Category Archives: Sports news

Expect the Sod Poodles’ fan base to hold up during off season

Teams that take cities by storm, which is what happened with the Amarillo Sod Poodles’ minor-league baseball franchise, can be expected to develop a loyal fan base during the season of play.

Now the season is over. The Sod Poodles won the Texas League pennant with a thrilling come-from-behind victory over the league’s defending champs. The team dispersed; the players, manager, coaches and team staffers all went home.

The fans who flocked to Hodgetown by the thousands for every home game have remained in Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle. My hunch is that they’re still feeling all warm and fuzzy over the championship their team won in their first season in existence.

I get the sense, seeing some of the fans’ social media posts, that they’re going to remain ardent supporters of the team as they await the start of the 2020 Texas League season.

They’re talking about meeting on occasion at a local eatery in southwest Amarillo. The Home Plate Diner — where I had a meal or three during my years in Amarillo — serves meals in an establishment with a baseball theme. There happens to be a fantastic portrait of Mickey Mantle on the wall … but I digress. The restaurant management plans to cater to the Sod Poodles fans who gather to talk about this or that about the season just passed and the future seasons that await them.

I am thrilled at the response the community delivered to the Sod Poodles. I am impressed with the venue built on Buchanan Street in downtown Amarillo. I am delighted at the new life being breathed into the city’s downtown district largely as a result of the enthusiasm generated by the baseball team.

Season No. 1 has come to a highly successful conclusion. We cannot know what Season No. 2 will bring, whether there’s a repeat in store or whether the team will rebuild as the Soddies’ parent club, the National League San Diego Padres, looks to place AA athletes with AAA ballclubs … or even with the major league club.

I get the sense the offseason enthusiasm will hold up. I mean, social media do have a way of helping keep the embers hot. The Sod Poodles’ fans are using social to something that looks to be close to maximum advantage.

Runner clears marathon hurdle … but wait!

When I first saw the headline about a runner becoming the first human being in history to run a marathon in fewer than two hours, I was delighted, thrilled, amazed.

Oh, but then I saw some of the details of it.

Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya didn’t do it in a race. He didn’t run 26.2 miles against other runners. Oh, no. It was a controlled setting, complete with what I understand were “pacemakers,” who ran with him to keep him running on the record-setting pace.

Kipchoge compared his feat with Roger Bannister running the first sub-four-minute mile in 1954. Ha! There can be no comparison. Bannister did it in competition. He ran the mile in record fashion, then all but collapsed in the arms of the people waiting for him at the finish line; these days, runners finish such a race in well less than four minutes and look as though they’re ready to go another mile.

Kipchoge’s “record” won’t be entered into the books. It wasn’t sanctioned by the sport’s governing body for reasons I have sought to explain.

Hey, I don’t mean to disparage what this guy did. I cannot even think about running for more than 26 miles, let alone doing so in the fashion that Eliud Kipchoge accomplished the feat.

It’s just that it was a set-up in a fashion intended to produce a record-setting run.

It kind of reminds me of the time Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in that 1973 “tennis match,” which at the time was hailed as the first time a woman defeated a man on a tennis court. Good grief!

King was at the top of her game. Riggs was a washed up old man. It wasn’t a fair fight.

So it is with this “record” run. If someone does it while competing against other runners, then I’ll get excited.

Mount Vernon HS grid coach brings trouble … who knew?

A part of me isn’t terribly surprised by the story that developed over yonder at Mount Vernon High School. Then again, is it fair to lay the responsibility of this tempest at the feet of the newly hired football coach? Oh, probably not.

But still …

Two Mount Vernon High School football players have been ruled ineligible to play. The school won’t suffer any forfeiture of games after playing these student-athletes during the team’s first five games of this football season. The University Interscholastic League had considered the forfeiture on the basis of the players enrolling at Mount Vernon simply to play football; the UIL thought differently. It won’t take away the first five wins from Mount Vernon, but the players remain ineligible.

Here, though, is where it gets weird. The new Mount Vernon HS head coach is Art Briles, the former head coach at Baylor University. Briles was fired in the wake of a sex scandal that occurred in Waco involving student-athletes who played for Briles. A law firm hired by Baylor determined that Briles should have acted to prevent the sexual assaults that were occurring, but didn’t.

The scandal also cost the athletic director his job as well as that of the president of the school, Kenneth Starr. Briles was shown the door. He coached football abroad for a couple of years before he got the call to coach Mount Vernon High School.

So, now he’s back in the game (so to speak) in this country. Granted, the eligibility issue concerning the two young men who were deemed ineligible has not a thing to do with the nature of the scandal that erupted at Baylor University.

It just seems to me that trouble seems to follow Art Briles.

Or … maybe it’s just a coincidence.

Strange, man.

Why comment on Amarillo matters? Here’s why

I got an interesting response to a comment I published on this blog about Hodgetown, the ballpark where the Amarillo Sod Poodles play baseball.

It goes like this: ” … how can someone who hasn’t even been to a game or live in Amarillo anymore comment on what benefit it will have for the city?”

Hey, it’s a fair question. I’ll answer it.

I lived in Amarillo for 23 years. I am about to turn 70 years of age. I have worked full time as a journalist in three communities: one in Oregon and two in Texas. Of the three cities where I have lived and worked, I spent most of my time in Amarillo.

I had a home built from the ground up in Amarillo. My wife and I sank our roots deeply into the Caprock during my time there. We still have plenty of friends who live there, along with one of our sons.

I have a keen interest in Amarillo and its development. Yes, it is true that I now live in Collin County, but I believe I retain some institutional knowledge of the city I have departed.

My view of Hodgetown, the Sod Poodles’ home field, is that the ballpark will become a community icon over time. Fans will continue to flock to the ballpark to watch the Sod Poodles. Indeed, I also believe Panhandle residents will be more than happy to attend other community events that will occur inside the walls of the $40 million structure.

My support for the ballpark has been unwavering. I admit to having a doubt or two about the baseball team actually coming to Amarillo, given the turmoil that roiled the City Council for a time after the 2015 municipal election. The team, though, made the move from San Antonio.

Will I keep commenting on the Sod Poodles and on matter relating to Amarillo’s progress? Damn right I will.

My affection for Amarillo runs too deeply for me to turn my back on the city I called home for all those years.

Get ready for huge celebration at start of next baseball season

OK, so there won’t be an Amarillo-wide party for the city’s championship baseball team, the Sod Poodles.

The Sod Poodles won the Texas League Class AA championship over the Tulsa Drillers. They came from behind to win the fifth and final game of the championship series in the Sod Poodles first season in existence.

The city’s baseball fans went nuts. The city, though, chose not to stage a party.

Fine. I get it. I won’t belabor that point any longer.

Here is what ought to happen at the start of the 2020 Texas League season. The Sod Poodles need to stage a huge rally at Hodgetown at the start of the season home opener.

Present the championship trophy to the team that will take the field. Bring back as many of the players who won the championship for the Sod Poodles as you can get. Let the fans shower them with love, applause and plenty of cheers.

It remains a wide open question about the team that takes the field for the Sod Poodles next season. The San Diego Padres, the National League team affiliated with the Sod Poodles, likely will promote many of the championship-winning players to AAA baseball or, what the heck, maybe even to the Big League club.

Still, bring them back to Amarillo to soak up the love of the city’s baseball fans.

I won’t say any more about this until next season approaches.

The Elmore Group, the team owners, along with the City Council, the Convention and Visitors Council, the mayor’s office, the city manager’s office … all of ’em have time to plan a big-time blowout.

Get busy, folks.

Coach Briles is 5-0 … and that doesn’t make it all better!

Here it comes, sports fans.

Mount Vernon High School — over yonder in East Texas — has opened its 2019 football season with five straight wins. Their new coach, Art Briles, came to his job with a huge cloud hanging over his head owing to his dismissal as head football coach at Baylor University.

What is coming? The justification from some football fans that it’s OK for Mount Vernon Independent School District officials to have hired Briles to coach these young men even though he is tainted by a scandal that threatened to swallow up the Baylor program.

The scandal involved some student-athletes who were raping women around Waco. Those athletes were players under Briles’s tenure as the head coach at Baylor. He said this was going on with his knowledge of it. The Baylor regents were buying it. They dismissed Briles, the athletic director quit and, oh yes, the Baylor University chancellor, a fellow named Kenneth Starr, was demoted; he eventually left the university. Why mention Starr? Well, because he was special counsel during the Bill Clinton inquiry into, um, sexual misconduct involving the president — which ended up with Clinton being impeached by the House of Representatives in 1998.

Does an unblemished record expunge Briles from the scandal that took him away from a winning Division I college football program? Not in the least. I remain dubious about his hiring at Mount Vernon HS in the first place. The board of trustees could have found another highly qualified coach without the taint that stained Briles at Baylor.

But hey, as the saying goes: Winning is everything!

Weird, man.

Bidding adieu to Sod Poodles … for this season

I am going to bid adieu to the Amarillo Sod Poodles with this brief blog post.

However, I am likely to be back when the Soddies take the field for Season No. 2 next spring.

They had a hell of a ride in their initial minor-league baseball season in the Texas League. They won the league championship in fine fashion, defeating the defending champs with a come-from-behind victory in the fifth and final game of the championship series. They had their fans sweating bullets, only to unload on the Tulsa Drillers in the ninth inning.

I don’t know whether Amarillo is going to throw a party any time soon for the Sod Poodles to celebrate their championship or whether they’ll wait until the start of the 2020 season to honor ’em with a presentation at Hodgetown, some speeches from Mayor Ginger Nelson or even a state legislator or two. Whatever, the fans will flock to the ballpark and will cheer mightily.

I am happy for the fans who attended the games in fine fashion. They filled the 7,000 or so seats most games. Hodgetown is a jewel. The city has made huge strides toward revamping, remaking and re-creating its downtown district. The Sod Poodles can lay claim to being a major part of that effort and the result it is producing.

It was a great season. It ended the right way.

So, to paraphrase the late great Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks: Let’s win two championships.

Will there be a city celebration for the Soddies?

I am acutely aware that as an Amarillo ex-pat, any suggestion I have for the city I called home for more than 20 years likely won’t carry much weight.

What the hey? Here goes anyway …

Is there any thought being given in Amarillo for a community celebration to honor the Amarillo Sod Poodles’ winning the Texas League baseball championship?

I mentioned a parade in an earlier blog post. I get that a parade along Polk Street could be tough to assemble.

But there need not be a parade to celebrate the Sod Poodles’ accomplishment. A ceremony at second base at Hodgetown might work. Invite the public onto the field for an afternoon soiree. Serve hot dogs, beer, nachos, Cracker Jack, popcorn.

Bring the Sod Poodles players to the event. Have a presentation from Mayor Ginger Nelson. Give ’em a key to the city.

I’m on the road at the moment. I won’t be able to attend such an event. I only want the best for Amarillo. The Sod Poodles have delivered a major bragging point for the city’s baseball fans who’ve waited a long time for the return of affiliated minor-league hardball.

I keep thinking of what retired Amarillo College President Paul Matney once said in promoting the referendum approval of the venue that eventually would become Hodgetown. “Amarillo is a baseball town,” Matney said. He is right. The fans demonstrated it by showing up by the thousands for each home game the Soddies played.

So, why not reward them — and the team — with a citywide celebration?

It would cap a wondrous season.

Ballpark a go from the start; the team name had to grow on me

It has been suggested on social media that the Amarillo Sod Poodles’ winning the Texas League championship has silenced critics of the downtown ballpark where they play hardball and the name of the team itself.

I plead guilty to half of that assertion.

Yes, I was a critic of the Sod Poodles name when I first heard it. The name had to grow on me. It did. The growth wasn’t a long-term affair. I grew quickly to like the name. The more I heard it the more catchy it sounded to me.

I heard about the team ownership’s rationale in selecting the name: The Elmore Group wanted a name that would be, um, conversational around the Texas League, if not around the nation’s minor-league baseball community.

I guess the Elmore Group succeeded. The name stuck. Folks are talking about it, although I am pretty sure no one has yet ever used the term to describe prairie dogs, which I understand is the old-time name for the little prairie rodents.

As for the ballpark, I’ve been on board since the beginning. My doubts arose only after some (now former) City Council members expressed concerns and doubt over whether the ballpark was feasible. The issue went to a municipal vote in November 2015; voters approved the ostensibly non-binding referendum and the ballpark was headed toward construction.

They built the ballpark. They named it Hodgetown in honor of former Mayor Jerry Hodge and his wife, Margaret. Then the fans filled the place damn near every game the Sod Poodles played at their home field.

The season is over. The Sod Poodles are Texas League champs.

I no longer live in Amarillo. However, I am delighted that the ballpark was built, that downtown continues to flourish and, by golly, that the Texas League champs carry the name of Sod Poodles.

How about that? Sod Poodles are the champs!

Strike up the band. Clear the streets. Get ready for a parade … maybe?

The Amarillo Sod Poodles completed their initial season in existence by winning the Texas League baseball championship.

Oh, I guess I should note they defeated the defending league champs, the Tulsa Drillers with an 8-3 victory on the Drillers’ home field.

This isn’t a bad way to bring AA affiliated baseball back to Amarillo. It’s not that losing to the Drillers would have been a total loser for the Sod Poodles and their diehard fan base.

However, a win is a win. A championship is a championship. The fans who flocked to their Hodgetown ballpark by the thousands every home game now have reason to cheer mightily for their hometown baseball club.

Will there be a victory parade in Amarillo? Beats the resin out of me.

There should be … but that’s just me.

Nice going, Sod Poodles.