On the Road: Hittin’ the Bricks in Oklahoma City
The Oklahoma City Courtyard Marriot is a fine place of lodging — clean, sleek and far more amenity-laden than the average team hotel. The pillows were, like, super-soft. And there were a lot of them.
But this hotel gets a primo first paragraph mention because it featured the greatest amenity of all: walking distance to the ballpark. I was in town to see the Oklahoma City RedHawks, whose Chikasaw Bricktown Ballpark was a proverbial hop, skip, and a jump away. The view of the stadium, from room 429:
That larger-than-life Thunder mural on the building to the left is par for the course in these parts. Both Chikasaw Bricktown Ballpark and the Thunder’s Chesapeake Energy Arena are located in the Bricktown Entertainment District, a former warehouse area that has been repurposed into a sprawling leisure area. There’s a third sports venue in the form of the Cox Arena, as well as a movie theater, office buildings, park areas, outdoor concert stages and myriad bars and restaurants (including Toby Keith’s “I Love This Bar And Grill”).
And while the Thunder are a constant presence in these parts, it was particularly pronounced during my visit as the team had just advanced to the NBA Finals the night before. Thunder signage was everywhere.
The whole “industrial past recontextualized for a post-industrial present” set-up reminded me of quite a few other Minor League markets. Durham, most notably, but also Toledo, Lowell, and Greenville (to name just a few). To get a better sense of the Bricktown aesthetic, here’s another hotel room shot:
So let’s go to Bricktown!
It’s all in the shadow of downtown.
And the streets are named in honor of famous Oklahomans. (More on that later, in the meantime watch THIS!)
Funny that there’s a “Whiskey Chicks” bar — I can’t help but think they’re capitalizing on Toby Keith’s “Whiskey Girl.” (Also, I want to come right out and say that I love every song on Shock’n Y’all).
All in all, the stroll to the stadium was a very scenic one. It’s easy to recommend Oklahoma City when it can offer vantage points such as this.
Chikasaw Bricktown Ballpark is lined with statues that celebrate Oklahoma’s baseball greats. Depending on your point of entry, you’ll pass by Johnny Bench, Mickey Mantle, or Warren Spahn.
The Mick is also one of the individuals honored with his own street. And would you believe that Mickey Mantle Drive intersects with none other than Flaming Lips Alley?
Flaming Lips Alley, named in honor of the long-running Oklahoma space/psych/pop rock outfit, is a modest stretch of land right behind the ballpark.
Its many attractions include the ramshackle back entrance of a bar, as well as the opportunity to watch Pacific Coast League action through a fence.
And speaking of Pacific Coast League Baseball, that’s what I was there to see. So, some 15 photos and 500 words later, let’s finally move to the interior of this fine facility. I began the day with a couple of player interviews in the home dugout: Mike Hessman and Brian Bass. Those shall be linked to when they become available, but I must say that it was an honor to interview Hessman. He’s one of the ultimate veterans of the Minor Leagues, and has hit over 350 home runs as a professional (including stints with three Major League teams as well as one in Japan).
The interview room:
And then the tables were turned, as I did a pre-game interview with RedHawks broadcaster Alex Freedman (and, somehow, neglected to get a photo of his multi-tiered broadcast suite). Thanks to Freedman for the opportunity and, also, for being an early and often supporter of my monthly “Crooked Numbers” column over at MiLB.com.
Chikasaw Bricktown Ballpark is spacious, to say the least. Omaha’s old Rosenblatt Stadium is the only other Minor League facility that I can recall that had whole swaths of seating covered with sponsored tarps.
The evening’s ballgame was between the RedHawks and visiting New Orleans Zepyhrs. Just prior to the first at-bat of the ballgame, I experimented with my new camera’s fisheye lens effect. Don’t worry, I’ll use it sparingly.
The crowd was small at the start of the game, but filled in nicely as the evening progressed. It was Thirsty Thursday, after all, so many fans were more concerned with dollar beer than witnessing the game’s first pitch.
As play began, I took part in one of my time-honored ballpark visiting traditions: a slow (some would say glacial) lap around the perimeter of the facility.
As you can see in the above photo, there is plenty of room to move on the grass berm. But I was more enamored with the series of sporadically placed benches located beneath the scoreboard.
Kids will be kids.
As with the Bricktown area overall, the ballpark does a good job throughout with clear and colorful signage that pay tribute to local history. Banners such as this abound — I’m including this shot of Sandberg just because it seems bizarre to me that Oklahoma City spent some time in the late ’70s and early ’80s as a Phillies affiliate. (And, more than 30 years later, Sandberg is now managing the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate in Lehigh Valley).
Mike Hessman at the plate!
What can I say? If you need someone to root for in the Minors, then make it Hessman. He’s the type of guy, who, if he can make a living playing the game of baseball, he will. For as long as he possibly can.
Between-inning entertainment was standard, but well-executed. Mascot races, the YMCA, t-shirt launch, etc. Here’s mascot Cooper playing the bongos during “Wipeout.”
And the chaotic aftermath of a “Senor Frog” leapfrog race.
The RedHawks concessions are handled by Professional Sports Catering, who offered a fairly wide array of comestibles.
I was surprised to see a Leinenkugel’s stand, as that’s a Midwestern brew that I hadn’t even heard of until visiting Kane County (Illinois) two years ago.
I opted for an order of “Philly Nachos” at the “Steakadelphia” stand. Do not order these if you don’t want cheese stains on your pants.
A nice regional twist was that, after the singing of the “Seventh Inning Stretch,” there was a singalong to the official state song of Oklahoma. These guys were debating over the spelling of “Ayipioeeay!”
Later, while loitering on the second level staircase, a foul ball flew out of the stadium above my head and laded in front of the Sonic corporate headquarters across the street. I alerted a woman who was walking by to its presence, and she went over to pick it up.
Not 15 seconds later, another foul ball went to nearly exactly the same spot. The woman was walking in the other direction, and this time couldn’t be bothered to go back and pick it up. Her body language seemed to be saying “Dude, I’m not the kind of person who cares about baseball, or foul balls, and, unlike you, I would never regale my friends and family with the riveting story of that one time when I was walking down the street while talking on my cell phone and two foul balls came flying out of the nearby baseball stadium. Get over it.”
So the foul ball was left to its lonesome. I was hoping to grab it after the game, but by then it was gone.
I know that these sort of anecdotes are just fascinating, and that most people could go on reading indefinitely. But once the ballgame has concluded then so do the posts. And this one ended in favor of the RedHawks (their 14th win in a row at home, a new team record. More on that in my MiLB.com piece).
And, with that, there was nothing left to do but exit the ballpark and celebrate with whomever happened to be wandering around Flaming Lips Alley.
Johnny Bench says “Goodnight from Oklahoma City!”
And I say, “Thanks, Oklahoma City, for reminding me that “O’KC’ can stand for things other than OK Cupid.”