Minor League Ballpark Travels

Rainy_ball2

(Photo taken July 24 in Rogers, Arkansas)

Senior Photographer Art Meripol and I took the last couple days to visit the newest Minor League baseball stadium in America, Arvest Ballpark in Northwest Arkansas. Even as the lightning storm rolled over the Ozarks yesterday evening, I found myself quite happy. Ballparks are one of our country’s greatest venues of communal joy. And farm team parks might be the ultimate of all summer American experiences. Lucky for us, the sun came out this afternoon just in time for the Texas League-leading Naturals to host the Tulsa Drillers.

Ballpark_good

(A view from tonight’s game, 6-2 Drillers in the 4th.)

The new park sits off I-540 surrounded by cows on four sides, as one Naturals’ employee told me. But the 6,500-seat structure is a study in modern design and local influence, a departure from the throwback looks of Memphis, Montgomery, and Greenville’s ballparks. Slabs of Ozark sandstone pair with more glass than a greenhouse to give off a clean, simple look, which alongside the wavy canopy rooftop reminds me of a less-risky Frank Gehry. The most compelling thing about Arvest is the lightning-fast timeline: HOK, the stadium architecture standard, built the house in 10 months. Wichita’s team needed a new home, and Northwest Arkansas wanted a ballclub. I’ll refrain from the obvious line here. If you build it…

Pitching

(The writer fires his best stuff. Photo by Art Meripol, Southern Living)

A few observations from tonight’s AA ballgame in Rogers:

1. Mid-market sportswriters have sweet gigs. Two are sitting about ten feet from me, laptops open, scorecards out, Baseball Prospectus dog-earred. Sportscenter is on behind them, a catered bbq dinner sits ready to be eaten, and they have 9 innings and change to file a story from the game. Read local Naturals writer, Paul Nielsen here and Rich Polikoff here. These guys are pros.

2. Minors team nicknames are entertainment in themselves. Tulsa Drillers. NW Arkansas Naturals (the Natural State). Chattanooga Lookouts, Montgomery Biscuits, Nashville Sound, Savannah Sand Gnats, and Birmingham Barons. To read more into locally-driven naming, check out the USA Today story.

3. My arm isn’t what it used to be. I won’t reveal how slow I threw into the kid’s pitching machine booth, but if I would have hit a bird flying by, feathers would not have been flying. Unlike Randy Johnson.

4. Funnel dogs – that is, an Oscar Meyer dipped in cake batter and deep fried – do not belong in my diet.

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