By Robert Cunningham, AngelsWin.com Staff Writer -
So a couple of weeks ago I’m sitting in my office and I get a phone call. Now I get a lot of phone calls but this one is about something fairly important.
It is the program manager informing me that they need me to fly out to Arkansas to help support some engineering activities.
Now I’m more than willing to support my company and do what needs to get done but the first thought running through my head is “Arkansas? Yuck!” (And those of you who may be from Arkansas please don’t take offense to the truth and please read all the way through to the end!)
So I spent the next two days of the week preparing for my trip. I even called up an executive assistant and we planned out my flight, hotel, and car rental needs. At the end of it I decided that I needed to drive back to Little Rock the night before my flight so I would be close and not have to drive an hour up from Hot Springs early in the morning.
Because the executive assistant had already spent a lot of time booking my flight, when she pulled up the list of Little Rock hotels we immediately saw a four-star Wyndham hotel that was available and I said “Book it!”
The next day I was talking to a colleague who was also traveling with me to Arkansas and he was quick to inform me that the site we were visiting was the “2nd worst place he’s ever traveled to.”
Now you have to understand, this colleague is an Admiral’s Club/Diamond Star member and is well traveled. Out of curiosity I asked him what was the worst place and he indicated a city in Georgia (sorry Georgia).
So now my brain really started to race as I was envisioning a trip into the world of the Walking Dead or even worse True Detective. My brain wandered into remote forest or swamp-laden locations of which I should probably be packing, at the minimum, a crossbow and a shotgun for protection. I occasionally let my imagination run wild once in a while and this was one of those moments.
But then in the deepest darkest recesses of my brain, a brilliant spark of light bathed me in its soothing gaze! Don’t the Arkansas Travelers play in Arkansas?!?!?
I immediately became self-aware of the opportunity that was now, possibly, presenting itself. Popping open Google Maps and the Travelers website I immediately realized, based on the map I was looking at, that Dickey-Stephens Park was apparently only three blocks away from the hotel that I had selected! Fate? Karma! Coincidence? (The last is for you agnostic/atheist folks)
Bat, err… Chuck-mobile!
Next thing I knew I was in Arkansas with an e-mail in my inbox from Mr. Richter telling me that my press-pass would be waiting for me at the stadium and that I was “In like Flynn!” Chuck is pretty awesome when he’s not hogging all of the scotch and cigars on Twitter! :)
So before I know it Thursday evening rolls around and I am checking into the Wyndham hotel in Little Rock. As I grab my room keys I politely ask the service desk attendant, “Which direction is Dickey-Stephens Park?” She replies, “Oh, it’s across the street right behind the hotel!” Holy crap I’m not that lucky at booking hotels am I?
Sure enough I grabbed my cell phone (to record voice notes), my notepad of questions (made hastily the night before), and stepped the requisite 200 feet across the street to arrive at my first Arkansas Travelers game!
Below are some of the notes, observations and musings from that trip in bullet form for easy consumption (some information comes from a Travelers press release kindly supplied by Randy, the Travelers scoreboard keeper):
• Dickey-Stephens is a pretty good looking park! Had a very “cozy” feel and I’d recommend it if you happen to be in the area to take in a game.
• Press-passes are pretty cool by the way. Had free reign to roam across the stadium and into the press box!
• If you want to interview the players BEFORE the game, get there on time! (My business activities delayed me longer than I had hoped on Thursday)
• Try not to interview players, especially if you have never seen their faces before, on a rainy day. The players have a nasty habit of wearing their rain jackets which, in turn, covers up their jersey numbers making any list that you, the interviewer, may have generated the night before to help you identify who is who in Traveler-land, almost useless.
• If you do find yourself trying to land interviews on a rainy day, pick off the prospects that were kind enough to not wear their rain jackets outside. (Hat tip to Kaleb Cowart, Alex Yarbrough, Zach Borenstein, and Kevin Johnson!)
• If you weren’t aware it is a mandatory rule that if you are attending your first Arkansas Travelers game AND you have a press-pass that Jerry Dipoto must fly out to the park and surprise you by walking around the corner into the Travelers clubhouse and make you act like a star-struck little kid so much that you stumble over your greetings and words, making him wonder if you are off your meds.
• Met Phil Elson, the play-by-play announcer, who was instrumental in getting the press-pass for me. Thanks again Phil and it was nice to meet you! (I had to wait about 15 minutes while he announced the Travelers at-bat’s during a long 2nd inning! Go Travs!)
• Sat with a group of Beat Writers/Scoreboard Keepers/MiLB GameDay Pitch Tracker “inputter” people up in the press box area. Nice view and interesting company! Shared a bit of insight into the Travelers as well as some pieces of history. One of them, Todd Traub, wrote a book, “The Last At-Bat”, about the history of the Arkansas Travelers for you history buffs.
• Andy Workman is hitting .391 w/RISP per Phil’s announcement during the game. Clutch! ;) Also I’m pretty sure that Andy’s walk up music was Wiz Khalifa’s “Work Hard, Play Hard”…. “Work, work, work, work….”
• One of the Angels newest acquisitions, Zach Zaneski, got on base later in the game and some of those collective writers/keepers/trackers said “ZZ got on base” and then one of them joked that he was “ZZ top”. I gave my two cents worth and said we should just give him the nickname “Snooze” of which they appeared to agree and like. So remember Zach = ZZ = “Snooze”. His walk up music should simply be a snooze alarm if you ask me.
• One of the opposing team’s hitters (The Naturals, Royals AA affiliate) had Superman music playing for his walk up music. He struck out as I recall. You’d better be Mike F’ing Trout if you are going to play that when you walk up to the plate, IMHO.
• Kramer Sneed looked pretty good in this outing. Only gave up 2 runs as I recall and looked good in the 2nd inning and beyond.
• Kaleb Cowart worked two “behind-in-the-counts” into walks that evening. There is plate discipline there to go along with his above average defense and his strong throwing arm. If he can continue to develop and evolve his hit and power tools there is real promise in that young man.
• It is absolutely no coincidence (sorry agnostics/atheists but the correlation is 1) that Alex Yarbrough had his first 2-homer game the night that I interviewed him. AY and I are in total sync with the baseball Gods and the left field fence was the perfect place to pick up a couple of souvenirs that night!
• It is also no coincidence that Zach Borenstein has slashed .333/.375/.733 with 1 HR and 7 RBI’s in the three games AFTER I interviewed him. Your welcome Zach! (Well to be fair ZB seems like a pretty good guy and a hard worker so I guess the credit is really his….)
• Newcomer Vance Albitz played a decent shortstop and had one hit, 2 runs scored, along with a walk and a stolen base. In his last four games, including Thursday, he’s slashed .462/.588/.769, albeit with a wildly inflated BABIP. But he did impress me with his impact to the game that night.
• Sean Burnett came in and pitched a scoreless inning of relief. The local beat writer didn’t seem too impressed with his work to date but his pitches were coming in firm and hard from my perch above home plate. Command and control was a bit off but 3 strikeouts in the inning negated the one hit and walk he gave up. After his outing I summoned the courage to do my first, very brief, interview with him and he said he felt “geeked up” with adrenaline after his first couple of outings.
• To the player that I approached in the darkened stairwell that I thought was Burnett heading up to the locker room you have my sincerest and deepest apologies for misidentifying you. I probably pissed you off for sure and for that I am sorry (Pretty sure that was Kyle Hudson in retrospect). Please understand that I was identifying players by jersey number and you had your jacket on and I made a terrible assumption.
• Yes I am well aware that Burnett and Hudson do not even look remotely alike. Give me a break Jerry had me on full tilt and I wasn’t nearly as prepared as a Rocket Scientist like myself normally is and likes to be. Pfft. Besides I haven’t seen Burnett in like a year and a half.
• Yes I am now fully aware that I should have simply clicked on the player links under the roster section of the Arkansas Travelers website to see photos!!!!
• According to the beat writers in attendance the Travelers defense has been superb this season. As of Thursday’s game the Travelers had committed only 18 errors which are the fewest in Minor League Baseball! They even had a streak of 91 error-free innings in April!
• Dickey-Stephens Park is VERY unfriendly to the home run. I was out in the right field corner when I heard a smash off of the bat of a Naturals hitter and watched it sail out to the center field fence and….. drop into the glove of the Trav’s center fielder. This makes Yarbrough’s two home run night particularly impressive.
• Sean Burnett is only one of three MLB players to begin a MLB rehabilitation assignment with the Travelers. Robert Coello and Dane De La Rosa were the others.
• As of Thursday night’s game the Travelers were hitting .293 on the road and .198 at home.
• Unfortunately Michael Snyder (stress fracture) and Eric Stamets (finger laceration) were sent to Arizona for rehabilitation so I wasn’t able to interview them.
• Fortunately I was able to interview Kaleb Cowart, Alex Yarbrough, Kevin Johnson, Cam Bedrosian, and Zach Borenstein. Look for these short transcribed interviews later in the week on Angelswin.com!
It was a nice end to an unexpected trip!
To the good people of Arkansas I actually would like to thank all of you I interacted with. When they say Southern Hospitality, it really is true. They were quite welcoming and kind to the native Californian who came out to visit with them and I thank each and every one of you for your time and kindness! :)