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Ballparks: Ray Winder Field

One of five oldest Minor League ballparks prepares for final contest
August 31, 2006
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It's usually the first question people ask, "What will happen to Ray Winder Field next year?" But as of now, there is no answer.

The Arkansas Travelers will move to their new ballpark in 2007, and as the historic park gets set to host its final professional game on Sunday, its ultimate fate remains undecided. But while the future may be up in the air, there is no confusion about Ray Winder Field's storied past.

Yes, next season, the Travelers, Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, will call a brand new ballpark home. They will move from a neighborhood park in Little Rock to a downtown park just on the other side of the Arkansas River in North Little Rock.

"It's the first time in Travelers history, over 100 years, that we'll call somewhere other than Little Rock home," said Travelers media relations director Phil Elson. "It's still the same area, but the look of the ballpark is new."

The new park, named Dickey-Stephens Park, will sit facing the river and downtown district. The name comes from Little Rock native Bill Dickey, the famous Yankees catcher who played alongside Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and his brother Skeeter.

Because the Dickey brothers remained in Little Rock after they retired, the Stephens investment firm felt it was only fitting to pay tribute to them. The Stephens brothers, whose firm donated the land the new park sits on, were good friends with the Dickey brothers.

"In 1947, Bill Dickey came back and managed the Travelers," said Elson. "He only lasted one season, because it was the worst year in team history; we were 51-103. What better [sign of loyalty] than [to] name the new park after the team's worst manager?"

In 1932, Ray Winder Field opened under its original moniker, Travelers Stadium. In 1966 the name was changed to recognize former owner Ray Winder. It stands as one of the five oldest ballparks used in affiliated baseball.

On Sunday, the Travelers will try to capture and memorialize some of the best moments at Ray Winder Field. Fans will receive tickets printed with, "I saw the last game at Ray Winder Field." T-shirts will also be given out.

For more than 35 seasons, Alfreda Wilson's organ playing provided the music for games. Wilson, now in her 70s, retired six years ago but will return for Sunday's final game.

In 1976, current president Bill Valentine took over the team. During that inaugural season, midget Roscoe Stidman led off the first game. The Travelers have invited the diminutive Stidman to lead off once more this Sunday.

"A lot of people tie the Travelers to Bill Valentine," said Elson. "[The stunt] was one of the first things he did, and it should be fun to see again, when Stidman comes back. It won't count in the game but he'll lead off the first inning."

Ray Winder itself captures what old-fashioned Southern baseball should look like. Gates open just an hour before game time, something not uncommon in the South.

Fans can either sit under the grandstand or in the open-air box seats.

Season ticket holders sit in box seats that have their name engraved on them. Fans in the first few rows can get to know players during the game as the dugouts are built into the stands.

"It's such a special place, it'll be sad to see it close," said Elson. "But we'll go out with a bang on Sunday, and revive all the best parts of Ray Winder Field and what it stands for."

Sapna Pathak is a contributor to