Friday, May 20, 2011

A Major League Evening: Game 21 in Frisco

At the Dr. Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, Texas, I saw two major league performers.  No, make that three. The first two pitched for the RoughRiders, while the third—a Hall of Famer—evoked memories of a previous rendition of the anthem in a major league park. 
The first two were players from the Texas Rangers on rehab assignment.  Rangers’ closer Neftali Feliz started the game, pitching a single inning—as usual—and clocking fastballs in the upper 90s, with one cresting in triple digits.   After surrendering a lead-off single to the Missions’ centerfielder Blake Tekotte, who entered the game hitting above .350, Feliz struck out the side. 
Feliz in the stretch.
In the second, Tommy Hunter, his Texas teammate, took over and threw four innings, allowing two runs, one on a homer by the Missions’ second baseman Vincent Belnome.  From that point on, the RoughRiders’ relief corps shut down the potent Missions’ lineup, which lead the Texas League in scoring,having tallied at least twenty runs in a gamethree times in the first month of the season.  Final score: Frisco 3, San Antonio 2.
“The Pitch” by Gail Slatter Falwell
As much fun as it was to see the two pitchers from last year’s A. L. Champions, it was even more exciting to see former Ranger, and now the team's principal owner, Nolan Ryan sitting behind home plate, scouting his recovering Rangers’ pitchers as well as prospects on both teams. 
Although Ryan was protected from interactions with fans, I was able to slip him a note about the anthem project and about our last connection.  After a conflict by the Cleveland Indians prompted a shift in the date for my singing in old Municipal Stadium in 1993, I had the good fortune to be re-scheduled on the day of Nolan Ryan’s final appearance in Cleveland.  It also proved to be the final victory among his 324 major league wins.
The Dr. Pepper Ballpark showcases several distinct elements that enhance fans’ experience.  Its entry sculpture, commissioned by the city of Frisco, stimulates young fans’ interaction by posing several questions on its plaque, such as, “Why do you think the artist made the muscles so angular?” 
The architecture of the stadium also is exemplary in two ways.  The distinctive VIP suites and sky boxes are free-standing complexes that provide concourse entries, the comforts of home, and elevated viewing balconies.  In addition, each of the units enjoys an exclusive, dedicated WiFi connection.
Three of Dr. Pepper's sky boxes.
A second facet of the ballpark’s configuration is its elevated pool zone beyond the right field fence.  Like the swimming pool popularized in Phoenix at the Diamondbacks’ stadium, the splash pool at Dr. Pepper invites parties of hot fans to cool off.  But unlike the pool in Arizona, the one in Frisco is integrated into the landscape. 
The Riders' Pool Zone.
While various design elements of the ballpark distinguish it from other minor league facilities, the pre-game ceremonies—or lack thereof—were unlike those at most minor league games.  On this mid-week night here were no series of first pitches, no children’s team in uniform dancing onto the field with home-team starters, no young fans wooed from the stands to call out “Play Ball.”  But home plate umpire Seth Buckminster did dance “the hokey pokey” on the first-base line with the Frisco mascot between innings.
All in all the RoughRiders provided a major league experience, even cutting a DVD of my performance.  (I’d post it here, but the slight separation between the video and audio, which was captured through the stadium sound system, creates a syncopated experience.)

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