Omar Quintanilla takes a swing in a recent Express game. Quintanilla hit .329 in 2002, the year the Longhorns won the College World Series.

Photo Credit: Round Rock Express | Daily Texan Staff

Ten years ago, he came to Austin to begin what would be a superb college baseball career. Now, he’s back in Central Texas playing baseball again.

Omar Quintanilla, who helped Texas win the 2002 College World Series, currently plays shortstop for the nearby Round Rock Express. After spending five years in the Colorado Rockies organization, Quintanilla was signed last December by the Texas Rangers. They sent him to their Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock, giving him the opportunity to play competitive baseball for an Austin area team for the first time in eight years.

“It’s awesome,” Quintanilla said. “I have a lot of memories right down the street. It’s good to back in Texas, with the warm weather. I’m back in my home state again and I’ve got friends and family here so it’s good.”

In his first series with the Express, Quintanilla was brilliant. He hit a walk-off single and went 2-for-4 in his Round Rock debut May 7, going 6-for-13 in his first three games. Quintanilla has since come back to Earth, hitting .235 since that opening series and .216 over his last 10 games. Despite his recent slump and the fact that the Rangers have a reliable shortstop in Elvis Andrus, there may still be a chance for Quintanilla to make Texas’ 40-man roster.

“It’s a tough process because there’s a lot of talented athletes out there,” he said. “Sometimes you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time.”

Until the Express’ most recent contest, a 6-3 loss to Albuquerque, they held the PCL South Division lead for the entirety of Quintanilla’s time with them. During Quintanilla’s time in Colorado, he spent most of his days with the Triple-A squad in Colorado Springs, but managed to get 500 at-bats with the big league club.

“It was a dream come true,” Quintanilla said. “Everything I worked for paid off.”

In Round Rock, Quintanilla and his teammates are enjoying a bit of success. The Express are on pace for the first winning season since 2006 and before Tuesday, the Express held at least a share of the division lead for 53 straight days. One of Quintanilla’s teammates, Taylor Teagarden, was also his teammate at Texas in 2003, when they were two of the Longhorns’ top five hitters.

“It’s good because we talk about the old-school days,” Quintanilla said. “But it’s good to have somebody that you know that you can talk about things from the past.”

Two of Quintanilla’s coaches, hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh and third-base coach Spike Owen, also played for Texas. Both Coolbaugh and Owen played on CWS-participating teams, while Quintanilla, in 2002, and Teagarden, in 2005, won national championships.

“At that age, it was just like you watch on TV with major league World Series,” said Quintanilla, who went 4-for-5 against South Carolina in the title-clinching win nine years ago. “You win that and you want to do it at the next level. It makes you hungry for that.”

A lot can change when a minor league organization switches affiliations. For the Round Rock Express, it means impressive attendance figures and newfound postseason aspirations.

The Express, in their first season as the Triple-A affiliate of MLB’s Texas Rangers, are enjoying what could be their first winning season since 2006, as they are clinging to a half-game lead in the Pacific Coast League’s South Division. In each of their past four series, Round Rock has gone 2-2. The Express can make it five consecutive split series with a win Tuesday night over the Albuquerque Isotopes, the team narrowly trailing the Express in the PCL South.

“This team is hitting on all cylinders,” said shortstop Omar Quintanilla. “We’re a force to be reckoned with. What we’re trying to do is a win a championship.”

Quintanilla is one of two former Longhorns on the roster, along with catcher Taylor Teagarden.

After spending five years in the Colorado Rockies organization, Quintanilla, who helped Texas win the 2002 national championship, was signed by the Rangers last December. Teagarden, who was a part of the 2005 Longhorns squad that won it all, was the Rangers’ third-round selection in 2005 and is hitting .338 this season.

The Express are improving, largely because they are now affiliated with the defending American League champion, division-leading Rangers and not the cellar-dwelling Astros. It has been six years since Houston has been in the playoffs, when they won the 2005 NL pennant. That kind of failure rubbed off on the Express — it’s been five years since the Express have had a winning season. Now, at 33-25, Round Rock is in a position to have that elusive winning record and reach the postseason.

Another benefit to being affiliated with a better big league ball club is an influx of higher-profile players passing through for rehab assignments. Reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton and fellow slugger Nelson Cruz had three-game stints with Round Rock in May on their way back from the disabled list. In their second game with the Express, a 9-4 victory, both Hamilton and Cruz went deep. They also both homered in their first game back with the Rangers, a 4-0 win over the White Sox. The Rangers are 10-4 since their return.

Considered to be one of the finest minor league ballparks in America, the Dell Diamond also does its part to attract big crowds. It is a fan-friendly venue complete with a swimming pool, Sport Court, rock wall and a conference center. It comes as no surprise that the Express are leading the league in attendance, averaging 8,339 fans per game; over 1,000 more than the next closest team.

The Express are more appealing now. They have a better team, bigger names passing through, a great stadium and even multiple former popular Longhorns. From a fan’s perspective, the Express provide everything one could ask for. Now the team, in its first official season as the Rangers’ affiliate in Round Rock, is ready to deliver by capturing the division title and giving themselves a shot at the league championship.