Category Archives: Sports news

Sod Poodles’ winning ways become infectious lure

Let’s face it. Winning is a wonderful inducement for sports fans. It brings out those who might otherwise decide to stay home rather than go to the ballpark for an afternoon (or evening) of entertainment.

I present to you the Amarillo Sod Poodles, who entered the Texas League this year and — in some instances — have taken the league by storm. Why and how? They’re winning a good bit more of their games than they’re losing.

The Sod Poodles existed previously as the San Antonio Missions. Then the Alamo City landed a AAA minor-league franchise that played ball previously in Colorado Springs. The Missions needed a new home to play AA hardball. They looked around. Amarillo came calling. The powers that be in the Panhandle pledged to build a new ballpark. They offered the franchise some financial inducements.

Then the team decided to relocate. They needed a new name and a new brand. They came up with the Sod Poodles.

However, this wasn’t a team built from scratch. I mean, the franchise infrastructure already was in place. They had an organization backing them, the National League San Diego Padres.

The Sod Poodles won the first half South Division title this year. They’re in first place so far in the second half of the season. They’ll be in the playoffs once the regular season concludes.

They’re playing before full houses at Hodgetown. The cheers have been loud and throaty from what I understand.

It fills me with joy to know that Amarillo is turning out to support this team with shouts and cheers.

I won’t speculate how the fans would react if the Sod Poodles weren’t winning more than half of their games. I just know that winning does have a way of ginning up support.

This baseball franchise is off to a smashing start.

Coach brings checkered past to the field at Mount Vernon HS

Blogger’s Note: This blog item was published originally on KETR-FM’s website. I want to repost it for High Plains Blogger readers as well.

School is about to begin in Texas, which means that football season also is nearly upon us. I don’t know about you, but I might be looking with just a little bit more interest than usual at Mount Vernon High School, waiting to see how the team performs in its first season under the coaching leadership of a guy who – although he is a brilliant coach – shouldn’t have this job.

Art Briles is the new head football coach at Mount Vernon. You remember this guy, right? He once coached at Baylor University. He led the Bears to a lot of victories during his time in Waco.

But then he got into trouble by looking the other way while his players were raping women all over the university campus. Some of the players faced criminal charges; many of them were convicted. Briles, though, claimed to not know what his players were doing.

Well, the story got away from everyone. It swallowed up Baylor University. It consumed Waco. Briles became the face of a scandal of which he lost control.

Baylor University Chancellor Kenneth Starr – whose investigation into sexual misconduct at an entirely different level led to President Clinton’s impeachment in 1998 – was forced to resign. Baylor Athletics Director Ian McCaw also resigned. The Baylor regents then fired Briles.

Briles wandered in the coaching wilderness – in Canada and in Europe – for a time before Mount Vernon High came calling.

The Mount Vernon Independent School District’s decision to hire this guy remains a difficult tonic for many Northeast Texans to swallow. I don’t live in the Mount Vernon district, but I’m not terribly far away, living in Princeton. Yes, Briles’s hiring sticks in my craw, too.

The rationale for hiring Briles seems to track along two lines: He deserves a second chance and, perhaps more importantly to some, he’s a heck of a football coach.

I maintain the notion that Mount Vernon ISD could have found any number of equally competent football coaches who aren’t tainted with the scandal that has stained Briles’s reputation.

I have no personal interest in Mount Vernon Tigers’ football fortunes. I suppose I should cheer for the young athletes who will work hard to compete on the field under Briles’s leadership. However, this coach’s presence on the sideline taints Mount Vernon’s reputation.

Is that fair? Do I intend to punish the young men who play football to the best of their ability? No. I just cannot set aside the hideous circumstance that cost the coach his job at a Division I university in the first place.

If Mount Vernon wins a lot of football games in the years to come, how can we measure the cost – if not the damage – to the school district’s reputation in hiring this guy?

Sod Poodles will have to carry on without me

I enjoy offering tidbits of commentary on Amarillo’s AA minor-league baseball team, the Sod Poodles. However, it is time for an acknowledgement.

It is that given my current place of residence, I’ll be unable to attend any Sod Poodles games this year at Hodgetown, the team’s brand new home venue in the middle of downtown Amarillo.

My wife and I live in Collin County. The Sod Poodles do come to Frisco a few times this season to play the Roughriders. Some friends have invited us to attend a Sod Poodles-Roughriders game later this month. We’ll attend it. We’ll have a good time. I’ll cheer enthusiastically for the Sod Poodles.

I had high hopes at the beginning of this maiden season that I could attend a game at Hodgetown. I’ve seen the stadium up close. I stood outside the right field fence on a recent visit to Amarillo, but didn’t seek entry into the ballpark.

My friends who do attend the games tell me the venue is first class, top drawer, shiny and clean. The beer is cold. The hot dogs are fresh. Hey, these things matter when you’re sitting in the summer sun at the ballpark watching athletes play hardball.

There’s always next year. I will commit to returning to Amarillo when the Sod Poodles are there for an extended home stand. About the best I can do is visit the Sod Poodles souvenir shop in the near future, where I am likely to buy a ballcap or some such memento.

Meanwhile, if it’s OK for me to cheer from afar, I’ll do so with pleasure.

Trying to understand these sports contracts

A whole lot of things go way over my noggin, especially if they involve large amounts of money.

Such as sports contracts signed by highly paid athletes. One of them, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, is “holding out” and not participating in the NFL team’s preparation for the upcoming season. He’s reportedly in Mexico somewhere, working out on his own, presumably getting in game shape.

So, what don’t I understand?

Elliott signed a contract. I understand there’s still some time left on that contract, which means — I think! — that he agreed when he signed it to fulfill the terms of that contract. That means he agreed to accept the large amounts of money he gets paid to play football.

Now he says he wants even more money. Elliott believes, I presume, that the millions of bucks he gets to play football aren’t sufficient. I understand he’s getting a lot of love and support from his teammates and rivals. They say he is simply looking out for his family. Got it!

Are these athletes exempt from adhering to the terms of the contracts they sign? Are they able to walk away from their jobs, hold out for more money while still getting paid the handsome sums they earn already?

The Cowboys’ management is holding firm.

If I were on the negotiating team I might be inclined to offer this notion: Zeke, come back and play hard, roll up some big rushing stats, lead the team to the Super Bowl and when your contract is set to expire, we can find a way to give you the raise we believe you will have earned. 

Sod Poodles on quite a streak

I just read something in the Amarillo Globe-News online edition that blows my mind.

The Amarillo Sod Poodles are on a 20-game sellout streak at Hodgetown, the baseball team’s shiny new ballpark in the middle of downtown Amarillo.

Twenty straight sellouts!

Wow, man!

I won’t repeat in detail what I’ve noted already, which is that some knowledgeable local baseball fans have proclaimed Amarillo to be a “baseball town” that would embrace the team once it set up shop in the Texas Panhandle.

Hodgetown’s initial “concept” was to seat about 4,500 fans, as I recall the discussion at the time. They ended up building a ballpark that seats nearly 7,000 … and the Sod Poodles are filling up those seats each game night.

I also understand that the term “sellout crowd” doesn’t necessarily mean that every seat in the venue has a posterior parked in it. Still, the idea that this first-year AA minor league baseball team is selling all the seats over an extended period of time is, well, quite the accomplishment.

Nice going.

Naming a baseball team requires top-notch marketing skill

Just as I have given up making political predictions, I am done questioning the wisdom of marketing gurus who study the ins and outs of delivering brand names that catch the public’s attention.

I once questioned the wisdom of all that hotel construction in Amarillo. A friend of mine at the Convention and Visitors Council told me not to worry; the hotels will be do just fine. Turns out my friend was correct.

So, with that I will declare my belief in the marketers who settled on the name of the city’s minor-league baseball franchise. The Sod Poodles are playing baseball before good crowds at Hodgetown.

What’s more the team’s name has become the talk of the town, the Texas League communities where they play when they’re not at home and in baseball publications all over the nation.

Hey, weren’t the Sod Poodles named the top minor-league nickname in the country? Well, they were, although we can debate until we run out of breath about the validity of the survey.

Whatever, the Sod Poodles turned out to be a name that had to grow on some of us … such as me. I hate the name when I first saw it on the list of finalist names that the Elmore Group, the franchise owner, revealed to the public.

They mentioned something about Sod Poodles being some sort of old-time name for prairie dogs. Sure thing, dudes. Whatever you say.

The name, though, has stuck. It has become part of the franchise’s identity, which likely is what the Elmore Group and its marketing geniuses had in mind from the get-go.

That’s why they get paid the big bucks and shmucks like me are sitting in the peanut gallery. I live now in a community next to one of the teams that comprise the Texas League along with the Sod Poodles. They play hardball in Frisco. They’re called the Frisco Roughriders, which to my ear sounds almost milquetoast compared to the name given their rivals in Amarillo.

Whatever, my view from afar tells me that the Elmore Group marketers knew what they were doing.

I’ll just keep my marketing thoughts to myself and enjoy watching the community reap the benefits of knowledge from the experts.

Affiliated baseball has its highs and a few lows

This comes as no great flash for baseball fans, but communities that play host to minor-league baseball franchises face the reality of losing their biggest stars when they perform well on the field of play.

My friends in Amarillo, Texas, are learning that fact of baseball life as they follow the fortunes of the Sod Poodles, the AA team affiliated with the National League San Diego Padres.

The Padres recently called up two players to the Big Leagues. Why? Because the players earned their spots on the Padres roster.

The Sod Poodles currently are leading the South Division of the Texas League; they captured the first-half title. So the team is having a pretty stellar maiden season in the Texas League. They used to be known as the San Antonio Missions, but the Alamo City was rewarded with a AAA franchise that relocated from Colorado Springs, Colo.

The Sod Poodles will keep playing hardball at Hodgetown and at venues around the league. They will be without Adrian Morejon and Michel Baez, who got the call to suit up with the parent club.

This is what happens. The players who play a major part in a team’s success are so good at what they do that the team at the top of the heap wants to reap the reward, too.

The better Major League Baseball franchise management teams, though, know to replenish the “farm team” roster with players who can help the minor-league outfit keep winning, and winning does produce bigger crowds, which produce more revenue, which enables the team to afford to pay the better players, who keep the winning tradition alive.

Do you get my drift?

It wasn’t that way when Amarillo was home to “independent” baseball teams that played in that rathole/dump at the Tri-State Fairgrounds. It’s a new era for minor-league baseball in Amarillo. The fans are reaping a nice reward with a winning baseball team.

However, when the “parent club” calls the names of the players responsible for the winning, well … you know how it goes.

Get used to it, Sod Poodles fans.

Heading to the Sod Poodles souvernir shop

I have just made a command decision, which is easy to do, given that I am the only one who follows my own orders.

My wife and I are heading to Amarillo in a few weeks. We’ll spend a couple of nights there before shoving off on one of those bucket-list sojourns in our fifth wheel.

Before we go, though, I intend to visit the Amarillo Sod Poodles souvenir shop, which I’ll presume is somewhere downtown.

I want a Sod Poodles ballcap. I might even purchase a t-shirt.

Is this a big deal? Well, yeah … kinda.

I want to support the city’s AA minor league baseball team. I cannot get to any games, given that I live now in Collin County, which is about a seven-hour drive southeast of the Texas Panhandle.

However, I intend to visit the Soddies’ shop. I want to wear the team’s colors when I venture about my daily errands once we return home.

Oh, and I intend to wear the cap while we’re motoring across western Canada. Maybe our north-of-the-border neighbors will ask about that goofy-looking critter that adorns the cap.

I’ll try my best to provide an answer.

What happens if Sod Poodles fans get seriously crazy about team?

Retirement sometimes allows my noggin to fill with ideas, some of which are nutty, some are far-fetched, some actually might make a modicum of sense.

Let’s try this one just for giggles: What might happen in Amarillo, Texas, if the city’s AA minor-league baseball team’s fans get really serious about the Sod Poodles? By that I wonder what might become of Hodgetown, the shiny new ballpark in the downtown district? Is there a chance at all that the Sod Poodles could outgrow the venue?

Hodgetown can contain about 7,000 fans. From what I hear the fans are coming to the ballpark in borderline startling numbers. Last I heard the Sod Poodles were leading the Texas League in attendance.

The team is playing some pretty good baseball. The Sod Poodles won the first half of Texas League play and as I write this brief post they are on a five-game winning streak.

Let’s get real. Everyone loves a winner. Professional sports franchises have flourished when they produce winning teams. I can think of a notable exception to that rule: the 1962 New York Mets, who comprised a pitiful collection of has-beens in the team’s initial season; yet the fans still flocked to the old Polo Grounds, where the Mets played until they built Shea Stadium. The Mets got better over time, of course, and along the way have won a pair of World Series championships.

As for the Sod Poodles, I am wondering if there’s a chance the team’s enthusiastic fan base could become too unwieldly for Hodgetown, for the city’s transportation infrastructure and possibly for the parking needs that might be sharpened if fan attendance requires more parking.

I’ve never heard it asked, but I’ll ask it here: Is there an any engineering that allows Hodgetown to expand its capacity in the years ahead if the team determines the need? Did the architects design the structure with an eye toward adding more capacity?

I’ll add this bit of perspective. Amarillo is growing. Its population likely will exceed 200,000 residents when they finish the census next year. The city has been on a steady, moderate growth rate for decades. There is no indication at all that the growth is going to slow down, let alone stop.

I am acutely aware that these thoughts are coming during the Sod Poodles’ initial season in Amarillo. There, of course, are no guarantees of continued success. However, this season demonstrates a pretty good knowledge base from the team ownership on how to keep the momentum moving forward.

Hey, I’m just thinking out loud.

City Council’s big-picture vision laid the groundwork

The Amarillo Sod Poodles continue to be the talk of the city where they play AA minor-league hardball.

They play before large crowds at a venue called Hodgetown. They’re getting salutes for the sound of the name and the quality of the ballpark.

To think that all of this was thought by many observers — including yours truly — to be in jeopardy in 2015.

Looking back on that time, while I was still living in Amarillo, I recall a contentious municipal election. Voters installed a new majority on the five-member City Council. At least two of those new folks spoke openly about whether building a “multipurpose event venue” was even feasible. They fought with Mayor Paul Harpole. City Manager Jarrett Atkinson quit, reportedly under duress.

Still, the council approved a non-binding referendum for the ballot that fall. The issue went to a vote. City residents approved it, albeit by a narrow margin.

To its credit, the City Council honored the statement of that referendum — which it was under no obligation to do — and proceeded with the initial development of what we still referred to as the MPEV.

The rest is history. The city lured the San Antonio Missions to Amarillo; the Alamo City wasn’t left without a baseball team, as it welcomed a AAA franchise that relocated to South Texas from Colorado Springs.

Amarillo, though, turned out to be the big winner, given that it didn’t have any sort of organized baseball franchise competing here. You’ll recall that the former tenants of Potter County Memorial Stadium decided to play half of its “home games” in Grand Prairie, only to abandon Amarillo altogether.

A new City Council has taken over from the one that got elected in 2015. All five new council members took office in 2017 and were re-elected this year. They have carried the momentum from that earlier time forward, for which many of us — even though I no longer live in Amarillo — remain quite grateful.

I do hope one day to spend enough time in Amarillo to sit in the stands at Hodgetown and cheer for the Sod Poodles. First things first, though. The Sod Poodles compete in the Texas League with the Frisco Roughriders, which is just down the road from where I live these days.

I intend to cheer for the Sod Poodles even as they play against the “home team” in Frisco.