With the Travelers – Day Three

Greg Porter doubles in Sean Rodriguez in the bottom of the 1st to give the Travs a 1-0 lead in Game #1 of yesterday’s twinbill. He homered in the bottom of the 7th to win the game.

To paraphrase A Tale of Two Cities, it was the best of games, and it was the worst of games.

The Springfield Cardinals came into town for a five-game series, starting with a doubleheader last night. In the minors, twinbill games are seven innings each, so a 6:30 PM start wasn’t as bad as it might sound.

I was interested to see and hear the fan reaction, because this is a Cardinals market and the Cardinals were the Travs’ parent club from the mid-1960s through 2000. The divorce was nasty & mdash; one irreconcilable difference was the Cardinals wanting a new ballpark that Travs’ management couldn’t provide — so the Redbirds left town. The Angels, meanwhile, had been terminated by the Erie SeaWolves, their Double-A affiliate. Erie wanted a local affiliation and eventually signed with the Detroit Tigers.

The Angels were happy with Little Rock, because the Texas League was the closest Double-A league to Anaheim. Although Ray Winder Field was built in 1932 and its facilities were antiquated by modern standards, any differences remained private and the Angels reportedly offered to help improve the playing field.

Not all the locals took kindly to the Cardinals’ departure. Season ticket holders got to put placards on their chairbacks with their personal or corporate names. I remember seeing signs such as "Cardinals Fan" on seats that remained empty.

All that pouting did little good, because two years later the Cardinals bought the El Paso Diablos and moved the franchise to Springfield, Missouri. Obviously, because they directly own that franchise, there’s no way they’re going to chuck it overboard and return to Little Rock.

Meanwhile, Bill Valentine finally found a way to put together a deal for a new stadium, Dickey-Stephens Park, across the Arkansas River in North Little Rock. The Angels’ patience was rewarded with a state-of-the-art facility that could be Triple-A if they expanded the capacity.

So last night was my first opportunity to randomly sample customer reaction to the Springfield/Arkansas rivalry.

I heard several say variations along the lines of "I wish the Cardinals were still here," but few people seemed willing to root for Springfield instead of the Travelers. Those who did were often admonished by their neighbors. I had others say they don’t care who is the parent club, they just come out for the entertainment or to root for the local nine. I did hear many comments from people saying they didn’t care about the Angels at all, although after the Angels beat St. Louis in their home park the last two nights I resisted the temptation to rub their noses in it. (smile)

In the end, it doesn’t really matter, so long as the turnstiles spin and people buy plenty of food and merchandise.

Greg Porter is a local favorite, now in his third year with the Travelers. He was off to a slow start, with only one homer entering the homestand, but yesterday had to be his best day of the season.

Porter opened Game #1 with a two-out double in the bottom of the first to drive home Sean Rodriguez for a 1-0 lead. The game went into the bottom of the seventh tied 3-3, and it looked like we might be headed for extra innings, just what you need in a doubleheader. But Sean Rodriguez singled to lead off the inning, and on the first pitch he saw Porter hit a mammoth shot to right-center to give the Travs the win.

Click Here to watch Porter’s homer.

When the players returned to the dugout before Game #2, I showed many of them the video of Greg’s dinger. They seemed very upbeat, especially riding a four-game winning streak that put them within hailing distance of the North Division lead despite their horrid season to date. A win in Game #2 would put them four games behind Springfield for second place, and five games behind Tulsa with ten games left on the first half schedule, including three at Tulsa and four at home against last-place Tulsa.

A personal note … If you watch Porter’s video and the others I’ve posted, they’re mostly shot from the stands. When this park was designed, someone took "camera well" literally. You have to climb down a ladder to get into the well! It’s so deep that it’s virtually useless for photography or videography. Even if you tried, you’d have to shoot through the protective netting and padding around the well. So the local photographs and camera crews choose to go up in the stands, finding empty seats. On the other hand, it’s kinda cool because you pick up on the audio track what the fans are saying so you the viewer get a sample of the local chatter.

Anyway, Game #2 began. In the bottom of the first, Adam Morrissey led off with a walk and then Freddy Sandoval hit a two-run homer to right-center to give the Travs a 2-0 lead.

Click Here to watch Sandoval’s homer.

But the Cardinals eventually tied the game 2-2 going into the 7th, and that’s when it all unravelled.

The key moment, in my opinion, was with one out and 2B Casey Rowlett on first. LF Sean Danielson hit a comebacker to reliever Rafael Rodriguez, who whirled and threw to SS Ryan Leahy for the force. Leahy then threw on to first, but the umpire ruled that Danielson beat the throw. I was standing nearby and thought Danielson was out, but my opinion doesn’t count.

Springfield eventually scored two runs to take a 4-2 lead, and Bill Edwards relieved Rodriguez. On a pickoff attempt at 2B, Edwards threw it into center field, where CF Sean Rodriguez missed the ball and had to chase it, allowing the runner to score. And the Travs lost, 5-2.

The mood in the dugout afterwards was as if someone had died.

Anyway, time to head to the ballpark.


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