Tag Archives: Texas League

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.

Pandemic stalls these fans’ enjoyment

I feel fairly confident in presuming that my many friends and acquaintances in Amarillo, Texas, are about to lose their baseball-loving minds these days.

The season of their beloved Amarillo Sod Poodles has been delayed indefinitely while the nation wages war against the coronavirus pandemic.

The Sod Poodles are supposed to be playing hardball by now. They had their home opener planned for next Thursday. They were supposed to open the defense of their Texas League championship. The home opener was slated to allow the team to have a trophy presentation and the team was going to take a bow for winning the AA league championship in their initial season playing ball in Amarillo.

The ceremony ain’t gonna happen … at least not just yet!

The coronavirus requires what’s been called “an abundance of caution.” There’s no way to stuff 7,000 cheering fans safely into Hodgetown, the Sod Poodles’ home ballpark in downtown Amarillo. I’m not sure when Americans will get the all clear from the federal government, or from the state or from cities and counties.

Indeed, there might not even be an “all clear” coming from the government. There could be a “partially clear” or a “conditional clear” issued at some point in the reasonably near future.

As I’ve been doing for some time now, I will continue to root for the Sod Poodles from afar. I hope to attend a game — or more — in nearby Frisco when the Sod Poodles come here to play the Roughriders.

I’ll just have to preach the mantra of patience. As the saying goes: This, too, shall pass.

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.

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.

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!

Get ready for huge celebration at start of next baseball season

OK, so there won’t be an Amarillo-wide party for the city’s championship baseball team, the Sod Poodles.

The Sod Poodles won the Texas League Class AA championship over the Tulsa Drillers. They came from behind to win the fifth and final game of the championship series in the Sod Poodles first season in existence.

The city’s baseball fans went nuts. The city, though, chose not to stage a party.

Fine. I get it. I won’t belabor that point any longer.

Here is what ought to happen at the start of the 2020 Texas League season. The Sod Poodles need to stage a huge rally at Hodgetown at the start of the season home opener.

Present the championship trophy to the team that will take the field. Bring back as many of the players who won the championship for the Sod Poodles as you can get. Let the fans shower them with love, applause and plenty of cheers.

It remains a wide open question about the team that takes the field for the Sod Poodles next season. The San Diego Padres, the National League team affiliated with the Sod Poodles, likely will promote many of the championship-winning players to AAA baseball or, what the heck, maybe even to the Big League club.

Still, bring them back to Amarillo to soak up the love of the city’s baseball fans.

I won’t say any more about this until next season approaches.

The Elmore Group, the team owners, along with the City Council, the Convention and Visitors Council, the mayor’s office, the city manager’s office … all of ’em have time to plan a big-time blowout.

Get busy, folks.

Bidding adieu to Sod Poodles … for this season

I am going to bid adieu to the Amarillo Sod Poodles with this brief blog post.

However, I am likely to be back when the Soddies take the field for Season No. 2 next spring.

They had a hell of a ride in their initial minor-league baseball season in the Texas League. They won the league championship in fine fashion, defeating the defending champs with a come-from-behind victory in the fifth and final game of the championship series. They had their fans sweating bullets, only to unload on the Tulsa Drillers in the ninth inning.

I don’t know whether Amarillo is going to throw a party any time soon for the Sod Poodles to celebrate their championship or whether they’ll wait until the start of the 2020 season to honor ’em with a presentation at Hodgetown, some speeches from Mayor Ginger Nelson or even a state legislator or two. Whatever, the fans will flock to the ballpark and will cheer mightily.

I am happy for the fans who attended the games in fine fashion. They filled the 7,000 or so seats most games. Hodgetown is a jewel. The city has made huge strides toward revamping, remaking and re-creating its downtown district. The Sod Poodles can lay claim to being a major part of that effort and the result it is producing.

It was a great season. It ended the right way.

So, to paraphrase the late great Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks: Let’s win two championships.

Once more: How about a Soddies party to celebrate a big win?

This likely will be my final pitch on this subject, so I’ll go out with a bit of gusto.

Amarillo needs to throw a party for the Sod Poodles, the team that won the Texas League baseball championship with a thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Tulsa Drillers.

From what I have heard via social media, the Sod Poodles players have dispersed. They’ve all gone home. They hugged each other on the field and in the locker room in Tulsa, slapped each other on the back. That was it.

Why is this an important issue to raise once again? Well, I believe a city party — held at Hodgetown, the Sod Poodles’ home field — also would be for the fans who supported the team through its championship-winning season. The fans deserve a party, too!

So, why doesn’t the Elmore Group pony up some dough and fly the team back to Amarillo? I figure the team owners have some dough laying around. Surely they can afford air fare, or bus fare, or Uber fare for the players to return to Amarillo, the city that cheered its collective throat hoarse for the team.

The fans filled Hodgetown. They responded famously for the team that relocated from San Antonio.

As for who would pay for staging such an event at Hodgetown, well … I can ask Mayor Ginger Nelson if she has poked around City Hall to see if there’s rainy day fund money laying around to foot the bill for a party on the field at the ballpark.

This baseball season is a potentially watershed event for Amarillo. The city boasts a shiny, spiffy and sensational ballpark in its downtown district. There was some struggle to get the plans ironed out and to get it built.

Why not celebrate the whole thing — downtown’s rebirth, the development of the ballpark as well as the Sod Poodles’ glorious initial season?

It can be done. It should be done.

Will there be a city celebration for the Soddies?

I am acutely aware that as an Amarillo ex-pat, any suggestion I have for the city I called home for more than 20 years likely won’t carry much weight.

What the hey? Here goes anyway …

Is there any thought being given in Amarillo for a community celebration to honor the Amarillo Sod Poodles’ winning the Texas League baseball championship?

I mentioned a parade in an earlier blog post. I get that a parade along Polk Street could be tough to assemble.

But there need not be a parade to celebrate the Sod Poodles’ accomplishment. A ceremony at second base at Hodgetown might work. Invite the public onto the field for an afternoon soiree. Serve hot dogs, beer, nachos, Cracker Jack, popcorn.

Bring the Sod Poodles players to the event. Have a presentation from Mayor Ginger Nelson. Give ’em a key to the city.

I’m on the road at the moment. I won’t be able to attend such an event. I only want the best for Amarillo. The Sod Poodles have delivered a major bragging point for the city’s baseball fans who’ve waited a long time for the return of affiliated minor-league hardball.

I keep thinking of what retired Amarillo College President Paul Matney once said in promoting the referendum approval of the venue that eventually would become Hodgetown. “Amarillo is a baseball town,” Matney said. He is right. The fans demonstrated it by showing up by the thousands for each home game the Soddies played.

So, why not reward them — and the team — with a citywide celebration?

It would cap a wondrous season.