The King Ranch Cowboys was a semi-professional, company baseball team organized by employees (or Kineños) of the King Ranch with the backing and support of ranch managers Robert Kleberg, Jr., and Richard Mifflin Kleberg, Sr. Although the Cowboys formally existed from 1952 to 1961, baseball games between employees from different branches of the King Ranch occurred as early as the 1930s. Despite seven-day work weeks on the King Ranch and little leisure time, the first company baseball club (called the Lions and later the Seven-Ups) was created after World War II in 1946 and began playing semi-professional teams from other towns. Formal record keeping, scheduling, an official roster, and a team photograph took place by 1948 along with Sunday games at Assault Park. The baseball diamond was constructed in 1948 by team members and named for the King Ranch’s 1946 Triple Crown-winning horse Assault. Assault Park contained a clay infield and grass outfield, and a grandstand held approximately 400 fans, though many attendees made their own seating under surrounding shade trees.
The King Ranch was one of many companies that sponsored employee sports teams in order to both advertise and establish connections with their communities and employees as well as earn extra revenue through admission at games. For the members of the team, the organization offered a break from work on the King Ranch and entertainment for their families and friends (despite a lack of extra pay for their play).
Although ranch management owned the team, the Cowboys (as they renamed themselves in 1952) were organized and managed by King Ranch employees Adán Muñoz, Sr. (who served as the team president) and Jesús Garcia (who served as general manager). As president, Muñoz used his personal relationship with Richard Kleberg, Jr., to negotiate for supplies and equipment for the team. As general manager, Garcia handled the team’s finances and scheduling. Originally, the players on the team were members of Kineños families with roots on the King Ranch that had existed for nearly a century. Six players who were on the team from 1948 to 1961 were David Borrego, Sr., Alberto Buentello, Cipriano Escobedo, Cipriano García, Gilberto Rodríguez, and Alberto Treviño. By the team’s final year, Stephen “Tio” Kleberg suited up with the team.
By the early 1950s the Cowboys began playing heavier (teams with paid, talented players) semi-professional teams from Laredo, Edinburg, the Coastal Bend, and Mexico in Kingsville. To compete with other semi-pros, beginning in 1950 the Cowboys began stacking their team with talented players from nearby Kingsville and semi-professional Anglo and African American players. These games were both local affairs (with the Cowboys only playing at Assault Park) and a part of the National Baseball Congress (NBC, a national organization that held tournaments for semi-professional baseball clubs), of which the King Ranch Cowboys team was a charter member.
Notable games that established the Cowboys as a team that could contend with the heaviest semi-professional teams include: a 1953 victory over the African-American San Antonio Grand Prize; two 1954 close losses to the Monterrey All-Stars, which featured one-armed first baseman and former Mexican League professional Pedro Barbosa; three games—in 1953, 1954, and 1956—with the San Antonio Brooke Army Medical Comets (a team heavily stacked with top minor league and a few major league players); two 1954 victories in a doubleheader against an All-Star team from Corpus Christi’s Coastal Giants League; defeats in 1955 and 1957 to the professional Corpus Christi Clippers; and a 1956 NBC tournament victory over local rivals the Kingsville Wildcats, who were Coastal Giants League champions. The Cowboys won NBC district tournaments in 1952, 1954, and 1956 but did not play in the state tournament because of work conflicts, a problem that many semiprofessional teams faced.
Kingsville Record sports editor Jake Trussell was an enthusiastic promoter of the team, and the games at Assault Park from 1952 to 1958 routinely gathered crowds of 1,000 attendees (with bigger games drawing upwards to 2,000) and included gambling and drinking. The team’s popularity garnered profits that went for team jackets and, occasionally, $50 to $100 bonuses for each player. The Sunday afternoon games, one of the few outside activities available, were events where families gathered to barbecue and drink beer. Heckling was allowed but not fighting or yelling threats. The games went without incident and offered an integrated atmosphere to African Americans as well.
Despite their popularity, the attendance at Assault Park began to decline in 1958 as the team began to travel for games outside of Kingsville, and other sports and indoor activities drew fans away from local games. Like many other semi-professional teams during the early 1960s, the King Ranch Cowboys dissolved as an organization because of declining home-game attendance. However, many former players became prominent citizens in the Kingsville area and remained committed to the sport of baseball by serving as coaches, umpires, and board members for local little leagues and high school teams.
The South Texas Museum in Alice honored the King Ranch Cowboys team in a baseball exhibit in April 1999. A year later, on April 16, 2000, a memorial ceremony was held to formally dedicate Assault Park. A few small reunions of former players were held at the King Ranch as late as the 2010s.