On Horses, Baseball, and How The Travelers Can Get Better
Saturday marks another running of the Kentucky Derby. As we write this column, one of us is excited and the other one is not. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the Kentucky Derby. We recognize that it’s the oldest horse race in the world and that it gives women a reason to wear hats and everyone a reason to drink mint juleps. While the aficionados of Oaklawn no doubt will have made their way to the track for some tasty simulcasting, we’ll go on record as saying, who cares?
This isn’t an assault on horse racing. We love Oaklawn and the quality of racing it brings to the Spa City. But that said, horse racing has become something that captures our attention from the time Houston Nutt’s football Razorbacks finish a dismal season to the time opening day of Major League Baseball arrives.
Sorry, Bluegrass State fans, but your race is bit out of season for us. That’s not to say that we won’t watch it (hey, we like mint juleps and girls in hats too), but we don’t care about it. Sure, we’re pulling for Lawyer Ron because he won the Arkansas Derby and he’s got a great shot to win, but that’s as far as we go.
We don’t care for the back stories or the odds makers or for the three hours of coverage NBC will give it on Saturday. Why? Because some long shot horse that no one has ever heard of will win it, and we will have wasted three good hours thinking about whether we should have placed that final bet.
Upsets in horseracing stink. They do. Sure, if you’ve got a $2 exacta then it’s fun for you, but for the rest of us, we want to see the favorites go neck and neck across the finish line.
Why won’t that happen Saturday? Undefeated Brother Derek, winner of the Santa Anita Derby and the favorite going into the race starts in the 18th position. Only once in the history of this race has a horse won from that position. Lawyer Ron, in the 17th position, is in even worse shape. Since the Derby began no horse has ever won from that position.
Make way for a disappointing Derby.
Speaking of disappointing, for all the baseball fans in this state is there anything more disappointing that the Travelers play thus far? With Ty Boykin back in the captain’s chair the Travelers have proven to do what anyone who knows anything about Boykin knew they would do – lose.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons we’re hearing rumors that Northwest Arkansas is in the running for the Wichita franchise, also of the Texas League. In fact, it appears that pollsters are in the field obtaining information on public opinion for financing a new ballpark in Springdale. We imagine with all of the dollars flowing into that part of the state, along with the population projections over the next twenty-five years, it looks like a great opportunity.
And speaking of attendance, what is up with the record crowds heading to Baum Stadium to watch the diamond Hogs this season? What a pleasure Dave Van Horne’s coaching has been to the Razorback baseball program. The Hogs have been drawing crowds as large as 8,000 to critical SEC games, and we don’t anticipate this weekend will be any different. With only Ole Miss and Auburn left on the schedule, the Arkansas- Alabama series has all kinds of SEC and NCAA tournament implications.
Which begs the question, why aren’t the Travelers drawing those kinds of crowds?
Jim Harris of the Times has asked this question and we ask it again. It’s not the parking, that’s free. It’s not the beer, it’s cheap. It’s not the tickets, they’re super cheap. It’s not the location of the stadium, it’s in the heart of Little Rock (although we’ll concede that Ray Winder may turn some away). It’s not the lack of coverage, although we agree with Valentine that they deserve more. So is it the team?
One thing is for certain, minor league baseball can and should flourish in central Arkansas. But in order for that to happen, the Travelers have to win. And putting Boykin in charge of the team isn’t going to make that happen.
The solution may be in the new stadium (although we’re sad to see Ray Winder go). But once the newness of Dickey Stephens Park wears off, people will want to see some winning baseball. Sure, there’s something about the atmosphere of a ball park. It was Robert Frost who wrote that “I never feel more at home in America that at a ball game.” And while we know that is true for some central Arkansas baseball fans, many also like victories. Ty Boykin isn’t the answer, even if the new ballpark is.
So with that said, we bid farewell to another week and welcome the weekend. The Hogs open play Friday night, the Travelers continue their series with San Antonio and on Saturday, the ponies make a run for the roses.
Mint juleps all around.
J.R. and Henry write this sports column for the Little Rocking blog twice a week.