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Drillers Stadium, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Drillers Stadium, Tulsa, OKLAHOMA

Number of states: 3
States to go: 47
Number of games: 1
First game: April 11, 2004 (Tulsa Drillers 1, Frisco RoughRiders 0)

I attended the ballgame in Tulsa on Easter Sunday.  I challenge anyone to find another person who visited Tulsa that holiday who was not drawn there by family or business.  The best part about the trip to (and from) Tulsa was avoiding the interstates.  Just like I had done

with my father nearly twelve years earlier on our trip to Arlington Stadium, I stayed entirely off interstates–on state and county roads, my preferred mode of travel.  And wow, was it fun.  Driving through the little towns along the way in southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma…with every tiny town the host to one (or more) big churches, and every church packed to the gills with cars.  I must admit, that morning was a little I-love-the-USA moment for me.  Because of my recent ancestry, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Midwest, and looking at all of these packed churches even made my then-lapsed religious self feel like we are a country filled with a lot of decent, kind people.  Sure, if I’d taken the time to step into, say, the First Baptist Church in whatever tiny town and listen to the sermon, I may well have been blown out of my I-love-the-USA reverie by whatever makes-me-embarrassed-to-be-Christian garbage was emanating from the pulpit, but on this morning, I gave everyone the benefit of the doubt.  I drove through the crops on a cool sunny Easter with Jesus Christ Superstar cranked up on my rented car’s CD player.  And I felt good.

I only wish the charm of my journey to Drillers Stadium was matched by the charm of Drillers Stadium.  The stadium fails on a few counts, but mainly this one:  it is absolutely impossible to tell what city you’re in while seated in the stadium.  Seriously.  Check out the photo here. 

Were it not for the Tulsa World advertisement, would you have any idea what city you were in?  What state?  What region?  There is literally no hint to that in the photo.  We had a Walgreens past left field, a Lowe’s past right, and a city utilities department behind a foul line.  There’s no skyline in view (although within city limits, the ballpark is several miles from downtown, in a suburban-feeling location near the state fairgrounds and an old horse track…cars park on the infield of the track).  There are no natural landmarks to see from the park (the nearly dried-up Arkansas river runs on the other side of town), and not even any local promotion that leaps out at me as “Only in Oklahoma” or even “Only in the Southwest.”  Look, I know we’re losing regional differences in this country, almost to the point where only weather, flora, fauna, and natural landscapes differentiate us.  I bet that, with literally every ballpark on this journey, I’ll be able to sip a Starbucks before the game and head to either a TGIFridays, Outback, Chili’s, or Applebee’s afterwards.  This bothers me, and the ballpark needs to combat that.  It’s not that I’m incapable of grading suburban parks highly, even with our nation’s similarities between suburban locations–Everett, for instance, is in a humdrum suburban location, but redeems itself by providing a huge grassy pavilion and a view of the mountains.  Tulsa does nothing, and as a result, is charmless.

Even the mascot, which I felt was promising at first, fell flat when measured for local color.  The blue-colored bull (with whom I asked an usher to photograph me…only to find when I got home that he didn’t properly take

the picture…what’s with my luck in choosing only complete incompetents to take my picture at ballparks?) is named Hornsby.  What an awesome name for a mascot.  I asked the mascot if it was after Rogers Hornsby.  He gave me a thumbs-up.  (He could only communicate with charades.)  I then asked the mascot if Rogers Hornsby was from Tulsa.  The mascot shrugged.  I really wanted Rogers Hornsby to be from Tulsa, or at least Oklahoman.  Didn’t turn out to be true…he just turned out to have played in the Texas League for a while.  Close to a great mascot idea, but no cigar.  There’s just a tiny little hint at Drillers’ history in the ballpark, and it’s misplaced…it’s on the inside of the seating bowl, right under the press box behind home plate.  There are nice paintings of past great Drillers, mostly Texas Ranger products of the ’80s and ’90s like Sammy Sosa and Juan Gonzalez.  Surely Tulsa has a richer history than that.  Another near miss.

My ballpark experience was certainly not helped by an astonishing screw-up by Drillers ticket staff.  Not long after my arrival, a good-natured guy seated a few seats to my left asks me a strange question.  “Did they sell you that seat?”  The answer was yes…row two behind third base, right on the aisle.  “Really?  Man.  I bought that seat as a season ticket, and they’ve been selling it to people.”  Geez, I said, do you want me to move?  (Hardly a problem, due to the very low attendance on a chilly Easter Sunday afternoon.)  He said it wasn’t necessary.  Apparently the fine folks at the Drillers had taken his money for season tickets…and then went ahead and sold his seats to anyone who wanted them on Ticketmaster.  Worse, when he called to complain, their solution was this:  that, in the event there was another patron with his seat, he was to tell them to report to the ticket office for reseating.  Amazing.

It was here, in the fifth ballpark of the minor-league quest, that I became conflicted about the “Promotions” portion of my score. 

Tulsa did few, if any, between innings.  But it occurred to me that, at least with quality Double-A ball in front of me, I didn’t miss them.  Short-season A ball?  Okay, distract me a little between innings (but never during the game).  So I will take care to remember that only distracting promotions are to be penalized from now on.

So, in the end, the nice people of Oklahoma were the best part of this ballpark.  Although I can’t say I had a rip-roaring conversation with any of them, one did let me stay in his season-ticket seat without sending me to the ticket office as he’d inexplicably been asked to do.  Good thing, too…being in the second row of a quiet, nearly-empty ballpark like this enabled me to hear Tulsa manager Tom Runnells argue a safe call at third base.  (He was actually quite polite in his disagreement…no foul language or personal attacks.)   Another let me take a photo of her with rabbit ears on her head.  And this high-school-aged couple were terribly cute and clearly quite affectionate for each other without any groping or tonsil hockey…it was very sweet to watch.  So it was certainly a nice Easter at the ballpark, but I’m afraid the ballpark left an awful lot to be desired.

I know there’s a lot of Tulsa/Oklahoma City rivalry, but if ever I’m back in Oklahoma, I’ll look forward to visiting the ballpark in Oklahoma City’s Bricktown.  It certainly looks to be superior to Drillers Stadium.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  2/10
Quite simply none.  The Walgreens in left is hardly Fenway’s Citgo sign.  The Lowe’s Hardware in right could be any Lowe’s.  Flat Oklahoma offers no real views from the seating bowl.  Drop me in the ballpark and cover up any text that says “Tulsa,” and I would have no Godly idea where I was.  Only the few photos of ex-Drillers save this score.

Charm:  1/5
Simply none.  Between the utilities plant and the former horse track…nothing to show any personality.  I’m writing this two weeks after my visit, and I barely remember anything about it.

Spectacle: 3.5/5
Nicely and quietly integrated promotions…both quiet and effective.  Strangest promotion…the Kansas City Royals, neither the parent club of the Drillers nor at all close to Tulsa, advertised heavily, including giving away tickets to home Royals games.

Team mascot/name:  4.5/5
As I said, I have minor quibbles with the name “Hornsby,” but the name “Drillers” may be one of the best nicknames in the minors.  Perfectly locally appropriate, unique, and sort of intimidating. The usher screwed up my picture of Hornsby, so instead, I will reproduce this photo of this innocent, completely non-stereotypical mascot from a local Mexican restaurant.


Aesthetics:  1/5
Neither the ballpark nor its surroundings do anything for me.

Pavilion area:  3/5
Not bad.  Good lineups, but not a lot of character.

Scoreability:  5/5
Excellent job by the scoreboard guy communicating a tricky passed ball/wild pitch ruling on a botched intentional walk.

Fans:  3.5/5
Nice people, but not enough of them.

Intangibles:  3/5
Maybe I was just tired from the drive, but there just was nothing that seemed to impress me on this day.  The game was pretty good, though, which helps.

TOTAL:  26.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

A pitchers’ duel between Tulsa (the Rockies’ affiliate…the Rockies basically only draft pitchers because they figure no decent free agent will willingly pitch for them) and Frisco (the Rangers affiliate, who had drafted a lot of pitching lately due to a complete lack of it with the big club).  Justin Hampsen and Kameron Loe, the starters, put a lot of zeroes on the board.

RoughRiders reliever Frank Francisco (that’s Spanish for Frank Frank) gives up the only run of the game in one of the most bizarre fashions I’ve ever seen.  Bottom of the eighth.  He walks the Drillers’ Tony Miller, who steals second.  He strikes out Jayson Nix, then intentionally walks Shawn Garnett.  But catcher Josh McKinley lets the ball get by him on the first pitch of the intentional walk.  Passed ball.  First screwed up intentional walk I’ve ever seen at any level, in person or on TV.  So, they finish the walk.  First and third, one out…and Francisco balks in what turns out to be the winning run.  Weird.  Minor league baseball…catch it!

The Ballpark in Arlington

The Ballpark in Arlington, Arlington TX

Number of games:  2
First game:  April 12, 2004 (Rangers 7, Angels 6)
Most recent game:  April 13, 2004 (A’s 10, Rangers 9)

After three years of an Ameriquest Field moniker, The Ballpark in Arlington is known as Rangers Ballpark in Arlington as of March 2007.

(Click any image to view a larger version.)

Two things I like, and will travel to see:  baseball stadiums and historic museums.  The Ballpark in Arlington enabled me to see both of them in the same day!  For this and many other reasons, The Ballpark in Arlington was a huge, pleasant surprise…big enough of a pleasant surprise to be a top-5 ballpark.

baarlingtonventura

Why didn't Ventura sign it too?

So unabashedly baseball-loving, and so unabashedly Texan!  For starters, there’s the deification of Nolan Ryan.

Of course, everybody deifies Nolan Ryan, as he is the only player in baseball history to have his number retired by three different teams.  But in Arlington, Ryan-worship is taken to the nth degree.  The ballpark is located on Nolan Ryan Drive (closer to the ballpark even than the cleverly named Pennant Drive…perhaps because, while the Rangers have had Nolan Ryan, they haven’t had a pennant).  Everywhere you look, there’s a Ryan reminder.  The statue feels right, although I’d rather it not be hidden away beyond the center field bleachers.  It deserves a spot outside the entrance.  Perhaps a little more disturbing was the signed photo for sale in the gift shop of one of the most famous pummelings in the history of sports…his facial on Robin Ventura.  Now, I normally hate bench-clearing brawls, but even I got a visceral charge out of watching him crush Ventura that night.  There was something just so, well, one-sided about it, on top of the notion that you can’t challenge God.  But would I want this on my wall?  Would I pay money to bring this into my home?  Well, maybe if I were a massive Ranger or Ryan fan, I suppose…

It’s not just Ranger or Ryan history that the ballpark celebrates.  It also is a hotspot for baseball history in general.  The ballpark is attached to the Legends of the Game Museum, which contains the largest collection of baseball memorabilia outside of Cooperstown.  I can classify the memorabilia in this museum (and, I assume, in Cooperstown) into two groups:  idol-worship and history.  The first bit–the busts, jerseys, bats, balls, and shoes–does absolutely nothing for me.  Out of all of the items in this classification, I only took a picture of one…Sparky Anderson’s shoes, worn during a game in 1990.  Seriously.

Who the hell wants to see Sparky’s shoes?  And not even from a playoff year?  It reminds me a bit of going to a church in Italy and seeing some saint’s blackened, decaying finger in a glass case.  Only nobody’s praying in front of Sparky’s shoes.  Yet.

The second classification is the numbers section.  I love seeing all of the numbers, and the folks at the Legends museum take care

of theirs with care.  Note the all-time home run leader list in this picture here.  The picture is not otherwise notable except for what’s going on with the tie for third place all-time.  Barry Bonds is tied for third with Willie Mays at 660.  The key here is that I visited the museum the afternoon of April 13, 2004.  Barry had only hit #660 the night before, and would hit #661 that night.  This means that the museum staff are updating their numbers daily!  This is quite a feat, especially when one considers that the museum didn’t just track all-time leaders in at least a dozen categories, but also active league leaders, Rangers’ all-time leaders, and Rangers’ active leaders.  There were quite a few numbers up there that the staff had to stay on top of nightly, and the net result was me feeling exactly the way I like to feel in a ballpark:  like I’m in the middle of a thousand stories that will be recorded for all of history.

Finally, the museum did an excellent job of communicating baseball history, especially local baseball history.  Their large section on Rangers history included an original scorecard of Kenny Rogers’ perfect game, and they branched out to the minor leagues with a large exhibit on Texas League history.  I like this even more than the numbers…these are stories, interesting stories I’ve never known, presented in the context of where I am and what I’m doing that night.

The sense of history continued in the walk around the stadium.  The Ballpark in Arlington has a brick display to commemorate every team in Rangers history…and every player on every team in Rangers history.  Think I’m kidding?  Check out these bricks:


Yup.  There it is, etched in stone for time immemorial:  Larry Biittner’s underwhelming numbers that were achieved, it appears, during the baseball season of 197 A.D.  Immediately, I was curious as to who I could see commemorated from my single trip to Arlington Stadium (which, by the way, I am certain NOBODY but an incredibly sentimental Texan sap misses).  The Rangers had a god-awful day…the only performance I could remember was the horrendous start by Brian Bohanon, who, along with four teammates, helped to walk Jose Canseco five times in five at-bats.  I think it was one of Bohanon’s first starts in a long and undistinguished career.  But I wanted to see him commemorated, so I walked to the 1992 team to find this:


Ouch!  What a sad diss to Mr. Bohanon.  I remember how to spell your name, Brian, even if your former employers don’t.

The exterior also gives an artistic nod to some key images in Texas history in faux-marble (at least I believe it’s faux) etchings along the building’s exterior.  Etchings include an oil gusher, the Alamo battle, astronauts, and cowboys on the range.  When you combine this with the museum and the team bricks, I’m already deeply ensconced in both baseball history and local history.  I can’t conceive of a better frame of mind to be in when I enter a ballpark in a strange city.

Once inside, my only disappointment is the center-field terraces, which seem architecturally out of place.  I assumed they were skyboxes; it turns out they’re offices, and not even just the Rangers’ offices.  (An usher informed me that Troy Aikman has an office

there.)  It seems to me that there’s no need to block off that center field view–even if it’s just of the neighborhood–just to have all offices with ads stacked on top.  But that’s quibbling…the offices don’t look too bad, particularly when there’s so much else the ballpark offers.

The tony club level has suites that are named after Hall of Fame baseball players.  I was able to wander around and check them all out because an usher was kind enough to let me in and wander around “as long as I don’t tell anyone.”  (Does this website count?)   Each suite has a big portrait of the player on the door…a portrait that’s visible to everyone on the concourse and on the ramps headed up to the upper decks.  They further celebrate baseball history–Rangers’ history–by posting plaques commemorating the key games in the Ballpark’s history on the main level…the first game,

Kenny Rogers’ perfect game, the first interleague game (I’d have left that one out…now, it’s just a weird Giants/Rangers matchup), and the first playoff game, plus perhaps one or two I’m forgetting.  The plaque contains the box score of the game as well as a brief synopsis and a picture.  It’s the only ballpark I can think of where there are box scores available for public view.  That’s a major plus.

The ballpark also passes the third-level test…the level-three concourse is open to allow for views.  I looked out on Six Flags (immediately adjacent to the park) and downtown Dallas (quite a ways in the distance). I don’t understand why more of the recent ballparks don’t incorporate third-level views.  It provides local color.  Of course, even without the view, the Ballpark had local color in spades.  For starters, there’s the friendly presence of Texans.  It doesn’t take long for me to join them in calling everyone

I encounter over a certain age “sir” or “ma’am.”  What a pleasant way to get along with each other.  And as if the Ryan-deification, view, sense of history, and trademark Southern politeness were not enough for the park to pass the “is there any question where you are” test, I heard the following actual bits of dialogue from those around me in the park:

“Is an armadillo on the side of the road spooky?  Out where we are, it’s all racoons.”

In the front row, where some fans joined me late in the game:  “Down here, you can smell the dirt.  Intoxicating!”

From a child, in the first homestand after Alex Rodriguez left Texas for New York:  “Is the white team the Yankees?”  His annoyed father should have answered:  “Not yet, son.”  The son also asked a great question about the players that got my imagination going:  “Do they live here?”  How cool would it be if they did?

Incidentally, and much to my surprise, it’s not hard to get a table in the restaurant in the upper deck of right field before the game…I walked in a half hour before the first pitch,

asked for a table by the window, and was back on the concourse before the National Anthem, and in my seat by the first pitch thanks to a speedy, reliable, and helpful waitress.  Not that I would ever want to watch a game from the restaurant, but of the three ballpark restaurants I’ve been to, this one is vastly preferable to Coors Field or Jacobs Field.  It’s simply a matter of orientation.  A two person table by the window out here in right field enables both people to watch the game while only turning 90 degrees to the field.  The same table at Coors or Jacobs, since it’s in foul territory and down the line, would require one of the people at the table to face away from the action to eat, and to make a 180 degree turn, away from the food and his/her companions, to watch the game.  Unacceptable.  (Incidentally, “open 363 days a year”?  I’ve never seen an establishment advertise that way.)

The game itself went off without a hitch.  A nice promotion lets a kid hit a home run in their wiffleball field and set off the home run fireworks.  That’s got to be a HUGE charge for a kid.  Only one little glitch…the scoreboard told me that Kevin Mench had a batting average of .360 and an on-base percentage of .346.  I’m not really a seamhead, but I know full well that’s impossible.  They didn’t fix it for future at-bats, either, leading me to believe they could use a proofreader for their scoreboard graphics.

Special mention has to go to the gentle, 60-ish usher who tossed the drunken college-aged louts who were in the front row next to me simply by saying “Sir, could you come with me?”  When the usher returned, I asked him how he pulled that off.  “He decided he’d rather go when I pointed out how many beers he’d had.”  Ballsy!  Don’t mess with the AARP usher!

On the whole, what a wonderful couple of days.  Texas history.  Baseball history.  Local color.  Kind people.  I don’t know that my travels will lead me back to Dallas…Dallas is one of those cities that business takes you to, and not much else…it’s not exactly a tourist destination.  But if I’m there, you can rest assured I’ll catch another Rangers game.  This ballpark, in my view, is simply up there with the best.  They understand exactly what a ballpark is all about.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

A couple of sloppy games.  Francisco Cordero got a save and Brad Fullmer hit a huge pinch-hit double against the Angels.

Jermaine Dye and Damian Miller went deep for the A’s, who roughed up Mickey Callaway for 6 runs in 1 1/3 innings.  Barry Zito got an underwhelming win when the Rangers’ comeback fell short.

(Originally written April 2004. Most recently revised April 2008.)

Arlington Stadium

arlington
Frank Albanese.  From Frank’s Ballpark Page.  Used by permission.

Arlington Stadium, Arlington, TX

Number of Games:  1
First and Last Game:  August 4, 1992 (A’s 9, Rangers 0)

Arlington Stadium was demolished in 1994.

Arlington Stadium was the one big-city stop for Dad and I on my way to start teaching in rural Louisiana.  We had about a week to get from Denver to Baton Rouge, so Dad and I made a few rules for the trip.

Rule 1:  Avoid the interstate at all costs.  When possible, we would even take roads that were not on our map.  For instance, if there was one town in eastern Colorado or western Kansas, and another town 12-20 miles away, and no road between them on our map, we knew–just knew–that if we went to the first town and drove out of it in the direction of the second, we would be on a county road between them.  And we often were.  That is an incredibly fun way to travel.

Rule 2:  We would choose destinations based on the names of towns we liked.  Our first destination was Punkin Center, Colorado.  It ain’t much–just a couple of buildings–but I’ve been there, and you haven’t.  Then we headed down through southeastern Colorado, through some alienatingly flat (but still somehow beautiful) grasslands in southwestern Kansas, on our way to the place we both wanted to spend the night–Hooker, Oklahoma.  How could Dad and I travel across the country without visiting a Hooker?  We made it there about sunset and looked for a hotel, but the one we found, to be honest, looked like a small-h hooker motel, so we retreated to Kansas for the night.  We did pass Hooker High School, however, which boasted Hooker Pride.  The Oklahoma Panhandle…well, it once was no-man’s-land, belonging not to the Native Americans, European Americans or the Mexicans, but to nobody.  I now know why.  Nobody wanted it.  It’s flat, boring, bleak, and depressing.  Hooker is 15 miles from Guymon, Oklahoma, and from Hooker, you could not only see Guymon, but you could see where the dead-straight road you were on cut through Guymon.  Very, very dull, bleak, and hot.  But I’ve been there, and for that alone, it’s worth going.

Rule 3:  Avoid Texas if we could.  I was raised in an exceedingly tolerant and loving household, where we were taught to be kind and respectful to everyone regardless of race, nationality, gender, creed, or sexual orientation.  The only real exception to this rule was Texans.  Don’t get me wrong, some of our best friends are Texans, and we certainly wish them well.  But I think Dad saw a few too many wads of used chew on otherwise white ski slopes (I once even heard a few folks shouting “yee-haw” on the chair lift) to extend his tolerance to Texans.  But when I suggested we do a little father-son bonding at a major-league baseball game, A’s versus Rangers, he decided to set foot in Texas to bond with me.  That was quite a sacrifice, Dad, and I thank you for it.

There was nothing terribly wrong with the stadium, although it had more a minor-league feel than anything else.  Dad and I sat down the right-field line and watched Ranger pitching absolutely make a mockery of the game.  But we focused our binoculars on Rickey Henderson’s stance, marveled at how patriotic the Texas folk were (everyone boisterously singing the national anthem), and talked about whatever we thought about, since the game was so bad it wasn’t a distraction.  You know–we bonded.  You don’t need a Hooker for that.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Jose Canseco walked 5 times in 5 plate appearances.  The next day, he walked in his first 2 plate appearances, which set a major league record for consecutive walks by a batter–seven.

Terry Steinbach comes to the plate with the bases loaded in each of his first three at-bats.

Dave Stewart and a reliever combine for a 4-hit shutout.

(Originally written August 2001.)