Tag Archives: minor league baseball

Hoping for a good outcome for Amarillo’s baseball future

The start of the Major League Baseball season remains a moving target.

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown it all into a cocked hat. MLB hasn’t yet played a game that counts. The National Basketball Association suspended its season, along with the National Hockey League. The National Football League is supposed to start blocking and tackling, but there might not be fans in the stands.

As for baseball, there appears to be some serious tension building between the big-league clubs and their minor-league affiliates.

Pay attention, dear friends in Amarillo, Texas. I am about to talk about the beloved Sod Poodles.

There is some discussion about MLB shedding 42 minor league franchises. What in the world does that mean for the Sod Poodles, which are affiliated with the National League San Diego Padres?

Here is a small part of what Sports Illustrated is reporting:

Even as taxpayers help to keep teams afloat, several minor league affiliates reported that their MLB teams seem unconcerned about their plight during the COVID-19 crisis. Though MLB clubs are not allowed, by rule, to directly pump funds into their affiliates, several minor league executives chafed at not having received so much as a check-in phone call.

The frostiness comes amid months of tense back-and-forth between MLB and the minors over the Professional Baseball Agreement, which governs their relationship. Last extended in 2011, the deal expires this September and, as part of the negotiations, MLB is seeking to save costs by eliminating more than a quarter of affiliated teams by next season while pushing for other significant changes to its minor league partnership.

The SI article is titled “Minor League Baseball is in crisis.” So I’ll leave it to you to decide just how much of minor league ball is hurting.

As for the Sod Poodles, the franchise does not have a lengthy history. It has competed in just a single season. Granted, it was a highly successful season in 2019, with the Sod Poodles winning the Texas League championship.

Please do not accuse me of heightened negativity here. I want nothing more than for my friends and former neighbors in Amarillo to cheer the Sod Poodles on again and again.

We are faced, though, with Major League Baseball in the midst of a financial crisis created by a worldwide medical crisis. I don’t expect the baseball players union to give up the substantial sums of money that go the players. MLB, therefore, might have to face the harshest of realities if it cuts the enough affiliated franchises to save enough money to stay in business.

I am crossing my fingers. Please, let those savings not involve the Amarillo Sod Poodles.

Looking toward a possible grim reality: no baseball in Amarillo

I am trying to equivocate as much as I can, using the word “possible” in front of “grim reality.”

I am fearing the worst for my former neighbors up yonder in Amarillo, where they are waiting for the start of the minor league season featuring the defending Texas League champion Amarillo Sod Poodles.

The worst is that there might not be a season to celebrate.

I watch the “Sod Squad” fan club on my Facebook page. It is full of hopeful statements from fans. I want their hope to be well-founded. I want them to be able to cheer the Sod Poodles into their second season in existence. Their first one was epic, winning the Texas League title against the defending champion Tulsa Drillers.

It’s just that the coronavirus pandemic has spooked athletic leagues and associations everywhere. Major League Baseball is trying to figure out how to play a 100-game schedule, how to split the two leagues into three divisions and how to play all their games in Florida, Arizona and Texas … with few if any fans watching in person.

Minor league ball isn’t that far along.

I want there to be baseball this spring and summer. I am leery of it returning this year given the loss of life that is occurring at this very moment.

The Sod Poodles have what must be one of the more devoted fan bases in all of minor league baseball. I love reading their Facebook posts. I draw from their enthusiasm.

Now that I live a good bit distant from Amarillo, I am hopeful to see the Sod Poodles play when they venture to nearby Frisco to play the Roughriders. Trust me when I say I would cheer loudly for them even as I am surrounded by Roughrider fans.

My gut is telling me it might not happen this year. Let’s start preparing for the worst.

Minor league baseball falls victim to the pandemic

Oh, brother …

This story saddens me at a level I never thought I would experience. It comes from The Associated Press and it portends a grim short-term future for minor league baseball across a nation that is caught in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic.

Listen up, my friends in Amarillo, you fans of the Sod Poodles who had hoped to be flocking to Hodgetown — the city’s shiny new ballpark —  to cheer on the defending Texas League champions.

AP reports that minor league baseball experienced a 2.6 percent attendance increase in 2019. Minor league ball had more than 40 million fans for the 15th straight season, according to AP.

The 2020 season hasn’t started. There’s no prospect on the horizon when it will start, unlike what’s happening with Major League Baseball, where team owners and the players union are working on a schedule that would commence with no fans present in the stands. The AP reported:

While Major League Baseball tries to figure out a way to play this summer, the prospects for anything resembling a normal minor league season are increasingly bleak.

For minor league communities across the country from Albuquerque to Akron, looking forward to cheap hot dogs, fuzzy mascot hugs and Elvis theme nights, it’s a small slice of a depressing picture.

Yes, you can include Amarillo in that roster of minor league cities. Amarillo fought hard to lure the Sod Poodles from San Antonio. The team’s initial-season success in 2019 was one for the books. It was epic. The fans can’t wait for the first pitch.

Then came the COVID-19 crisis. Every single sporting league is shut down. That includes the plethora of minor leagues scattered.

When will they play ball? When will it be safe to cram fans into ballparks, sitting next to each other, allowing them to high-five and cheer when the home team scores a run or makes a spectacular play in the field?

Uhh, who in the world knows?

At this moment, it doesn’t look good. We might be in for a lost season.

Sod Poodles’ season already a smashing success!

I don’t know where I’ll be when the Amarillo Sod Poodles’ initial baseball season comes to an end. They’ll either be Texas League champs or the runnerup to the Tulsa Drillers.

My wife and I are trekking across Canada, where we might be out of touch for a time … or, then again, we might be fully connected to the rest of Planet Earth.

So … I’ll just get this off my chest right now. The Sod Poodles have scored a huge success in their maiden AA minor league baseball season.

Win or lose! It doesn’t matter to me.

Sure, I’d like to see the Soddies defeat the Drillers and win the Texas League title. If they come up short, well, suffice to say the team has done quite well.

They have packed Hodgetown, the venue formerly known simply as the “multipurpose event venue,” or MPEV. The park is a gleaming addition to Amarillo’s downtown district. The rest of the downtown area is bustling with activity not seen since, oh, the days when Polk Street was the place to go on a Friday and/or Saturday night.

However, the Sod Poodles are the talk of the town. They’re the talk of the Texas League, or so I have understood. The team’s nickname is a hit with the fans in the Panhandle and with other fans throughout the Texas League.

On top of all that, the Sod Poodles played some good old-fashioned hardball.

The Soddies have set the table for a lengthy and potentially prosperous run in Amarillo.

Good job!

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.

What happens when Sod Poodles’ season ends?

Baseball isn’t a yearlong sport. The Amarillo Sod Poodles are still playing hardball in front of healthy crowds at Hodgetown.

Eventually, though, the umps will call the final out for this season at the downtown Amarillo ballpark. There will be a playoff and I’m pretty sure the Sod Poodles will be playing in the Texas League postseason. Hey, they’ve got a great chance of winning the league pennant in their initial season on the field. Go, Soddies!

Oh, but wait. The season will end. Hodgetown will go dark for a good bit of time.

Yet I remember one of the selling points of the ballpark back when it was called the “multi-purpose event venue,” or MPEV, was that it would be a year-round place for entertainment.

I attended a few meetings where the MPEV was being pitched by fans of the project in advance of the November 2015 citywide referendum. To a person, all the proponents said the MPEV would play host to community events. There would be a flea markets, concerts, family-oriented events held on the state-of-the-art field.

I admit I haven’t kept myself up to speed on all the activities planned for Hodgetown’s post-season time. My hope is that the city, perhaps led by the Convention and Visitors Council and Center City (which is led by a force of nature, Amarillo native and a former colleague of mine Beth Duke) will be able to find plenty of activities to keep the lights turned on at Hodgetown during the time between baseball seasons.

Yes, I am aware that it gets, um, chilly in Amarillo during the depths of winter. However, autumn’s pleasure lingers right up until winter arrives — occasionally with a vengeance. Then comes the spring, albeit with its admittedly unpredictable weather.

So, let’s hope Hodgetown stays active, stays lit up and becomes the “multipurpose venue” its supporters pledged it would become.

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.

Good luck on opening night, Sod Poodles

I messed up.

I had thought I might be in Amarillo on April 8, when the city’s baseball team, the Sod Poodles, open their home season at Hodgetown, the shiny new ballpark in the city’s downtown district.

Oops. Not so. We’re going to be on the road that day en route to points south and east hauling our recreational vehicle.

So the Sod Poodles are going to have to win their home opener without me in the stands.

Damn!

But the season will start, I presume weather permitting. The AA baseball team has sold all 7,000 seated tickets for its initial home game. The pre-game publicity seems to have worked. The city is fired up; indeed, the entire Panhandle must be ready to cheer after they toss out the first pitch.

I wish I could be there. It won’t happen. Maybe later this year we can find our way back to Amarillo while the Sod Poodles are in the middle of an extended home stand.

Please know that this former Amarillo resident remains committed to the success of the team and to the future of the city’s central business — and entertainment! — district.

Play ball!

Amarillo Sod Poodles: We’re No. 1?

This bit of news simply knocks me out.

The Amarillo Sod Poodles, which is about to begin playing AA hardball, has been named the top team nickname in all of minor-league baseball.

The Sod Poodles beat out the El Paso Chihuahuas by a couple of percentage points in a vote taken by Fox Sports: MLB.

Is this the real deal? Is this poll legit, or does it assume credence merely because it gives the home team some positive karma?

I don’t know. I do think believe it’s kind of cool that a name that was greeted initially in the city by across-the-board scorn has won this particular honor.

I saw the names of the other teams being considered. I liked the Lansing Lug Nuts and the Hartford Yard Goats, too.

But I am one who has gone through a change of heart regarding the Sod Poodles name. I hated it at first, then grew to embrace it.

Now it appears that others like it, too.

Unless Amarillo’s baseball fans have stuffed the ballot box. Whatever . . . the Sod Poodles are No. 1!

Lights on at Hodgetown

Hey, I heard they turned on the lights at Hodgetown!

You know what that means? It means that when the Amarillo Sod Poodles open their AA minor league baseball season at home on April 8 they won’t be playing hardball in the dark.

Amarillo, Texas, is less than a month away from entering a new era of sports entertainment. The Sod Poodles are going to play ball at the downtown ballpark that is nearing completion along Buchanan Street, next to City Hall/the Civic Center and in the midst of a building boom that is still under way in the city’s downtown district.

I will be in Amarillo on opening night. My wife and I will be there to get our fifth wheel RV out of storage and take it on a jaunt downstate and on toward New Orleans.

But I just might sock a couple extra bucks in my pocket and get us a ticket or two for the Sod Poodles’ opening night game downtown.

I’ve been cheering this endeavor on for longer than I can remember. It’s only right to be there to watch ’em toss out the first pitch.

My strong sense is that the city is about to turn an important corner on its way toward economic revival.