Tag Archives: Hodgetown

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.

Where, oh where are those parking garage businesses?

I’m a bit baffled. The opening of the downtown Amarillo ballpark was supposed to bring a surge of business onto the ground floor of a shiny new parking garage across the street from what is now called Hodgetown.

The Amarillo Sod Poodles have been playing hardball at Hodgetown for a few weeks now. They’re drawing big crowds to the ballpark, recently listed a the top AA baseball venue in the United States of America. The fans are getting their money’s worth, too, with the Sod Poodles winning the first half of the Texas League season.

That parking garage is holding vehicles of fans attending the games at stadium. The businesses that were thought to be standing by after the ballpark opened have yet to sign on at the garage, or so I understand.

I saw a story in the Amarillo Globe-News online edition posted this past month that talked about the Local Government Corporation meeting to discuss the business activity slated to arrive at the garage.

Any word yet on what’s going on here?

The ballpark, the relocation of the baseball franchise from San Antonio to Amarillo and the parking garage were supposed to constitute a sort of three-part story that brought about the city’s downtown revival. I am pleased to see from afar that the city is experiencing a tangible renovation of its downtown business/entertainment district.

The Sod Poodles are drawing large crowds to the ballpark. They’re playing some good baseball under the watchful eye of a National League parent franchise, the San Diego Padres. And, oh, that ballpark is a sight to see.

I’m still hoping for the best that the city’s business and civic leadership can persuade the businesses slated for the parking garage to open up shop.

If and when that happens, I believe the future of the city will brighten even more.

Sod Poodles become the Soddies?

You perhaps recall that when the minor-league baseball franchise announced it was moving to Amarillo that it would leave the team-naming task to the fans.

The team released a list of five finalist names. Sod Poodles was one of the five names. My first reaction? I hated it! I mean, really hated the name.

Then I started thinking about it. I read something from the team owners — the Elmore Group — about what it intended to accomplish with whatever name it chose. They wanted the name to become a sort of brand for the team. They wanted fans in Amarillo and around the Texas League to talk about the name, whichever one they chose.

Then they announced the name: It would be the Sod Poodles. By the time the name announcement came, I had reversed my initial hatred of the name. It became my favorite among the finalist names.

It turns out the city has embraced the name, too. The Sod Poodles now have a nickname — if you want to call it that. They’re referred on occasion as the Soddies.

Sod Poodle is supposed to be some sort of old-time name identifying prairie dogs, the ubiquitous rodents that populate colonies throughout the High Plains region of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico — and all over God’s creation.

I lived in Amarillo for 23 years. It’s not as long as many residents have lived there. I never heard the term Sod Poodles used while mentioning the little critters. A lot of long-time residents said the same thing, that they’d never heard of the term, let alone used it.

However, the name of the AA baseball team has stuck. The team is pulling in big crowds to Hodgetown, the brand new ballpark they erected in the city’s downtown district.

It gladdens my heart to know that legitimate minor-league baseball is back in Amarillo.

Irony continues to provide a bit of sting

There might be a reader or two of this blog who will presume this brief post is an assault on a young woman who once lived in Amarillo, Texas.

It isn’t. Please accept the notion that I intend only to reiterate an astonishing irony.

Meghan Riddlespurger once was the front woman for what she called the “Amarillo Millennial Movement.” She fought for the voter approval of a proposed downtown Amarillo sports/entertainment venue. Her primary motivation, she said at the time, was to entice “millennials” to remain in Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle after they finished their education. She wanted them to stay at home and to enjoy the fruits of the entertainment offerings that the venue would provide.

She posted this message overnight on Facebook: When you build it, they’ll come. Please support your walkable downtown development efforts and give your heart to municipal efforts because this is where a difference can be made. Just a few years ago, people said none of this could happen. And then it did. Believe in the most and fight for the best. Your city loves you! Goodnight!

It’s a lovely message. I presume Meghan returned to Amarillo to take in a baseball game at Hodgetown, which is the direct result of her efforts to help rejuvenate her hometown’s downtown district.

But she left the city not long after the November 2015 non-binding referendum victory she had sought. She now lives in Fort Worth, where I presume she is doing well. What about the “walking the walk”?

I harbor no personal animus toward this young woman. I like Meghan Riddlespurger, even though we don’t know each other well. I left the city, too, but I’m an old man who merely comments on local matters through this blog. I wasn’t invested at the level Riddlespurger was invested.

I just find the irony to be so very remarkable.

I do have to say this, though, about the young woman’s effort: It is paying off with the Sod Poodles playing before nice crowds at the ballpark and the city reaping the reward of the effort Meghan and many others put into its downtown redevelopment.

Is there another AMM in Amarillo’s future?

As I watch Amarillo, Texas, morph into something different from what it has been since the Santa Fe Railroad opened up shop on the Texas Panhandle, I am wondering about who or what will shape the city’s future.

It won’t be me. I have moved away along with my wife and our pooch. We live in the Metroplex these days, but I retain a keen interest in the city we called home for more than two decades.

My curiosity turns to the creation of a one-woman “movement” that sought to win approval of what we used to call the “multipurpose event venue,” or MPEV. You remember it, yes? It was called the Amarillo Millennial Movement.

The AMM made a bit of a splash when it jumped onto the front page of the local newspaper and got some air time on local TV stations.

AMM was the creation of one individual, Meghan Riddlespurger. I was able to shake her hand once, and we got to know each other from some distance.

She had a bit of help from others around town to get a referendum placed on the local ballot. The referendum asked residents if they supported construction of the MPEV. They said “yes.” The City Council then honored the residents’ wishes and proceeded with development of the project.

The MPEV is now called Hodgetown. It is a magnificent ballpark in downtown Amarillo. It is home to the Texas League’s Amarillo Sod Poodles, a minor-league baseball team that is playing before healthy crowds. Hodgetown recently was named the nation’s top AA ballpark; the Sod Poodles were named the best baseball team nickname in America. The city is proceeding toward its future.

Meghan Riddlespurger? She bailed long ago. After the 2015 election, she moved to Fort Worth. The AMM exists no longer.

Might there be an actual “movement” on the city’s horizon that emerges to promote the kind of thing that Riddlespurger espoused, which was to promote Gen-Xers and millennials to stay in Amarillo?

Riddlespurger had a noble goal. I am dismayed that she decided against following her own campaign theme. It was perhaps the height of irony that she would form this “movement,” talk up the virtue of staying put and helping Amarillo reap the reward … only to, um, head for a big city far away.

Whatever the case, Amarillo is moving ahead. That’s a good thing for the city and for those who are staying put.

Given that my hope springs eternal, I’ll keep hoping for an actual “millennial movement” to sprout way up yonder on the Caprock.

CAVE people: Eating their words?

A friend of mine — who communicates with me these days on social media — brought up an unofficial group of Amarillo-area residents who have had their heads handed to them.

He mentioned “CAVE” people. “CAVE” is an acronym for Citizens Against Virtually Everything. I commented briefly the other day about how the Amarillo Sod Poodles, the city’s new Texas League baseball franchise, are leading the league in average attendance while playing ball at Hodgetown, the new 7,000-seat ballpark in downtown Amarillo.

My friend noted that the CAVE folks were “against” the baseball team, against building the ballpark, against efforts to revive Amarillo’s once-moribund downtown district.

The CAVE folks aren’t an official group, such as Amarillo Matters, which has formed to promote downtown revitalization and other economic development efforts.

But they’re out there.

Sure, there has been healthy skepticism about downtown efforts. Some folks want he Herring Hotel to get a boost from City Hall. Others have lamented the absence — yet! — of any retail outlets springing up in that parking garage across the street from Hodgetown.

I do recall the CAVE cadre/cabal saying the multipurpose event venue would fall flat. I’m happy to notice, even from some distance these days, that the MPEV hasn’t done what the CAVErs predicted.

If anything, it is proving — and, yes, it’s still early — to be one of the wisest investments the city has made since, oh, the arrival in 1999 of the Bell/Textron aircraft assembly plant next to Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport.

That project has worked out well. I believe the Sod Poodles, Hodgetown and the city’s effort to pump new life into downtown will work out, too.

Sod Poodles packin’ ’em in

This graph showed up on my Facebook page a little while ago, so I thought I would share it on High Plains Blogger.

Check it out.

Amarillo’s AA minor-league baseball team, the Sod Poodles, is leading the Texas League in attendance early in its initial season playing ball on the High Plains.

Sixteen home dates have drawn nearly 100,000 spectators to the Sod Poodles’ shiny new venue, aka Hodgetown, built for about $45 million in downtown Amarillo.

I’ll acknowledge that I haven’t been to a game. I’ve only seen the ballpark from the other side of the right field fence. The front entrance looks impressive, too.

I am just delighted to know that Amarillo is turning into a “baseball town.” Maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised.

A few years ago, when residents were preparing to vote on a referendum to approve construction of what was known only as a “multipurpose event venue,” retired Amarillo College President Paul Matney came to the Rotary Club of Amarillo to pitch the idea to Rotarians. He said at the time that “Amarillo is a baseball town” and it deserved to have a Major League-affiliated team playing ball for the fans who had wanted a return to that quality of baseball.

Matney spoke from a position of deep institutional/community knowledge, given that he grew up in Amarillo, graduated from the University of Texas and then returned home to carve out a stellar career at Amarillo College.

It was evident to me then that Matney knew of which he spoke. It’s clearer to me now, seeing those attendance figures, that he was spot on declaring Amarillo to be a “baseball town.”

Good call, Amarillo voters, in re-electing City Council

To my former neighbors in Amarillo, I want to offer a bouquet and a word of praise for the wisdom they demonstrated Saturday in re-electing the five individuals who serve on their all-volunteer City Council.

They were returned for another two years in the saddle with healthy majorities, including the mayor, Ginger Nelson, who faced multiple challengers in her bid for a second term.

I say all this, of course, without casting a vote in the election. We don’t live there any longer, but I have been pleased with the progress the city has made in the two years since Nelson and her council colleagues took their seats.

Downtown’s redevelopment is continuing at a brisk pace. The Amarillo Sod Poodles are playing minor-league baseball in front of healthy crowds at Hodgetown. Yes, the city needs to fill some storefront space at the parking garage built across the street from the ballpark; I am not giving up on that venture.

What’s more, the city has thrown all in on the Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine planned for its Health Sciences Center campus on the west end of the city.

Nelson, along with council members Howard Smith, Elaine Hays, Freda Powell and Eddie Sauer have sought to steady the municipal “ship of state” after a sometimes-rocky ride during the previous two years before they were elected the first time in 2017. From my vantage point, they appear to have done so.

Let us never forget: These folks get paid a “hefty” sum of $10 per public meeting, plus a reimbursement when they incur expenses while conducting city business.

They ain’t in it for the money.

My wife and I don’t get back to Amarillo — where we lived for more than two decades — very often these days. When we do, though, we enjoy seeing the change that occurs while we are away.

It looks damn good to my eyes.

Parking garage needs some paying tenants

They’re experiencing the hiccups at Amarillo City Hall, I venture to guess.

Why? Well, the city built this parking garage across the street from Hodgetown, the shiny new ballpark where the Amarillo Sod Poodles play hardball. Part of the selling points the city pitched with the garage would be the plethora of businesses that would pay rent and, thus, repay the expense of building the structure in the first place.

All the storefronts are empty.

The Sod Poodles are playing before big crowds at Hodgetown. They’re winning a few, losing a few. Fans are having a good time, as far as I can tell from my vantage point in Collin County.

According to the Amarillo Globe-News: “We’ve always known that space would come on line as soon as the ballpark opened up,” Mayor Ginger Nelson said . . . “We had almost 42,000 people attend ball games in the MPEV over the course of the last week and I think it’s important for that data to establish what  great location that is.”

Am I going to push any panic buttons? Am I going to declare that the parking garage, the ballpark and the downtown revitalization effort is for the birds, that it’s a loser, that all is lost?

Hah! No way, man!

However, perhaps the marketing gurus the city has employed — and I am quite certain there is no shortage of such “experts” — can ramp up the public-relations effort to lure more businesses into that parking garage.

I will say this much about the garage, Hodgetown, the gleaming Embassy Suites hotel on Buchanan Street: Taken together, they have remade the appearance, the ambience and the “feel” of downtown Amarillo.

However, there needs to be some signs of life along the ground floor of that parking garage.

Sooner rather than later would be so very nice.

Then the hiccups will subside.