03/26/2008 8:00 AM ET
Old meets new in the Texas League
Naturals wrangle their way into circuit's 'Arkansas wing'
By Shane Figueroa / Special to MLB.com
Minor League Baseball provides an interesting mix of constant change and long-standing history. As the 2008 season approaches, MiLB.com takes a look at what you can expect in the Texas League, both new and old.
New league award honors Coolbaugh
Texas League president Tom Kayser announced the establishment of a new award named after Mike Coolbaugh, the Tulsa Drillers coach who was killed during the 2007 season when struck by a line drive while coaching first base. The league's board of directors voted unanimously to begin the Mike Coolbaugh Coach of the Year Award, and to present it annually to the Texas League's top coach. Kayser recently awarded the inaugural prize to Frisco's hitting and first base coach, Scott Coolbaugh, Mike's brother. "The Texas League wanted to do something to help continue the legacy of Mike Coolbaugh," said Kayser. "He was the consummate professional, and touched so many people during his playing days and in his brief coaching career."
Naturals debut with state-of-the-art stadium
After 18 years, the Wichita Wranglers are no more, having packed their bags for Springdale, Ark. following the 2007 season. Celebrating some Arkansas pride by using the state's nickname, the "Natural State," the Northwest Arkansas Naturals will remain affiliated with the Wranglers' parent, Kansas City, while enjoying a brand new, state-of-the-art stadium, Arvest Ballpark. Designed by leading stadium architecture firm HOK, the $33 million venue features 25 luxury suites, roomy clubhouses, and one of the best playing surfaces in the Minor Leagues.
Hooks add new kind of All-Star
Famed pop singer Justin Timberlake will temporarily crack Corpus Christi's roster while portraying a fictional Hooks player in the film "The Open Road." To help the filmmakers effectively recreate team headquarters for the movie, the Hooks and team president J.J. Gottsch sent them uniforms, logo chairs, hats and anything that normally appears in the clubhouse. Gottsch is hopeful that Hooks players will be able to meet and consult with Timberlake during filming, something the six-time Grammy winner attempted to do last year during the season.
Travelers unveil plans for Museum
The Arkansas Travelers, the league's oldest team, plan to open a Baseball Museum at Dickey-Stephens Park that will highlight the history of the more-than-century-old franchise. Featured memorabilia will include numerous team and historical photos of the various clubs since 1901, league championship trophies and many other artifacts, including baseballs used during no-hitters. Fans will also be able to relive great moments in team history on a flat-screen display. Many fans have also donated memorabilia such as pamphlets, scorecards, autographed balls and photos to the museum.
Masse takes over Missions bench
San Antonio has appointed Bill Masse as manager of the Missions for the 2008 season. Masse guided Double-A New Hampshire (Blue Jays) to a 70-73 record in 2007, and spent the previous six seasons (2001-06) as a coach and manager in the Yankees organization in addition to four years with the Expos (1997-2000). A seventh-round pick of the Yankees in the 1988 First-Year Player Draft, Masse spent eight seasons in the Bronx Bombers organization and was also a member of the 1988 Olympic Gold Medal team in Seoul. Masse also portrayed Mike Robinson in the 1999 movie, "For Love of the Game," with Kevin Costner.
Little comes in fourth for Frisco
The Rangers have named Scott Little as the manager of the Frisco RoughRiders, the fourth skipper in the team's five-year history. Little comes to the organization from the Washington Nationals, where he managed the (Double-A) Harrisburg Senators in 2007, after serving as the organization's field coordinator in 2006. Little has also managed in the Minor League systems of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates. He replaces Dave Anderson, who guided the club to a franchise-best 85-55 record and a playoff appearance in 2007.
Pujols returns to Astros system
The Houston Astros appointed former catcher Luis Pujols as manager of the Corpus Christi Hooks. Pujols, who caught with Houston from 1977-83, served as the San Francisco Giants' first-base coach from 2003-06, and was the interim manager of the Detroit Tigers in 2002. He previously spent eight years as a first base and bench coach with the Montreal Expos. Pujols also managed the Eastern League's Erie SeaWolves to that league's Southern Division title in 2001. Said Pujols, "The one thing I believe in the Minor Leagues is that I can teach more at the Double-A level and the A-ball level than in Triple-A, or even in the big leagues. I was successful in Double-A and I think it's going to be pretty much the same here."
League's oldest stadium is still largest
While the majority of Texas League clubs have opened new ballparks since the turn of the century, the Tulsa Drillers remain situated at the corner of Yale Ave. and 15th St., the site of 27-year-old Drillers Stadium. With a capacity of 10,997, the ballpark is the largest in all of Double-A baseball. A Prescription Athletic Turf grass surface was installed in 1993, and is regularly rated one of the best in the league by players and managers.
Hooks continue affiliation with Astros
The Houston Astros announced a three-year extension of their affiliation with the Corpus Christi Hooks in February, ensuring a partnership through 2010. The Hooks have drawn 1,490,876 fans to Whataburger Field since their inaugural 2005 season. They pulled more than 500,000 in each of the first two seasons. The 2006 club, featuring Hunter Pence and eight others who have already played in the big leagues, captured Corpus Christi's first Texas League championship since 1958.
Familiar face will manage Midland
The Oakland Athletics have appointed Webster Garrison to his second term as manager of the Midland RockHounds. Garrison, who has played for, managed and coached the RockHounds for seven of the team's 10 seasons, served as the team's hitting coach from 2005-07, and managed the club to a 72-68 record in 2004. He previously managed the (Class A) Midwest League Kane County Cougars to a league-best 80-59 record in 2003.
Travelers still enjoy rich history
The Arkansas Travelers, founded in 1895, remain one of the oldest teams in all of professional baseball. The club was known as the Little Rock Travelers until 1957, when it became the first professional sports franchise to claim an entire state in its name. The Double-A Travelers, who leapt to the Triple-A level from 1963-65, have spent 41 consecutive seasons in the Texas League, with championship seasons in 1971, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1989, 2001 and 2005. Previously, the franchise enjoyed memberships in the Southern Association and American Association.
Shane Figueroa is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.