The Arkansas Travelers opened their last season in Ray Winder Field under perfect conditions Sunday afternoon. The 4 p.m. start was great, even if the temperature approached 90 (it didn't feel that hot in the shade with a nice breeze). The Fosters beer sold out before the fifth inning. Concession hawkers in the stands stayed busy, even working their way throughout the box seats, which were loaded with folks who were either season-ticket holders or paid the extra $2 for a seat up close to the action. The paid attendance topped 4,000, and that included a packed third-base bleachers section that was rowdy the way we used to remember it.
All that could have made it a perfect opener would have been a ninth-inning rally for a win, but the Travs left the tying run on at second with a sinking liner being caught by the Tulsa left-fielder for the final out, preserving a 7-6 Drillers victory over the Travs.
Four or so fans from Tulsa even made the trip and sat a couple of rows behind us in the box seats behind home plate, cheering loudly for every nice play by the Drillers, and there were several from their perspective. Tulsa had 12 hits through the first five innings. Their starting pitcher through major heat through seven innings as well.
Some really happy white guy in a Scotty Thurman Hogs basketball jersey kept leading the raucous crowd in the third-base bleacher section. Who needed Hookslide with this guy? Meanwhile, the Travs trotted out some old-faithful between-inning contests for fans, plus some new ones that kept everyone entertaintained.
Bill Valentine said later that the opening day turnout surprised him, but was what he thought the team ought to draw. We were surprised to at Sunday's attendance, but is it asking to much for Little Rock to turn out 6,000-7,000 strong every game the way Springfield, Mo., does? OK, we'll revel in the support the Travs had yesterday, and it was a lively, fun crowd that pretty much stayed to the end (as they should, since the Travs gamely tried to rally). And dozens of kids (many dozen, in fact) ran the bases after the game.
Maybe that "last year at Ray Winder" nostalgia will lead to lots of big turnouts this season. The Travs are going to compete and win a lot this year, but if the atmosphere is like Sunday, it won't matter. It will be fun.