Reporter: Ellie Mahan
May 5, 2022
The Cleburne Railroaders, the number one independent professional baseball team in the state, will hold a White Bluff Block Party from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, May 7 at the home of Bill Dudley, season ticket holder and owner of B&C Exteriors.
The event will have entertainment for the whole family, with a bounce house as well as a performance from country artists Jolie and Sonny Burgess. The baseball team’s owner, staff members, a few players and mascots Spike and Gandy will be in attendance.
Rory Niewenhous, sales manager for The Cleburne Railroaders, said, “It is really important that we get the counties and cities that are surrounding Cleburne involved with The Railroaders. Not many towns have a minor league team like we do here, and we want community involvement here with the Railroaders…We just really value Hill County. There are so many baseball fans that are big supporters of us. There is a huge population of people that we think would love to come out.”
Karla Moody, president of the Cleburne Railroaders Booster Club, lives in Covington and sees the growth and the new housing developments that are coming to Hill County. She believes that the minor league baseball team could be a drawing point for newcomers to the area. Moody said, “I think that the Railroaders and Hill County have a lot to offer each other. They are not far away. They’re a professional baseball team. It’s a great environment for people 30 minutes down the road to go catch a baseball game that is family friendly and a lot of fun.”
The White Bluff Block party will celebrate the start of baseball season, as opening night for The Railroaders is Friday, May 20, starting at 7:05 p.m. Opening night will kick off with a flyover from Hill County Commissioner Andrew Montgomery and will continue with the Whitney High School Choir performing The National Anthem. The Whitney Young Guns, youth baseball organization, will participate in A Field Of Dreams, which means that The Whitney Young Guns (12 years of age and younger) will be introduced on the field and will stand with The Railroaders during The National Anthem.
Opening night will also celebrate first responders in conjunction with the Chisholm Trail 100 Club. Niewenhous said, “Our community is just really supportive of first responders, and they do so much. There are so many individuals that don’t get recognized, so we value those people, and we value their families, and the sacrifices they make.”
The Railroaders also show appreciation for members of the armed forces, first responders, healthcare professionals or other deserving citizens during every Railroaders home game in the regular 2022 season in a program they call HomeTown Heroes.
In addition to The White Bluff Block Party, the Railroaders are also planning a Hill County Night for a Friday night baseball game in July. During last year’s Hill County Night, Sheriff Rodney Watson threw the first pitch, according to Niewenhous, who said Sheriff Watson is a big supporter of the Railroaders and is a member of its booster club.
“We usually draw around 3,000 people to our Friday night games, so the experience is just really fun and different than the rest of the nights during the week, and we want the people of Hill County to come up and experience something special,” Niewenhous said.
Following every Railroaders Friday night home game, everyone in the stands is welcomed onto the field with the players for a fireworks show.
“We are really focused on affordable family entertainment. Our fans are number one. I’m really proud of our organization and the things that we do here to make the experience for everyone fantastic. For families, it’s a really great place,” Niewenhous said. “What parents have told me is that the park is built in a way that you can see your kid wherever they are in the park. You can always spot them.”
The Railroaders’ stadium has a kid’s zone and a basketball court, where children can burn off all their energy after filling up on cotton candy and sodas. There is also a sports bar and grill, where season ticket holders and sponsors can cool off and grab a bite to eat before returning to the game.
People from all walks of life, whether they are big baseball fans or not, can appreciate the atmosphere of a Railroaders baseball game, Niewenhous said. “During the summertime, I see so many diverse groups of people come here, and then they walk away, having had the best time. They have a great experience that they never would’ve imagined. That is why I’m so focused on getting communities like Hill County up here because I know when they come, they will have an amazing time. Personally, I know summertime at the ballpark is the best place to be,” he said.
Last year, the Railroaders made the playoffs for the first time, and the team can’t wait to go further this year and hopefully bring a championship to Texas.
“We’ve got a great squad that our manager Logan Watkins has put together, and we’re really excited. I know there is some stiff competition in the league, but we’re really excited to build upon last year’s playoff,” he said.
In addition to being the Cleburne Railroaders Booster Club President, Karla Moody has also been a host home for the Railroaders baseball players for four years. Nearly all of the baseball players are not from the Cleburne area, with many coming from foreign countries.
Host homes offer a welcoming space where players have a bedroom and access to laundry and food. Many of the players have never been to Texas, so host families do their best to make the players feel welcome and to highlight the best aspects of Texas. Players will begin arriving to host homes Sunday, May 1.
Moody said, “The players are very appreciative of their host families opening up their homes, so they have a good place to stay and are welcomed. That peace of mind allows the players to focus and play the game they love.”
Moody is proud to help the players feel at home. She said, “We love it, and we have made great relationships with players that we are still in touch with and still talk to. They’re just like family.” The players that Moody hosted in the past formed brotherly bonds with her sons that continued after they moved out.
“All of my players have literally just become like another son. I have all boys, so they just become one of my boys. I have two [past hosted players] that still call me Mom. I call them my adopted sons,” Moody said. “They are great influences for my kids to look up to.”
Moody loves the environment of a Friday night baseball game and watching the Railroaders interact with children after the game, as they give autographs and take photos with them.
“I can’t brag enough how much I love The Cleburne Railroaders and everyone there, everyone involved, John Junker, everyone. I cannot wait for baseball season. It is such an exciting time. If you haven’t experienced it, you’ve got to come.”
Regular tickets for a single game range from $10-$16. Currently, half season tickets (25 games) are $375, and full season tickets (50 games) are $675. To learn more about The Cleburne Railroaders or to purchase tickets, visit ilovetexasbaseball.com.
The White Bluff Block Party will be held at 35028 Shadywood Lane in White Bluff.