Entertainment » Jim Harris

Travs support falls well short



Travelerocity has become one of my everyday must-browse weblogs (travelerocity.blogs.com). The local site is run anonymously, but the fellow only appears to be a fan, not an Arkansas Travelers official or local sportswriter, and knows his baseball, writes well, opines on all things involving the Travs and the parent Los Angeles Angels, and asks some great questions that everybody should be asking but that nobody seems to be able to answer.

Such as this question: Why all the secrecy among North Little Rock city officials and Travs officials over the new stadium, a park that’s being built by taxpayers to the tune of $32 million? Another, this week: How does Springfield, Mo., (about 391,000 metropolitan statistical area population) draw 7,000 a game in its nice $35 million ballpark, while Little Rock (more than 630,000 metropolitan statistical area) has only managed a meager 3,100 or so each of the past few years? (In both cases, we know, they are counting season ticket holders who aren’t actually there; plenty of Tuesday nights last year I swear maybe 600 fans at most were at Ray Winder Field.)

It’s very likely that unless a major wave of nostalgia rushes over the Little Rock baseball fan who hates to see an old park go, the best home crowd the Travs will get this month is the 5,000-plus kids who will be bused in Monday for School Day. The new Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock is being fitted with only 5,500 permanent seats, so the organization apparently doesn’t expect to rival Springfield in turnout.

Please don’t use the “we aren’t aligned with the Cardinals, we don’t know the players” argument anymore. Even as a St. Louis farm club, crowds weren’t much different in the 1990s. The Angels have paraded more big-time talent through here in five years than the Cards did in their last 15.

Minor-league baseball is a hit all over the country, and even some independent teams with no major-league prospects are drawing numbers the Travs wish they could see. Other reasons trotted out are: No Anheuser-Busch products are available, the Travs board of directors is out of touch with today’s game, etc.

Maybe the chief reason is simple: Outside of a Razorback game here and there, Little Rock isn’t much of a sports town. The Travs offer the cheapest ticket in pretty much all of baseball, free parking and the cheapest concessions, and Little Rock still ranks 95th among all minor league teams in attendance.

“This will all change when the new park is opened,” many say. We’ll see.

I’m certain of this: If the Little Rock sports fan is allocating most of his sporting dollars toward the Hogs, he’s seriously missing out.

How about some nearly free basketball starring the NCAA stars of tomorrow? Little Rock has that, thanks to longtime Amateur Athletic Union Federation backer and local businessman Ron Crawford, who helped get two tournaments here for this weekend, including one that was originally scheduled for New Orleans. It’s called the “Rockin’ the Rock Spring Classic” boys basketball tournament, featuring top 16- and 17- year-old travel teams from around the U.S.

Most of the action will be held at the beautiful Jack Stephens Center on the UALR campus (I’m guessing, based on the attendance I saw at several games this season, that the majority of Little Rockians haven’t checked it out yet).

Daily tickets ar $10 and the entire tournament pass is $20.

We’ll blog the locations and start times later in the week — on our Little Rocking blog at www.arktimes.com (which is now also featuring a great sports column two days a week) — when the schedules are set. The finals are Sunday at UALR. You can see these future stars live now, or catch them on TV later, in your recliner, where I’m guessing many Little Rock sports fans do their sports viewing these days.

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