Tag Archives: Hodgetown

Waiting for baseball season to begin … already?

I am likely not offering a big-time scoop but I am getting some buzz from up yonder in Amarillo that Texas Panhandle baseball fans are counting down the days for Season No. 2 of the Amarillo Sod Poodles.

Hey, why not?

The Dallas Cowboys didn’t make it to the pro football playoffs; the Houston Texans blew a big lead against the Kansas City Chiefs over the weekend, so they’re out. The Dallas Mavericks are off to a good pro basketball start. The Dallas Stars? Beats me.

Baseball is on the minds of a lot of sports fans in the Panhandle. The Sod Poodles whet their appetites by doing something quite remarkable in their initial season. They won the Texas League championship in a five-game thriller against the defending league champs, the Tulsa Drillers.

Hodgetown, where the Sod Poodles play their home games, is mostly dark these days. That’s my guess anyway.

We’re halfway through January already. The season starts in April. The Sod Poodles will have some sort of ceremony on opening day to celebrate their Texas League title. They’ll hear speeches from the mayor, maybe a county judge or two. The fans will cheer.

Someone will toss out the ceremonial first pitch.

They’ll start playing hardball at Hodgetown, which more than likely will be chock full of fans.

So the next season is right around the corner. Isn’t that correct?

That’s what winning does. It makes fans anxious for the next season to begin.

Businesses will come and they will go

I am sensing a touch of community and social media hand-wringing over the closure of a jazz club that opened in downtown Amarillo a couple of years ago.

The Esquire Jazz Club opened a couple of years ago with considerable fanfare as the city’s downtown revival picked up an impressive head of steam. Its owner is Amarillo lawyer and jazz musician Pat Swindell, whose band played at the club regularly, as I understand it.

OK, the club didn’t make it. It is shuttered. Is this the end of downtown’s revival? Does this mean the efforts to transform Polk Street into a new form of entertainment district won’t work?

Please. Let’s get real.

Businesses come and go. It would have been great to see the Esquire Jazz Club flourish, providing a joyful entertainment option for residents of Amarillo.

However, I feel the need to remind the worriers that there remains a virtually endless supply of businesses opportunities for the city to explore. Indeed, the downtown progress to date has been impressive.

The city has welcomed the opening of a new ballpark that officials hope will be host to many events other than AA minor-league baseball; new hotels are coming on line to join the Embassy Suites complex across the street from City Hall; Polk Street has welcomed new commercial businesses; Potter County’s Courthouse has been renovated and restored; West Texas A&M University has opened a downtown campus.

Will there be hiccups along the way? Yes! Of course!

I am not going to worry about Amarillo’s economic future. It still looks bright to my eyes.

Calling all business to the downtown parking garage!

With all the success enjoyed this past spring and summer by Amarillo’s newly installed AA minor-league baseball team, I had hoped to be able to cheer for the stampede of new business filling up ground-floor storefronts at the parking garage across the street from the ballpark where the Sod Poodles play the Grand Old Game.

Alas, no cheering … at least not just yet.

The parking garage does have a tenant, or so I understand. Joe Taco, the (somewhat) upscale Mexican restaurant is moving into the garage; for all I know, perhaps Joe Taco has made the move.

The rest of the structure, though, appears to remain dark.

The idea was for the ballpark to act as fairly quick lure for businesses looking to profit from all the ballpark activity associated with the Amarillo Sod Poodles. The Sod Poodles played to packed houses at Hodgetown throughout their initial Texas League season.

None of this concern over the lack of parking-garage activity is intended to suggest gloom and doom for the structure. I remain optimistic that the garage investment will pay off. It just might be that the planners and economic gurus perhaps oversold the immediate result that the Sod Poodles would produce once they began their season in Amarillo.

The city’s changing downtown landscape remains a work in progress. So far, the work I have seen suggests that progress is going to follow in due course.

Sod Poodles rack up another high honor

Let’s try this one on for size.

The Amarillo Sod Poodles, Texas League champs in their first year of existence, have been named the Minor League Team of the Year throughout the entire United States of America.

Let’s see. I believe that is a high honor that needs to be saluted.

An article on www.baseballamerica.com speaks to many aspects of the Sod Poodles’ spectacular initial season that warrant a Team of the Year designation.

The Sod Poodles have provided their parent club, the National League’s San Diego Padres, with plenty of talent. The AA Sod Poodles sold out a brand new downtown Amarillo ballpark, Hodgetown, for virtually every home game they played; manager Philip Wellman is no stranger to winning league championships, so he brought a winning attitude to Amarillo while leading the Sod Poodles to the Texas League title, defeating the defending champs in the process.

I have been cheering the Sod Poodles on since before they took the field in April of this year. I have endorsed the principle of bringing a minor league team to Amarillo that has a direct affiliation with a Major League team. The Padres have pledged to take good care of the Sod Poodles and, to my way of thinking, the first year of Sod Poodles hardball in Amarillo has provided plenty of proof that the Padres are true to their word.

Read the www.baseballamerica.com story here.

This is quite cool.

Hodgetown earns honor, sending Center City director ‘over the moon’

Beth Duke is beaming with pride … and why not?

The Amarillo Center City director nominated Hodgetown, the city’s new downtown ballpark, for recognition as the best downtown construction project in Texas. Hodgetown then got the honor.

Duke, a lifelong Amarillo resident and a big-time promoter of its downtown revival, should be proud. So should the city for this latest honor granted to the shiny new ballpark that is home to the city’s championship-winning Texas League baseball team, the Sod Poodles.

The award comes from the Texas Downtown Association. It honors the ballpark’s look, its ambience, the attraction it proved to be for baseball fans and other Texas Panhandle residents.

As Duke told the Globe-News, where she worked for more than 30 years before taking over the Center City directorship: “I think you all know how proud I am of every building and the progress we’ve made in our beautiful downtown. I nominated Hodgetown for Best New Construction in a Texas (city) of more than 50,000 people. I was so gratified to be a finalist and the night we won, I was just over the moon.”

She should be over the moon.

I have taken great joy in applauding the city’s effort to build this structure, formerly known as the “multipurpose event venue.” It is a gorgeous home field for the Sod Poodles. More than that, it is a fabulous addition to downtown’s urban landscape.

Hodgetown came to fruition after a sometimes-rocky ride. I am more than willing to acknowledge harboring a doubt or two that the city could complete the project. There was turmoil on the City Council relating to the future of what was called the MPEV. Top-level city management went through a wholesale change with resignations of key personnel, including the city manager.

Despite the occasional ruckus at City Hall, the ballpark was completed. Hodgetown opened this past spring. The Sod Poodles played some great Class AA baseball in a ballpark full of cheering of fans.

Now comes a high honor from a downtown group that bestows honors that cities can use to their marketing advantage.

Beth Duke is the perfect advocate for Amarillo’s downtown district. She is a happy woman today. I am proud of her and of the city for the steps it has taken toward rebuilding its downtown business and entertainment district.

Well done.

Soddies’ fans have a long winter wait ahead of ’em

Fans of Amarillo’s new AA minor league baseball squad are facing a long, dark winter on the High Plains of Texas.

The Sod Poodles won the Texas League title earlier this summer. Some of the fans wanted a community celebration. It didn’t happen.

The team members and coaching staff dispersed to their respective homes.

Hodgetown, the downtown Amarillo ballpark where the Sod Poodles play their home games, has gone (mostly) dark.

Ahh, the wait has commenced.

I sense the real proof of the fans’ commitment to the Sod Poodles will need some time to develop. The Sod Poodles made a huge splash in their maiden season. Next year will start with a bang, too, when the Soddies accept their league championship trophy in a ceremony at Hodgetown.

They’ll play some hardball again starting next spring. The fans will keep coming next season. My hope — and from all appearances, my expectation — is that the enthusiasm will hold up over time.

I remain immensely proud not just of the success the team had on the field, but of the stunning reception the Sod Poodles received from their dedicated fans.

I live afar these days, but I am cheering as loudly as I can.

Bring on the Texas League all-stars!

Success brings many things to a city and an athletic franchise that carries the city’s name. For example, it brings added recognition in the form of what is going to happen to Amarillo next June.

The Texas League is going to stage its annual all-star game at Hodgetown, Amarillo’s shiny new home for the Amarillo Sod Poodles, the team that won the Texas League championship in its first year of existence.

This is big deal, folks!

Amarillo already has embarked on a massive downtown rehabilitation program that along the way has brought us that brand new ballpark called Hodgetown, named in honor former Mayor Jerry Hodge and his wife, Margaret.

Now the best of the Texas League’s AA baseball talent is coming to the city to show off its collective skill in front a sold-out crowd of Sod Poodles fans, who by the time the all-star game rolls around will have continued to celebrate the team’s league title.

The Convention and Visitors Council has been handed a huge marketing and promotional opportunity that I trust it will not squander as the city prepares for the June 23 contest.

What might that opportunity produce? Oh, let’s see. Maybe it will enable the city to showcase the added downtown amenities it is able to offer visitors from around the league. My best guess is that the city should — and hopefully will — ensure that it cleans up thoroughly in advance of the visitors’ arrival. They have some first-class lodging just across the street from Hodgetown. The influx of visitors will pump sales tax revenue into the city coffers as well.

As for the game itself, well, no one can predict how it will turn out. No one can know in advance whether it’ll be a thriller or a blowout. Indeed, all-star games by their very nature occasionally produce performances in which the athletes do not go all out … despite at least one notable exception. That would be Pete Rose’s collision with catcher Ray Fosse in the 1970 Major League Baseball all-star game that effectively ruined Fosse’s career.

Aww, but what the heck. The Texas League all-stars are going to Amarillo. They’ll throw out the first pitch on June 23. The fans will be jammed into the stands. They will have a great time and the city will reap the reward.

As Sod Poodles general manager Tony Ensor said, the game will be a “celebration for the entire West Texas community.”

Play ball!

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.

Parking garage gets a tenant … more to come, hmm?

That parking garage across the street from Hodgetown has a tenant. It’s a trendy restaurant called Joe Taco, which operates an eatery on the far west side of the city, near the medical center complex.

I understand the Local Government Corporation worked out an agreement that allows Joe Taco to operate in the parking garage rent free for the first year. Then it will pay rent on a graduated scale after that.

Good deal, yes? We shall see.

What I am not clear about just yet is whether any other tenants have signed on at the garage, which was built with considerable fanfare, hoopla and promises of more businesses to fill the ground floor spaces in the structure.

Hey, I remain optimistic that the garage will pay the freight, that it will lure other retail outlets to help defray the cost of operating the building.

Hodgetown is a beauty of a venue for the Amarillo Sod Poodles, which played championship-winning hardball at the ballpark in their first season in existence. Not a bad start.

I regret being unable to attend any games this year. I have moved away. We don’t get back to Amarillo as frequently these days. We’re settled in nicely in our new digs in Collin County. However, I remain a keen observer of Amarillo’s evolution and at this point I like what I see occurring there.

The parking garage adds an attractive edifice to the city’s downtown urban-scape. The gurus who conceived it have pledged that it will fill with businesses. I want their pledge to come true.

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.