized that changes needed to be made. They brought in a new general manager and brought in a bunch of new players. It’s a whole new club. ... From top to bottom, the whole thing is first class. It will show on the field.”
For those fans who haven’t given the Railroaders or independent baseball a chance — or maybe for those fans who came out to one or two games the first two years then lost interest — the Railroaders are hoping the community jumps on board with a new feeling at The Depot this season.
This baseball team is yours, Cleburne. And the players and coaches want you to know that.
“We want the fans to come out because they’re part of this,” Clevlen said. “When they come out to support us, it helps these players to go out and perform. We want these fans to know our players are excited to be here in Cleburne and they want to get to know these fans. We have a lot of great guys that are willing to interact with fans. I think that develops a good fan-player relationship, and we want it to be that type of atmosphere.
“You look at this stadium, it’s built for interaction with players. Fans are able to be close to the action and can come down and talk to the players before or after the game. It makes it a lot more enjoyable when these fans get to know the players and they sort of feel like they’re part of it. That’s what we want.”
Palmeiro believes the Railroaders will provide plenty of entertainment for the community.
“My message to the fans is we’re going to have a fun and exciting season,” Palmeiro said. “We have lot of players who are committed to this season and winning. Our management and our ownership are committed to that as well. They’ve committed a lot of money into the organization. They want to build a championship team here. We want to create some excitement for this community and the surrounding communities. I’m excited about it. It’s going to be fun. I hope that people come out and cheer for us and support us. It will be good.”
Cleburne is currently in the midst of a six-game exhibition schedule prior to officially opening the 2019 campaign. At 6 p.m. tonight and Wednesday, the Railroaders host the Road Warrior Black Sox at The Depot to close out a three-game exhibition series. Then Cleburne heads to Grand Prairie’s AirHog Stadium at 1 p.m. Friday and Saturday for a pair of exhibition games against the rival Texas AirHogs. Cleburne’s final exhibition is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday when the Railroaders host the AirHogs.
Tickets to these exhibition games are just $5 for any seat, so you have a perfect chance to get a sneak peak at what’s to come for Railroader baseball this season.
And Huth and the Railroaders hope to see you out at The Depot throughout the summer as they strive for a championship.
“Every year is a new year,” Huth said. “I promise the fans this year that it’s going to be different. I also promise if we have some low times to stick with us because this team is built to last. We’re built to be a consistent winning team. My message to the fans is to jump on the train.”
For information on partnerships, season tickets, group outings, and party packages, call the Railroaders main office at 817-945-8705 or visit the website at www.railroaderbaseball.com.