No matter how the tax vote for a new stadium in North Little Rock turned out Tuesday (after our press time), wherever the Arkansas Travelers are playing games in the coming years, they could stand to look around at major and minor-league baseball now and bring the excitement level up a notch or two.
For the baseball connoisseur, the games often have been exciting. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have done as promised three years back when they replaced the St. Louis Cardinals as the parent of the Travs: They’ve provided competitive teams and sent in much promising, big-league-type talent. Just look at the Angels current lineup for players who a year or two ago were playing at Ray Winder Field. If you didn’t see a Travs game this season until now, you missed seeing one of the club’s best double-play combos in years in shortstop Erick Aybar and second baseman Alberto Callaspo. Callaspo recently was moved up to AAA Salt Lake City. You can still see Aybar, who seems to make at least one spectacular play a night.
But, sparkling baseball play doesn’t seem to be the big draw around here (and Little Rock is not alone). A regular night at any ballpark throughout the country has to have other features to keep the crowd interested, besides the occasional special night when midgets wrestle or some guy is shot out of a cannon. Here, the between-innings fun seems geared mostly toward kids and younger fans. But, night after night, watching two folks spin their heads on a bat and then try to run to a finish line, or toss rubber chickens into a bucket, or roll monstrous dice, or race a stumbling Shelly around the park gets a bit old. Even worse, my crowd complains about not being able to play enough bingo, something that involves the entire ballpark on certain nights, what with all the silly games that involve one or two people.
Maybe someone needs to resurrect Hookslide. Even the third-base-line bleachers seem tame compared with the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the team was generally weak save for the great 1989 season.
The indoor football Arkansas Twisters, with a mediocre on-the-field product to sell this season, still managed to draw thousands and do it in a way we’ve seen many pro baseball teams doing it lately: The music is livelier (even the traditional organ music), pretty girls fire “cannons” loaded with T-shirts balled up toward fans in stands, even an occasional concert precedes or follows the game. St. Louis, which has a great product on the field, still resorts to between-inning promotions and fun scoreboard features that keep fans interested.
Granted, on the major-league level, you’re paying major-league prices that help a club pay the promotional tab. And, yes, at many minor-league parks, admission costs more than the $6 for adults for a grandstand seat here. Maybe the answer is more money invested in the team, because I know the behind-the-scenes staff is young and trying and attempts to replicate what they see at other Texas League parks. Maybe that ticket price could be higher if the overall entertainment value was viewed as better. I don’t think people stay away if you boost prices if they feel they’re getting their money’s worth.
The Travs can say all they want that they have the cheapest entertainment around, but when a couple thousand folks on average are showing up here while 6,000 or more are showing up nightly in Springfield, Mo., something doesn’t sound right.