Monday, May 2, 2016

Northwest Arkansas Naturals 7 at Tulsa Drillers 5 (Texas League) - May 1, 2016


Day 2 of my Texas League trip began early as I had to make the four-hour drive to Tulsa for a 1:05 start. Highways were clear and the weather was good, and I arrived in downtown Tulsa just after noon, giving me plenty of time to check out ONEOK Field, the new home of the Drillers.



The ballpark was opened in 2010 to replace Drillers Stadium, which I visited in 2001. The new venue is located north of downtown, right next to I-244 that encircles much of the city. There are parking lots nearby, but I found a spot on the street just a couple of blocks away and wandered over. There wasn't much of a crowd, so rather than wait for a freebie, I forked over $5 for a lawn seat and made my way in.



The stadium is quite typical for this level, with a single seating bowl from foul pole to foul pole, and a suite level above. Party areas and berms are in the outfield, though some sections were closed off on this day. There are ushers at each section, but they generally weren't checking tickets as long as it is not behind home plate.



The concourse is quite wide, and the poles have pictures of past Drillers, such as Pudge Rodgriguez. The team store is located near the left field entrance and is one of the largest I have ever seen in the minor leagues. The smaller souvenir stand is called Drill Bits, a nice pun.



You can complete an entire circuit of the field, something that is quite common nowadays and allows you to capture the views from many different angles.



The best part of the stadium is the Tulsa Skyline beyond right field. For this reason, sitting along third base is somewhat better than first base. The picture below was taken while a weather phenomenon known as cloud iridescence was visible.



The netting here does not extend to the entire dugout, unlike the ballpark in Frisco. With the sun out and shining brightly, I chose to sit further back as the last two rows are shaded by the overhang.



Later on I moved to the seats behind home plate, where there were several scouts watching. Again, quite a nice view.



The mascot here is Hornsby, a blue buffalo with a great baseball name (Rogers Hornsby began his career in Hugo, Oklahoma, a town about 160 miles south of Tulsa). Hornsby is quite energetic, below challenging some of the visiting Northwest Arkansas Naturals to a boxing contest before the game.



If you are looking to grab some food, try Franx, a stand that sells five varieties of specialty hot dogs. The other thing to note is the mascot race, which is sponsored by a local hardware or appliance concern, and features a toilet with a mustache (I missed the name so please supply your own joke), a furnace (Bernie) and an air conditioner (Breezy). We need a list of all mascot races across minor league baseball because nearly every team has one these days and some of them are very creative.



Overall, I really enjoyed the afternoon here. This is a simpler stadium with a more sedate crowd than that in Frisco, but its downtown location and backdrop, plus very cheap tickets and friendly staff, make it a great place to watch a ballgame.

The Game

This was my third time seeing the Naturals in the past two weeks after I watched them in Midland a couple of times. The team is loaded with prospects, including Matt Strahm (21st round in 2012, now KC's #10 prospect, below) who started. He pitched five solid innings, striking out 8 and walking none while yielding a single run. His offense managed 4 runs off Tulsa (Dodgers affiliate) starter Brock Stewart (6th, 2014), with Raul Mondesi's 2-run double the key.



Bubba Starling added a homer in the 7th, but Tulsa replied when Erisbel Arruebarrena (a Cuban who spent a few games with the Dodgers in 2014) hit a 2-run shot in the bottom half. Starling doubled to lead off the ninth to start a small rally that resulted in two more Natural runs and a 7-3 lead, runs that were absolutely necessary when Paul Hoenecke (24th, 2012) hit a 2-run shot in the bottom half. Arruebarrena followed but fouled out to first to end the game as Tulsa dropped a 7-5 decision.



This was actually a very good game, with no walks issued by either side, a rarity in the minors. I like it when pitchers pitch and hitters hit, and the game moved at a great pace, finishing in 2:28, with a PPM (pitches per minute) of 1.78.

Player to Watch

Strahm is the obvious choice, but I try to avoid picking top prospects here, so will go with Hoenecke, who was 3/4 with the dinger and the only Driller to not strike out.

Notes

This was my 650th venue lifetime and 240th ballpark.

Arruebarrena was suspended for the rest of the season a couple of days later, so this might have been his last game. Not sure why, but it is the second time he has been so disciplined.

I didn't have time to explore Tulsa this time as I needed to drive to Springfield for a game Monday morning. More on that in the next post.

Best,

Sean

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