Friday, March 05, 2010

Place No. 79: AT&T Bricktown Ballpark; 79A: Roger Dean Stadium

Sometimes a ballpark is created to revitalize a neighborhood, and other times the ballpark comes first, hoping to spur development.

Josh Pahigian takes us to the former for place No. 79 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.” AT&T Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City is the home of the Pacific Coast League’s RedHawks.

Sounds like a nice place. The closest I’ve been to Oklahoma City is Wichita, Kan. while covering some of the court appearances following the bombing.

Josh once again dwells on Mickey Mantle, forcing us to continue to question his cred as a Red Sox fan. But he also describes statues of former Met Warren Spahn and Will’s man Johnny Bench.

Josh says the ballpark, which opened in 1998, revitalized a part of Oklahoma City that had fallen into decay.

But I’m reminded of another ballpark that opened that year that was intended to create a neighborhood, rather than restore one.

Alternative place No. 79A; Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, Fla.

I’ve seen three minor-league games at Roger Dean, and four spring training games, but truth is I’ve been to the park a lot more often than that. It’s practically my baseball home away from home.

The yard, also an attractive brick stadium, opened as the spring training home for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Montreal Expos, as well as Florida State League’s Jupiter Hammerheads.

The Expos later moved north to Melbourne, replaced by the Marlins, giving them a spring site about 90 minutes from their usual digs. The Palm Beach Cardinals, also of the FSL, joined the action not much later, creating what I’m suspecting is the only complex used by two separate major and minor league operations. Also strange that two teams in the same park have different city names, especially since Palm Beach is about 20 minutes away.

The ballpark is a classic example of what my Dad calls the “If you build it, they will come” theory of Florida development. It’s the centerpiece of Abacoa which turned miles and miles of scrub pines and little else into neighborhoods, a Florida Atlantic University campus and a host of other operations.

The area directly surrounding the park is filled with shops and restaurants, and it’s always fun to walk around after a game.

My folks live about five miles away, so we seem to find a reason to pop over to the stadium every time I’m in town. Sometimes we’re just checking out the gift shop, other times we’re walking around the back fields watching practice.
Tim Teufel and Dan Murray watching their St. Lucie Mets players at an FSL game in 2008.

This has led to multiple adventures, of course. Twice, my Dad and I were walking outside the park only to have foul balls clear the roof and bounce in front of us, including last year, when the Marlins were taking batting practice.

Walking around the back fields one time the Cardinals were in action, and we found Dennis Eckerlsey throwing batting practice to minor leaguers.

Another year we were allowed to enter the stadium when major leaguers were practicing and Mark McGwire was taking grounders at first base with John Mabry. Someone I believed to be then Cards GM Walt Jocketty saw my son sitting in the front row and walked over and gave him a ball.

And one time during a spring game, I saw a guy who looked like Bruce Hornsby sitting with his sons. You have to understand that I’m a big Hornsby fan, and I’ve had the chance to chat with him at a couple events before. He’s really friendly and accessible to fans.

Of course, both times were at places where I was sure it was him – performances and CD signing events.

But this was a guy wearing a Cardinals cap who looked like Bruce, and sounded like Bruce when I could listen without being intrusive. I don’t have too many random celebrity sightings. None, actually, unless you count Ed Koch in a New York restaurant while he was mayor.

After several innings of watching and wondering, I noticed the guy get up and head toward a concession stand. I followed, since it was time for a Diet Coke and chatting with someone in line seems less intrusive that interrupting them watching a game.

After pausing for a moment or two, I made eye contact and got bold. “Excuse me,” I asked. “Are you Bruce Hornsby?”

He smiled and said, “Yes,” and told him I was a big fan. He shook my hand and chatted for a little bit. He’s friends with Tony LaRussa, who invited him and his boys out to see a game.

We’re heading down to Florida again next month, and with two teams sharing Roger Dean, there’s always a game to see. But I don’t think we’ll be bumping into another rock star.

1 comment:

RDOwens said...

I saw a game at All Sports Stadium in 1980. That was the previous stadium before AT&T Bricktown Ballpark was built.

At the time, the OKC team was a Phillies affiliate. I saw the team play the Tigers AAA team that had Fidrych making a comeback.