When it comes to size, scope and longevity, few, if any, sporting bodies can rival Minor League Baseball. With 160 teams in nearly as many markets, there are innumerable nooks and crannies to explore. This marks the fourth installment in a series dedicated to such explorations, providing one unique, weird,
When it comes to size, scope and longevity, few, if any, sporting bodies can rival Minor League Baseball. With 160 teams in nearly as many markets, there are innumerable nooks and crannies to explore. This marks the fourth installment in a series dedicated to such explorations, providing one unique, weird, poignant or otherwise memorable fact about each team or city in each of Minor League Baseball's 14 admission-charging leagues. Remember -- it's about the journey, not the destination. To share your own favorite team or city facts, please reach out via email ([email protected]) or Twitter (@bensbiz). Previous installments: International League, Pacific Coast League, Eastern League, Southern League.
The Texas League has roots that date back to 1888, when the immortal Dallas Hams won the league championship. These days, the venerable Double-A circuit boasts eight teams in two divisions. While the North Division is bereft of teams from Texas, the South's four squads all hail from the Lone Star State. What follows is one fact regarding each of the league's eight teams, whether they are based in Texas or not.
Amarillo Sod Poodles
The Sod Poodles, a San Diego Padres affiliate, played their inaugural season in 2019. This marked the return of Minor League Baseball to Amarillo after a 36-season absence, but the Texas Panhandle city picked up right where it left off. Amarillo's previous Minor League team, the Gold Sox, also was a Texas League entity that served as the Double-A affiliate of the Padres. The Gold Sox played at Potter County Memorial Stadium, located less than two miles from the Sod Poodles' home of Hodgetown.
The first professional baseball team bearing the Travelers moniker debuted in 1901. As such, it is one of the oldest unique team names in all of Minor League Baseball. Since that inaugural 1901 campaign, the Little Rock-based Travelers have fielded a team in all but seven seasons. In 1957, the Travelers changed their geographical signifier from Little Rock to Arkansas. In doing so, they became the first team in professional sports to name itself after a state.
Corpus Christi Hooks
The Hooks, formerly the Double-A iteration of the Round Rock Express, played their inaugural season in 2005. That year, the team's ballpark, Whataburger Field, opened and was christened as such thanks to a naming rights deal with the formerly Corpus Christi-based fast food franchise. Prior to the 2019 season, the Hooks extended their naming rights deal with the Hooks through 2033. As part of the agreement, the ballpark's roof was painted in Whataburger's familiar orange-and-white color scheme.
The RoughRiders, the first Minor League team in the history of Frisco, have led the Texas League in attendance the past 15 seasons. Their best attendance mark came in their inaugural season of 2003, when they drew 666,977 fans to Dr Pepper Ballpark. The RoughRiders nonetheless finished second in the league in attendance that season, as the Round Rock Express drew 685,973 in their penultimate season as a Double-A franchise. The Express became a Triple-A franchise in 2005, at which point Frisco began its 15-season run of Texas League attendance dominance.
The RockHounds, established in 1972, didn't win their first outright Texas League title until 2005. Since then they've been making up for lost time, winning it all in 2009 and then again in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. The RockHounds' four-peat was the Texas League's longest consecutive championship streak since 1920-25, when the Fort Worth Panthers won six in a row. In these seasons, the Panthers also won the Dixie Series, in which the champions of the Texas League and the Southern Association were pitted against one another.
Northwest Arkansas Naturals
Arkansas is known as the Natural State, but that's not the only reason the Naturals were named as such. The team is owned by the Rich Family, which also owns the Buffalo Bisons. In 1983, significant portions of Robert Redford's The Natural were filmed at the Bisons' then-home of War Memorial Stadium. The movie's popularity raised the profile of the Bisons, who soon moved up a level (from Double-A to Triple-A) and then to a new ballpark (from War Memorial Stadium to their current home of Sahlen Field).
The first iteration of the Springfield Cardinals was a Class A Western Association franchise that existed from 1932 to 1942. 63 years later, the Springfield Cardinals returned in the form of a Texas League franchise that had relocated from El Paso. Stan Musial was a link to both. Prior to joining the St. Louis Cardinals, Musial hit .379 as a member of the 1941 Springfield Cardinals. On April 2, 2005, he threw out a ceremonial first pitch prior to the Springfield Cardinals exhibition game against parent St. Louis. This was the first Springfield Cardinals game at Hammons Field, which remains the team's home.
When a team relocates to a new city and keeps its name, some strange combinations can result (see: Jazz, Utah and Los Angeles, Lakers). But sometimes the process can be seamless, and such is the case with Tulsa's Texas League team. The franchise was established in 1975 as the Lafayette (Louisiana) Drillers, before moving to equally oil-dependent Tulsa in 1977. The Tulsa Drillers replaced the city's Triple-A franchise, the Oilers, who relocated to New Orleans and became the Pelicans.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.