Last out in Little Rock

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End of an era: Today was the final minor league ballgame at Ray Winder Field in Little Rock. The Arkansas Travelers beat the Springfield Cardinals 7-3. Next year the Arkansas Travelers will play at a new ballpark in North Little Rock. The Democrat-Gazette had two front-page stories (online, but subscriber-only) -- an interview with a fan who had been at the park's opening day in 1932, and a story about possible futures for the stadium. Options include leaving the playing field, but converting part of the stands to office space, and demolishing the whole thing to make way for expansion of the neighboring zoo.

Here are links to memories of the park and reports on the final game:

Harry King of the Morning News remembers the Travelers of the '50s and '60s.

KATV talks to some of the 8,000 fans at the final game.

Video of fans at the final game, and a chat with the organist (a real organist sitting at a real organ -- a rarity these days).

I only attended one game there, back in 1991. I drove down from Tulsa and met my friend Rick Koontz, who flew American Airlines non-rev from DFW. In '88 Rick and I had done a "rust belt tour" of five midwestern major league parks -- Wrigley, Comiskey, Tiger Stadium, Cleveland Municipal, and Riverfront.

Before the game we visited the State Capitol. There he was across the room, big as life, chatting up and getting photographed with a female tourist -- potential presidential candidate Gov. Slick Willie his own self. To this day, I regret not having gone over to ask, "Confidentially, Governor, where can a fella go for a good time in this town?" I feel sure he would have been a fount of useful information in that regard.

Details are fuzzy after 15 years, but I am pretty sure that what we saw was a legendary Saturday night double-header against the Shreveport Captains. For years, the Travs never played at home on Sunday, but would always play two the night before instead. I seem to recall that this had to do with the financial implications of not being allowed to sell beer on a hot summer Sunday afternoon.

As we arrived, we noticed "shaggers" waiting in the parking lot for foul balls during batting practice, just like at Driller Stadium in Tulsa. (Note to British readers: Retrieving a ball that has gone astray is a possible meaning of the verb "shag" in the USA.)

At the time, Shreveport was a Giants affiliate and the Travs were a Cardinals team, and in the minors when two National League affiliates played each other, they did so without a designated hitter.

The seats were very close to the field. I remember that the diamond was a couple of inches higher than foul territory, which must have been tricky to handle.

I would rank the experience at Ray Winder Field up there with an evening at Durham Athletic Park, the old home of the Bulls. Nothing fancy about it -- just baseball, an evening breeze, the sound of the organ, a Coke, a pretzel, and a scorecard.

MORE: A couple of columns about Ray Winder Field from Paul Greenberg (another one of my favorite things about Little Rock) -- Opening Day 2005 and Opening Day 2002.


Bob said:

Very interesting entry about Little Rock's minor league Ballpark - Ray Winder Field.

Built in 1932 your say? I just have to wonder why Tulsans are going to be shortly asked to build another ballpark downtown when our very own Driller Stadium, is less than one-half the age of Ray Winder Field, and still seems perfectly adequate, bringing in on average 4,000 - 5,000 fans on average? Or packing in 10,000 - 11,000 fans if there is a free ticket promotion or $1.00 beer night.

Hang on to your wallets: The Tax Vampires are stirring from their brief respite from raising taxes higher and higher. They are hungry again.

P.S. I'm starting to see some hand-made signs around Tulsa street corners that say, simply:


Jeff Rooker said:

Another interesting tidbit about Ray Winder is that a home run over the right field fence lands on I-630. I saw 3 homeruns go onto the expressway one night. By the way I-630 ends at a traffic light at Shackleford Road in LR. One of only a handfull of interstates that end with a traffic signal. Great for traffic backup.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 3, 2006 11:53 PM.

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