Monday, April 18, 2011


[Fair and Unbalanced contributor sasqi and her husband Paul are on a two-month road-trip stopping at several major- and minor-league ballparks.  Here Paul chimes in about their first minor-league park, in Corpus Christi, TX.]

There is nothing bush league about the minor leagues.  F and I realized that with all our b-ball history neither of us had ever seen a minor league game (though some of the A's early season error barrages should qualify, and I do know a few managers I might put in this category). Yesterday we went to Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi, TX. (As you drive into Corpus Christi on the highway, as we did last Friday, you find a sign: "Corpus Christi--Home of Whataburger." Whataburger Corp. has alas recently moved its headquarters to San Antonio.) Whataburger began in 1950. On any given stretch of highway down here, you're likely to see two to five of these 24 hour takeouts within a stretch of five miles, their signs several stories above the flat local landscape, turning McDonald's and Burger King into wannabes.

The Whata Field looks like an old fashioned ball park out of a 1920s movie: one level around the field with seats, a second above of boxes with both in-and-outside seating; clear views all over, wide concrete areas behind the seats. It opened in 2005 and has been dubbed the best minor league ballpark in the U.S. for the last two years by MINOR LEAGUE NEWS (who knew?). Corrugated steel around the outside, paying tribute (I've just learned) to an old cotton warehouse that once occupied the site, a sweet spot right along the water. If you're bored with the game, there's a pool and spa behind the right field fence, along with a children's playground including a bungee-jumper for the young set. There's an area of seats in left field that consists of three rows of wooden rocking chairs. The stadium seats 5,000, plus luxury boxes and a berm of grass that can hold another 2000 if sardined in. There are so many season ticket holders that the best we could do for seats was far out in left field, which was fine for us. Announced attendance was 6,000 plus; maybe there were half that number really at the game (though I couldn't count the people in the pool).

But this is baseball, Texas League AA style, complete with a giveaway Hooks fleece blanket. 12-9 was the final score, the North West Arkansas Naturals topping the home team Corpus Christi Hooks (a Houston Astros affiliate). It was a game until the 7th, when the Naturals scored six runs. The Hooks came back in the 7th and 8th, narrowing the margin to 10-9 with home runs in both frames but the Naturals put it away in their half of the 9th against an ineffective reliever.

Still you can see something of the range of players in a game like this. Some looked younger than little leaguers, like they were wearing their wools for Halloween, but they hit well. Not too many outstanding fielding plays, but lots of home runs and fewer errors than that Oakland team we usually cheer for. The Hooks catcher twice blew plays at the plate, catching the fine outfield throws too far into the infield to be able to turn and tag the sliding runners as they crossed home behind his back. On the other side, the Hooks' leadoff man, a shortstop named Wladimir Sutil, looked like the real thing--as a couple fans in front of us said to each other with wise, seasoned nods of their heads: "He's not going to be here long." We'll miss the San Antonio Missions, another AA Texas League team, which has already recorded wins of 23-10 and 26-5 this year. But stay tuned for more Minor League action once we get to Pearl, MS and Memphis, TN in a couple weeks.

[Related posts:  The Open Star]


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