Results tagged ‘ OKARKMOTN ’

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.

And long live pinball!

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!

Please refrain from crude jokes

Finally, it was time to visit that area of the stadium where the magic happens.

The bowels.

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!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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.

Play Ball!

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.

Vantage points!

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.

“Forsaken foul ball beneath tree.” 2012 all rights reserved.

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.”

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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