ROUND ROCK, Texas (AP) -- Put Nolan Ryan's name on just about anything in Texas and they will come. Put it on a baseball team and they come by the thousands.
The Round Rock Express, the Houston Astros' Double-A team, was bought by the Hall of Fame pitcher, his son Reid and Houston businessman Don Sanders. They moved it here from Jackson, Miss., electrifying this Austin suburb.
The Texas League team built a $25 million stadium, and season-ticket sales were so hot that the club cut them off after 4,500. A sellout crowd of 10,699 attended the home-opener last Sunday against El Paso.
''People are excited,'' said Ryan, who threw the stadium's ceremonial first pitch. ''I played in the minors about a year and half. Obviously, the product has improved.''
A lot. On Ryan's first minor league team in 1965, he played on a Virginia high school field in a hand-me-down uniform that was too small.
''I had better uniforms when I was in high school,'' he said. ''Back in my days, the minor leagues were struggling to survive.''
Today, the Express play in a stadium lined with luxury boxes and dress in locker rooms that rival those at major colleges.
Reid Ryan, Nolan's oldest son, suggested the idea of minor league baseball to his dad after his own baseball career fizzled out.
''My original dream was to make it as a player,'' said 28-year-old Reid, who pitched in the minors from 1994-96. ''I never had the blazing fastball.''
But he had a father who helped him and Sanders buy the Jackson Generals for $5 million.
The next move was to get the team to the Austin area, which had been the nation's largest metropolitan area without a professional baseball franchise.
Twice in the 1990s, Round Rock and Austin residents had voted against proposals to spend tax money to help build stadiums for minor league teams. This time, it was approved overwhelmingly.
''It was a risky move,'' Reid Ryan said. ''But we had faith this could work. We had done our research.''
The research showed a community enjoying an economic boom because of high-tech industry. The metro area had grown to about 1 million and many transplants came from cities that had baseball.
''Round Rock was where we needed to be,'' Reid Ryan said. ''People here want baseball.''
Dell Computer Corp. got involved, too, buying the rights to put its name on Dell Diamond.
Nolan Ryan acknowledges his name helps sell the team. It was the fans who voted to name the team the Express, taking it from the pitching legend's ''Ryan Express'' major league nickname for his locomotivelike fastball.
''The fact we're from Texas, people are familiar with me and Reid, there was a comfort level that we brought here,'' Ryan said. ''They would have been suspicious of somebody from outside the state. We're not going to come in and be gone in a year or so.''
For Round Rock fans, the stadium itself, with its limestone facade, is a reason to go to the games. It certainly is the gem of the eight-team Texas League.
The 7,816 fixed seats all have chair backs and every concession stand allows a view of the field. Twenty-four skyboxes wrap around the top deck and the scoreboard has instant replay. Priced at $22,500 and $27,500, they sold out in three weeks.
Tickets range from $4 to $8; the sold-out season tickets cost as much as $450.
''We didn't even have to do a brochure,'' general manager Jay Miller said.
Around the outfield a grassy berm instead of bleacher seats holds up to 3,000 more fans.
There are basketball courts off center field, a swimming pool off left and a hot tub off right. The pool and hot tub can be rented for groups of 50 for $1,500. ''We've got 40 games booked already,'' Miller said.
There's also about 6,000 square feet of convention space available, and weddings have already been booked for the reception and meetings halls, Miller said.
''Things have changed a lot from when I was in the minors 31 years ago,'' said Express manager Jackie Moore, who guided the Oakland Athletics from 1984-1986.
''I remember in the old Alabama-Florida league, only four guys could fit into the locker room at one time to put our uniforms on. The players are actually in awe of this place.''
That's partly because balls are flying over the fences. In the first three games at the new stadium, Round Rock and El Paso hit five home runs.
And what does the pitcher with a record seven no-hitters think of his new facility?
''It's a hitter's ballpark,'' Ryan said.
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