Tag Archives: Amarillo Thunderheads

Amarillo inches closer to a bigger league


It’s not big-league baseball.

But what the Amarillo City Council has endorsed has taken the city closer to a bigger league-brand of hardball.

The council today voted 4-0 to proceed with the pursuit of a Class AA baseball franchise that would play in the yet-to-be-built ballpark in the city’s downtown district.


Will it be the San Antonio Missions, a franchise that would vacate the Alamo City as it seeks to welcome a AAA franchise?


The council has decided to accept the more expensive price tag attached to the multipurpose event venue, which city voters endorsed with a citywide referendum this past November. The MPEV price tag was listed at $32 million on the ballot measure, but the price has increased to more than $40 million as the AA franchise became part of the community discussion.

The council’s decision instructs the Local Government Corporation to proceed with the design and construction of the ballpark. City Councilman Randy Burkett said construction won’t begin until the city has a signed contract with a franchise.

I happen to be quite pleased with this development.

The city has been jerked around by the owners of the independent franchise that is still playing its home games at the Potter County Memorial Stadium. This season, though, the Amarillo Thunderheads are going to play half of their “home” games in Grand Prairie.

That’s some commitment to Amarillo, yes? Well, no.

The AA franchise being considered most actively is affiliated with the San Diego Padres of the National League. The Padres could bring some serious professionalism to the baseball climate here.

I am gratified that the council has decided to move forward with seeking to lure a serious baseball franchise to this city.

There remains much work to do and many commitments to be collected. The LGC has been handed a huge task.

My hope is that the organization is up to the challenge that’s been delivered.

Who’s on first in the Texas League?


Left hand, meet the right hand. Right, say “hey” to left.

Someone — and it’s difficult to discern who — isn’t talking entirely straight regarding a possible baseball franchise move from one city to another in Texas.

A consultant who works with the San Antonio Missions of the Texas League apparently has told downtown Amarillo officials that the Missions might like to consider moving to Amarillo once the city build its downtown ball park.

Oh, but wait! Tom Kayser, president of the Texas League, said the Missions aren’t moving anywhere. Kayser said Rich Neumann, the consultant working with Brailsford & Dunlavey, isn’t speaking for the team or the league or anyone else he can think of.

The third principal here is Melissa Dailey, head of Downtown Amarillo Inc., who told the Amarillo Local Government Corporation of the Missions’ possible move. I don’t recall her saying anything was set in stone, or that any other pledges had been made.

Yes, it’s a bit confusing.

Something is amiss. Someone might have spoken out of turn down yonder in San Antonio without telling the league president of the intention.

It’s been reported that San Antonio wants to upgrade to a AAA farm club; the Missions are a AA team affiliated with the San Diego Padres of the National League. Amarillo’s baseball fortunes currently are tied to an independent organization that in the next season will play half of its own homes in Grand Prairie. So, with that, Amarillo is looking to upgrade as well, to a AA team with a Major League Baseball affiliation.

So, let’s get all this straight. OK?

Many of us in Amarillo want to see some movement in the right direction as it involves the city’s baseball future.

First things first. How about we determine with absolute certainty whether the discussions we’ve been told have occurred with the San Antonio Missions are the real thing — or are they just a diversion?



MPEV action gets a stunning jump-start


Well, now. It appears that Amarillo is in the hunt for a serious tenant for a proposed multipurpose event venue — with a ballpark — to be built in the city’s downtown district.

The city has been home to independent baseball teams for quite some time. As it has been noted, they come and go. Next year, the Amarillo Thunderheads are going to merge with the Grand Prairie AirHogs and will split their “home” games between the two locales.

Now comes word that the Local Government Corporation is going after an affiliated Class AA team, possibly the San Antonio Missions, a farm club linked with the National League San Diego Padres.

This team might want to come to Amarillo and play its home games in the MPEV.

Here’s what City Councilman Randy Burkett, a member of the LGC said to NewsChannel 10: “A AA team takes most of the risk out of it. An independent league and an independent team is very risky. They are here today and gone tomorrow in some cases. Not all cases, but with AA baseball, you’re a league affiliate with Major League Baseball. They’ll come in here and sign a 30-year agreement with us and then we’ll know we will have an affiliated team here for 30 years.”

Interesting, yes?

There will be hurdles to clear. The LGC has to get a design done by April, under the timeline it and the City Council have set. Will the MPEV’s planned 4,500 permanent seats be enough for a AA baseball team? Will the MPEV’s estimated $32 million price tag hold up?

The city has changed its mind on whether to pursue an independent team. It has decided to pursue an affiliated minor-league franchise.

With a new ballpark officially on the table, the inducement has become decidedly more attractive.


Start thinking creatively about MPEV uses


The cockamamie decision to merge the Amarillo minor league baseball team with the team in Grand Prairie seems to have gummed up the works in Amarillo’s planning to develop its downtown event venue.

It shouldn’t.

By definition, the place would be home to multiple uses. Hence, the name “multipurpose event venue.”

The City Council has ratified the voters’ decision to proceed with the MPEV. The ball — so to speak — is now in the hands of the Local Government Corporation, which the council created to carry out council policy.

The baseball franchise merger was announced as being for the 2016 season. The Thunderheads and the AirHogs will play 50 “home” games, with 25 of them in Amarillo and 25 in Grand Prairie. The league where the teams play said in a statement that it expects the teams to return to their home fields perhaps by 2017. We’ll see about that.

Does this mean the MPEV is a non-starter, that the ballpark element no longer will be applicable? Not in the least.

Multipurpose, remember?

The $32 million venue will have 4,500 or so permanent seats. That’s enough to accommodate a well-run Class AA baseball team. Once they break ground on the venue, my hope would be that the Chamber of Commerce, the Convention and Visitors Council, Center City, Downtown Amarillo Inc., City Hall’s senior administrative staff and anyone else with a bright idea or two start a coordinated marketing effort to bring that franchise to Amarillo.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of other opportunities to use that complex. There has been talk of “family nights,” of church-related events, downtown-related parties and perhaps even outdoor concerts occurring at the MPEV.

Are any of these out of the question? Not by a long shot.

Like a lot of other Amarillo resident, I also am scratching my head over this franchise-combo idea. On the surface it looks for all the world like a loser for both cities. To be candid, I don’t know how this is going to work well.

The goofiness of this decision, though, need not preclude the attractiveness of a new sports/entertainment venue in downtown Amarillo. If it means doing business with another league and another baseball franchise, then that’s fine.

The task, though, rests with the marketing experts who can make it work.



MPEV argument making more sense


Paul Matney did not say this directly as he was touring Amarillo on behalf of a proposed multipurpose event venue, but I think I have gleaned a message from his pro-MPEV pitch.

It is that if we build a shiny new baseball park in downtown Amarillo we’re going to attract the attention of a serious, well-funded minor-league baseball franchise that can come here to run a team the right way — and not the way it’s being run these days.

I refer to the decision to combine the Amarillo Thunderheads with the Grand Prairie AirHogs and to split the 2016 baseball season between two locations, nearly 400 mile apart.

I believe I now get what the retired Amarillo College president was getting at.

Amarillo’s baseball fan base deserve better than to be treated to this clown show.

They haven’t broken any ground yet on the MPEV. The $32 million venue has been (more or less) endorsed by the Amarillo City Council, which has handed off implementing the development of the project to the Local Government Corporation.

I’m not certain how this combined franchise location thing is going to work for the owner of the Thunderheads/AirHogs. My gut tells me it’s a loser.

It well might give MPEV supporters additional grist to expedite the development of the new ballpark, to get it built, to market the city to the owner of a legitimate Class AA franchise and return serious minor-league baseball to Amarillo.

Hey, maybe this franchise combo deal can be a blessing after all.


Baseball team needs new place ID


The decision has been made to combine the Amarillo Thunderheads baseball franchise with the Grand Prairie AirHogs.

They’ll split their 2016 season between the locales: one here on the Texas Tundra, and one in Dallas-Forth Worth Metroplex.

I’ve decided the new team nickname should be the Air Heads, given that it looks like a dorky decision to combine the teams in that fashion.

The more problematic issue, though, might be how to identify the location name.

Every sports franchise has a place named in front of the nickname. Houston Astros, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans …

I’d have mentioned the Dallas Cowboys, but that pro football team hasn’t played home games in Big D since the early 1970s, when it moved from the Cotton Bowl to Irving; the Cowboys now play way over yonder in Arlington, which is closer to Fort Worth than it is to Dallas, which gives Cowtown residents fits. But that’s another story.

Will the Amarillo-Grand Prairie team be able to identify its location in a manner suitable to each city’s rabid fan base?

Let’s all stay tuned to this one.


Play ball … in two cities next year

ama thunderheads

Amarillo’s minor-league baseball fortunes have taken a bizarre turn.

I cannot yet tell if it’s for the better or the worse. Let’s just call it bizarre. Weird too. Strange? You bet.

The Amarillo Thunderheads have merged with the Grand Prairie AirHogs, according to the American Association of Independent Baseball, the league to which both teams belong.

What does it mean? Well, the team will play 25 of its “home” games in Amarillo and 25 in Grand Prairie (a Dallas-Fort Worth suburb) for the 2016 season.

There’s more strangeness. According to a league statement: “We appreciate that Southern Independent Baseball, owner of the Amarillo and Grand Prairie clubs, agreed to the league’s request to operate its two teams as one in 2016. We fully expect that both teams will return in 2017 as individual entities with a full schedule in their respective markets.”

The league had 13 teams. It wanted to pare it to 12 to provide a more even schedule for everyone concerned. So, the league decided to combine the Amarillo and Grand Prairie franchises for the upcoming season. Is this a one-season gig? Time will tell.

OK. I know what you’re thinking. What does this mean for the future of the multipurpose event venue that many of us — yours truly included — hope will be built in downtown Amarillo?

To be honest, at this very moment I have no earthly idea what this means. Here, though, is my hope.

It is that the $32 million MPEV construction will proceed and that marketing gurus here will be able to locate a first-cabin minor-league franchise — say a AA outfit affiliated with a major-league team — to bring their organization to Amarillo. Here, the theory goes, the baseball team will play ball in a gleaming new sports venue, fill the 4,500 or so seats on most days or nights with fans — and the enterprise will be deemed a success.

I have to say, though, that this merging of two teams into one for the 2016 season seems a bit fraught with peril for those who’ve been hoping that the Thunderheads could make a go of it in Amarillo.

The Dillas became the Sox and then the Thunderheads, all in the span of just a few years.

What now? The Thunder Hogs? The Air Heads?

How about we just get this new baseball venue built and then bring in an outfit that can lend some stability for those who want to cheer for their very own minor-league baseball team?


How to sell the event venue …

Amarillo downtown

My friend and I had a brief, but animated, discussion early this afternoon about the upcoming vote on Amarillo’s proposed multipurpose event venue.

We are on the same page. We both support what the city has proposed. We both think it will work wonders for the city’s economic well-being.

Three of the five members of our City Council disagree with us. They seem to want it to fail. They decided this week to put the issue to a citywide vote.

But as we visited today at her place of employment, I found myself getting worked up.

My fear is this: The voters are going to say “no” to the MPEV because they don’t understand what it can do; they are “afraid,” I told my friend, of trying something new, of thinking beyond their comfort zone, of looking at the immense possibilities that lie ahead.

My hope is this: Those who support the MPEV and believe in the city’s project — as I do — will organize a grassroots effort designed to lay out in detail how to market a sports and entertainment venue that can become the draw its supporters claim it will become.

The MPEV can be far more than a “ballpark.” Yes, we have this independent minor-league baseball team — now called the Thunderheads — playing in a rat hole of a stadium at the Tri-State Fairgrounds. MPEV critics keep reminding us that the Thunderheads cannot fill that place up, even with the generous ticket giveaways they offer.

Gosh, I wonder why. Oh yeah. The place stinks. It’s been patched up with the construction equivalent of Band-Aids. It really and truly needs to be torn down. With a gleaming new baseball venue in the heart of downtown Amarillo, I hope the razing of the dump formerly known as the “Dilla Villa” can — and will — reduce it to so much trash.

As for the MPEV, there needs to be some seriously creative marketing brought into play.

Can we not find some creativity in this community that is capable of putting together a 21st-century promotional campaign designed to attract events to a venue that its supporters hope will help reshape the downtown district?

I remain squarely committed to this venue. I’m not a marketing guy. I merely believe in thinking big. It’s time we thought bigger than we have in this city.

What’s more, let’s not be coy about what a defeat of the MPEV will mean to the rest of the downtown revival project. The downtown convention hotel won’t be built and without the hotel, there goes the need for the proposed parking garage.

Sure, Xcel Energy has begun work on its new office tower. The rest of it, the work that’s supposed to attract more people in search of something to do after hours? It’ll be gone.

And do we really and truly want to start over after we’ve gone so far already?