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On the Road: Never A Dull Moment in Tulsa

My Friday evening with the Tulsa Drillers was an absolute whirlwind, and resulted in so much content that I made the executive decision to divide it into two posts. Part one is HERE, or, if you’re not inclined to click on things, directly below this one.

Part two is here, as in here now, as in RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW. There is no other place you’d rather be. And it begins where any good baseball narrative should — with a ceremonial first pitch. As part of Tulsa’s Juneteenth celebrations (which commemorate the abolition of slavery in the United States) the team welcomed a pair of local Negro League icons to the ballpark.

Eugene Golden, who suited up for the Cleveland Buckeyes (among other clubs) looked much younger than his 87 years.

And then came 94-year-old Roosevelt Jackson, believed to be the oldest living Negro League alumnus.  Dressed to the nines in a suit and tie, Jackson slowly made his way to an area in front of the mound. This was the prelude to one of the most memorable first pitches I’ve ever witnessed.

When it came time for Jackson to deliver the ball, he didn’t. He just stood there, leading to an increasingly uncomfortable silence. Was he unable to muster the strength?

It turns out that it was all a bit of showmanship, courtesy of an individual who clearly knows how to play to a crowd. Having drawn out the suspense long enough, Jackson danced into his wind-up, did a full 360 degree turn on the grass, and then, with an exaggerated flailing motion, delivered the pitch.

Bravo, Mr. Roosevelt, for showing us all how it’s done. Umps and managers agreed, it was awesome.

Bro, did you see that?

After a National Anthem performance by Divas for Jesus (which, incidentally, was also the name of a short-lived Oi band I played drums for in high school), the Drillers took the field. Having them run through a greeting line of local youth baseball players was a nice touch.

Obermark, Taylor, and Slaughter: Tulsa’s number one law firm, circa 2044.

With the game now underway (it took me 1600 words over two blog posts to get to this point), I went upstairs and briefly visited with Drillers promotion manager Mike Taranto and BNSF Railways police officer Ray Tucker. The two have forged an unlikely friendship, with fireworks bringing them together. To get the scoop on all of that, please check out my article on MiLB.com (yes, many of my road trip posts have corresponding MiLB.com articles. Please support the entirety of the Ben’s Biz road trip experience, so that my existence remains justified).

Tucker’s job title, is, in actuality: “special agent in charge.” Mine is, in actuality, idiot:

This Alfred E. Neuman-esque image (which is now my new Twitter profile pic) resulted from my participation in the on-field “squeeze play” contest in the middle of the second inning. After donning the above outfit, all I had to do was sit in a chair while a sponge drenched with blue cotton candy coloring was squeezed into the pitcher perched atop the helmet.

I mean, duh.

I’m pretty sure my team won, but I was practicing transcendental meditation at the time and therefore unconcerned with temporal concerns. It did feel good to finally take that helmet off, though. (And I love the t-shirt style of the kid standing behind me.)

Upon getting cleaned up, I went back out onto the field to watch Golden and Roosevelt honored in a short between-inning ceremony.

My plan was to do a brief interview with these individuals, but then I realized I had already committed to a half inning on the radio with Drillers broadcaster Dennis Higgins. It was par for the course — me trying to explain who I am and what I do, while frequently pausing to allow Higgins room to actually call the action on the field.

The gist of it is that my name is Ben, I write about Minor League Baseball, and you should read this blog, my articles on MiLB.com, and follow me on Twitter (@bensbiz). Thank you for your support.

The view from the booth (note the colored highlighters, and read more about idiosyncratic broadcaster scorekeeping methods in this MiLB.com article).

After fulfilling my on-air duties, I met up with manager of game entertainment Justin Gorski for a brief tour of the concession options. As with Oklahoma City, concessions are provided by Professional Sports Catering. So, there was some overlap between the two parks.

Same Franx, different dogs:

The real action, food-wise, is to be found along the third base side of the concourse. There, one finds a little area dubbed “cart alley.”

As a Pitt alumni who once thought he was pretty boss, I opted for a “Pit Boss Burger.”

Clearly this wasn’t enough food, so a Firecracker hot dog (see above) and All-Star Wheat beer was added to the order as well. The beer is only available at the ballpark, and the name references the fact that the Drillers are the hosts of this year’s Texas League All-Star Game. It was a nice brew, smooth and drinkable but possessing more body than your run-of-the-mill ballpark pilsners.

Get me some napkins!

Pit Boss:

Firecracker:

Dinner spread:

I spent the next inning and a half doing my best to put a dent in this meal (I particularly liked the Pit Boss, because pulled pork, slaw and pickles have to be one of the greatest of all topping triumvirates), but had to cut the mastication session short in order to go see cult ballpark celebrity Harry “Ruck” Caray (aka manager of video production David Ruckman) lead the crowd in the seventh inning stretch.

(Yes, somehow it was already the seventh. The entire game took just two hours and 16 minutes.)

The wig may be a reappropriated mullet from a “Redneck Night” promo, but nonetheless the resemblance is uncanny.

Refreshed from the stretch, I then headed back to the tunnel next to the home dugout to prepare for my second and final on-field appearance.

This time the game was “Nervous Nelly.” Three pedometers were strapped on each contestant (around the head and on each wrist), and the winner is he (or she) who goes on to record the most movement.

I was ready.

My opponent was a pink mohawked teenager by the name of Sergio, formidable indeed.

Once the contest started, I went into a shamanistic trance comparable to that of a Peruvian medicine man on ayahuasca. It was, truly, a spiritual journey.

And yet I still lost, 305-300. Congratulations to Sergio.

As for the next 20 minutes of my life? Suffice to say that they were not pleasant, as ballpark food followed by frenetic movement is not a good combination. But I recovered in time to make it out on to the field post-game, in order to get a fresh Launch-A-Ball perspective.

Meanwhile, in centerfield, preparations were being made for the fireworks show.

Backstreet Boys, circa 2035?

And once the all-clear was received, fireworks did indeed light up the night sky.

It was a great show, with a truly impressive finale, but as is so often the case the pictures didn’t really do it justice. I’ll close with this shot, simply because of its similarity to a Rorschach ink blot.

What’s your interpretation?

My interpretation of the Tulsa Drillers is that this is an organization firing on all cylinders — a vibrant market, beautiful ballpark, and creative and deeply engaged front office staff. Thanks for the hospitality!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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