The Natural state of things…
Today, I’m in Northwest Arkansas for the first-ever game at Arvest
Ballpark, home of the Naturals. This is the Royals’ Double-A affiliate,
with the old Wichita Wranglers moving this way (The Wranglers had finished last in Texas League attendance for the past three years, if you were curious).
The club here started up their own blog here on MLBlogs and you can check out all the photos of the park. They don’t do it justice. It’s a beaut, right up there with all of the other new Minor League parks that have been cropping up (I’ll be in Lehigh Valley over the weekend, by the way). It’s kind of below ground level, sunken in, so when you first pull in, you can look down on the field for a really neat effect, especially coming in surrounded by cows and farmland. Kind of Field of Dreams-ish, in a way.
It helped get the adrenaline going, something important considering I was up at 4:50 a.m. to fly out of my home in Pittsburgh to Cincinnati and then onto a connecting flight to Tulsa. Then there was the drive, handled capably by multimedia producer extraordinaire Joe Cronin, to Northwest Arkansas. All I need is a train ride and I can make a movie with John Candy.
The weather certainly cooperated. It has rained a lot in these parts, but the skies parted and the sun came out to provide a perfect setting for baseball. The usual pre-game festivities unfolded, though there was an extra something with the governor of Arkansas on hand, among other dignitaries.
Royals owner David Glass was here and boy was he a happy guy. Not just because this is a Royals affiliate. He lived her (Wal-Mart is based here) and has wanted baseball here for a long time. Now he has it and it’s an affiliate of the big-league club he owns. Couple that with the Royals’ wins against the Yankees and the guy was floating. We had the chance to talk to him a bit — look for the feature on MiLB.com next week sometime. The best part of it is something you won’t see. We asked if Mr. Glass wouldn’t mind sitting in the first row of the seats to give us a different look (and so he wouldn’t be looking directly into the sun). I assumed he’d walk around to the stairs and come around the railing. Instead, the grandfather of six basically vaulted over the railing and gracefully into the seating. Just what I needed, the owner of a Major League franchise to trip and break something for an interview. Luckily, no owners or former CEOs of Wal-Mart were harmed in the filming of this feature.
The game hasn’t started out so well for the Naturals (named for the fact that Arkansas is known as the Natural State because of things like the many natural waterfalls that can be found here, and NOT because of the Bernard Malmud book/Robert Redford-starring movie). San Antonio’s Will Inman had given up just one hit into the fifth inning and the locals were down, 4-0.
The only other negative, most would say, was the traffic pattern coming into this place. People were lined up waiting to come in well into the game. There were promises made that things would be addressed, but there can’t be a quick fix to that, can there? Evidently, there can — some of the issue stemmed from an inability to use an overflow lot for parking. It’s a grass area and all the rain recently made it unparkable. Even without it, though, the atmosphere here made it well worth the wait.
Travel bookshelf: I’m not really an iPod guy, so I can’t share with you what music I brought with you. I do like to bring a book with me, something mostly to help me pass the time on planes. I like to mix it up with baseball and non-baseball titles. On this trip, I’ve got one of each and I’d recommend both. The baseball book is called Crazy ’08, written by Cait Murphy. It’s a fantastic volume on the 1908 baseball season and one of the best-researched books I’ve ever read. If you’re a fan of baseball history like I am, this is a must-read.
The non-baseball book is Three Cups of Tea and it’s the kind of story that you wouldn’t believe if it weren’t true. It’s about this guy who was a mountain climber who tried, and failed, to scale K2, wandering lost into a nearby village in Pakistan. Taken by the horrible conditions, particularly when it comes to the education of children, he takes it upon himself to build the village a school. He’s now built 53 of them throughout Pakistan. This is truly one of the most inspirational stories I’ve ever read and if it doesn’t move you to doing something to help someone somewhere, then you’ve got a heart of stone.