It is ironic, perhaps, that one of the offseason's biggest Minor League Baseball stories is also the laziest.
On Feb. 25, after nearly a month of speculation, the Frisco RoughRiders announced they would build a 3,000-square-foot lazy river beyond right field at Dr Pepper Ballpark. Officially dubbed the "Choctaw Lazy River" -- the result of a naming-rights partnership with an Oklahoma-based casino chain -- this massive aquatic installation spans nearly 175 feet from end to end with a consistent depth of 3 feet. The lazy river will open at a yet-to-be-determined date during the 2016 campaign, utilized as a group area six days per week, and on Thursdays, used as part of a millennials- and singles-oriented "Pool Party" ticket package.
In a press release, the Rangers' Double-A affiliate declared the lazy river would "provide one of the most unique viewing and entertainment experiences in all of professional sports." The national media agreed, as the lazy river quickly became a viral phenomenon. Outlets from FOX Sports to Sports Illustrated to USA Today to TMZ Sports devoted gushing coverage to the news. Meanwhile, the RoughRiders-produced announcement video has already garnered over 50,000 views.
Clearly, this isn't business as usual in Minor League Baseball.
The lazy river is the brainchild of RoughRiders majority owner Chuck Greenberg, a veteran Minor League operator who also owns the Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach Pelicans and short-season State College Spikes. Greenberg, now entering his second season with the RoughRiders, said the lazy river was the result of a "multi-stage process."
"Last year we did about $6 million in ballpark improvements," said Greenberg, listing many of them at a rapid-fire pace. "A new videoboard, sound system, outfield wall LED signage, sports bar, season ticket holder lounge, merchandise store and tremendous food options. So that was part one.
"The fans were really happy [with the ballpark changes], but we were realistic enough to know that in a community as sophisticated as Dallas-Fort Worth we'd have to keep improving. ... I wanted to come up with something that not only signified the visual element, but that you could never get numb to. Something that would blow you away for as long as the ballpark is standing. In the way that the ballpark is laid out, right field seemed like a real option."
A pool had previously been located in the right-field area, which Greenberg characterized as "nice ... but you couldn't see it from the seating bowl. There was no impact from elsewhere in the park."
Thus, an idea was born: "What if we just did a giant swimming pool that would unify the area? As we talked about it, the size of the pool just got bigger and bigger."
Greenberg continued to brainstorm, first with RoughRiders staff, and later with general contractor Gold Medal Pools.
"Is it wide enough for islands? And with islands, does it look like a figure eight? Can we put a current in it?" were some of the questions that Greenberg asked; all were answered in the affirmative. This led to a final, largely rhetorical question.
"But at that point, it's not a swimming pool, is it? It's a lazy river."
Additional Choctaw Lazy River components include a pair of wide rain curtains standing 18 by 20 feet tall, which bookend two open-air "cabana" structures providing food and beverage service. The project, which will cost an estimated $1.5 million, is being funded privately by RoughRiders ownership.
Construction is underway on the Choctaw Lazy River, set to open during the 2016 season. (Frisco RoughRiders)
The investment will be worth it, according to Greenberg, as he sees the lazy river as something that can be utilized in a non-gameday context as well.
"On off days we plan to have Vegas-style pool parties, and once we get a better insight into how we run those events, I think they'll be really successful," he said. "And we also plan to offer super high-end corporate outings, delivering a set of experiences that no one else can give. ... Having an event on the field, the use of the videoboard, a state-of-the-art sound system, great food, and to top it all off, a 3,000-square-foot lazy river. No one else can deliver that kind of impact and the Dallas-Fort Worth area is the perfect place to do it."
While Greenberg was expecting an "uncommon" response to the attraction's unveiling, he added, "I don't think anyone could've forecasted how truly viral this went, in terms of the sheer geographic reach and breadth of mediums. ... I've never seen a response like that to any facility renovation at any level."
Greenberg's peers within the Minor League Baseball industry are among those who are weighing in.
"A lot of the reactions haven't been printable, but it has been quite complimentary," he said. "We are always trying to come up with new things, and this may be the one where I just drop the mic and walk away."