On the Road: ONEOK Down, ONEOK to Go In Tulsa
As you could probably tell by the tone and tenor of the post, my Thursday night at the Oklahoma City RedHawks game was fairly sedate. I was left more or less to my own devices, and had plenty of time for leisurely wandering.
Friday night with the Tulsa Drillers was an entirely different animal. There was a sellout crowd of 8,707 (largest in the three-year history of ONEOK Field), the game was played in an exceedingly crisp two hours and 16 minutes, and I did not have a single moment of down time.
This was a good thing.
It all moved so fast that I didn’t even have time to get a proper shot of the stadium exterior — I got this one the next day before leaving Tulsa and heading to Springdale, AR.
ONEOK Field is located in Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood, which has a fascinating and tragic history. It was one of the most affluent black communities in the United States throughout the early part of the 20th century, but destroyed wholesale in 1921 during the devastating Tulsa Race Riots. I’ll re-visit this topic in a future post — John Hope Reconciliation Park, which explores the legacy of the riots, is located just across the street — as this one will, by necessity, focus on the present.
I made it to the stadium some 35 minutes after I had intended, even though my hotel was about a mile away. The Tulsa Tough bike race was happening in the area around the stadium, so many streets were blocked off, and my unfamiliarity with the area combined with a naturally poor sense of direction stymied all attempts to bypass the road blocks and get to the facility. Eventually I had to be talked in to the stadium by sympathetic Drillers staffers, as if I was the wife of a pilot trying to land a plane after her husband suffered a heart attack at the controls.
Or something like that. Upon arriving, promotions manager Mike Taranto gave me a quick tour of the facility. I took pictures as we walked about, and I’m glad I did because some of these areas I never visited again.
The stadium has 25 suites, 23 of which were sold on five-year contracts. Views from the suite level:
The suite interiors were classy, but generally pretty standard. Except one, which had this!
In case the glare makes it unclear, that’s a Frank Thomas “Big Hurt” pinball machine! This joins Harrisburg, State College, and Delmarva in my far-from-comprehensive list of Minor League stadiums that have pinball machines; please get in touch if you have one to add.
I was a bit disappointed that, by one day, I was missing the team’s tribute to Oklahoma legend Mickey Mantle. There was to be a replica jersey giveaway, memorabilia displays from his career, and his two sons in attendance. I did snag a replica jersey later (to be given away on Twitter, follow @bensbiz), but on this evening the only Mickey Mantle content of any kind that I was able to procure was this picture of a statue outside of the Driller’s “Tycoon Club.”
My final second-level stop was the control room, featuring top-of-the-line technology and, in a Minor League rarity that was nonetheless common with ONEOK Field’s staff and player areas, plenty of room to move.
That’s enough “reporting” from the elevated environs of ONEOK’s second level. Time to move on down…
The team installed a “splash zone” in the outfield concourse area this season — an awesome addition, although when I strolled by it had yet to be turned on.
The entire stadium was like this — in a state of suspended animation, just waiting for the hordes to be unleashed.
Inflatables! Picnic areas! Concessions! I am of the mistaken belief that exclamation marks add a sense of excitement to my pedestrian photos!
Finally, it was time to visit that area of the stadium where the magic happens.
The team is blessed with an auxiliary dressing room, which also serves as a one-stop shop for all your greenscreening needs.
Located nearby is an area in which, throughout the Minors, surreal images abound: the mascot dressing room.
I almost feel that it is sacrilegious to post pictures such as the following. But, in the interest of showing you, the fans, how the sausage is made here’s a shot of Hornsby deconstructed. Avert your eyes, children.
[And, nevermind. This photo has been removed at the request of the Committee for the Non-Propagation of Severed Head Mascot Photos.]
Meanwhile, mascot coordinator Vincent Pace (one of the few full-time costumed performers in the Minor Leagues) was hanging out nearby. And, apropos of nothing, he was wearing a gorilla mask.
(Blurry photo was a thoughtful artistic decision, intended to heighten the bizarre and disorienting circumstances, and in no way indicative of chronically poor photography skills).
You want more subterranean magic? Well, I’ve got it!
Here’s the laundry room — and, as you can see by the chair in the bottom left corner, this tedious task won’t deter-a-gent from getting comfortable. (Some people will like that joke, others will hate it. Call it a wash).
The basement tour continued past a storage/repair room (notice the stacks and stacks of chairs in the back), into the batting cage (where an unidentified Springfield Cardinal was taking his final cuts), and then past the weight room.
Finally, we entered the playing field via a ramp that runs past the home dugout.
The game was less than 20 minutes from its starting time, and the scene on the field was buzzing. Local dance teams performed for friends and family behind home plate, while down the first base line a concatenation of Drillers — the equivalent of a “pride” of lions or a “gaggle” of geese — were signing for fans. (The team has a policy that all non-starters sign autographs from 6:30-6:45, and the specific angle of the sun in the pictures below suggests that the time was 6:41.)
Ever since making it to the on-field area, I had been staring longingly at my recently acquired signed Hornsby photo. When, oh when, would he be enlivening our spirits with his joyous antics?
The answer, in this case, was…NOW! Hornsby burst onto to the field on his scooter, fell off of it in an exaggerated fashion, and immediately started busting out some ’70s-era dance moves. All was once again right with the world.
Hornsby also got some laughs with one of his recurring moves — giving a ball to a kid, but on the other side of the net. These kids were absolutely stymied, trying their best to get it through, and left in tears when they were unable to do so.
Just kidding. What really happened was that girl in the yellow shirt took out a Swiss Army knife and used the scissors to cut a small hole in the net. Thus, the ball was extracted. Or maybe a Drillers staffer simply took the ball and handed it to the kids on the other side.
Who really does know?
What I do know is that this post has stretched to nearly 1200 words, and we haven’t even gotten to the ceremonial first pitch yet. Therefore, this is going to have to be a two-parter from Tulsa. Stay tuned for the exciting next chapter of this seemingly never-ending serialized Oklahoma adventure!