Saturday, June 4, 2011

And the award goes to . . .: Game 30 in Tulsa

Bonnie is OK at the OneOK in Tulsa, OK.
If I were giving out the ESPY Awards for sports performances, I’d surely make one go to the Tulsa Drillers for several reasons.  For one thing, they display an ESPY every night during their games: Their manager is Cecil Espy.  For another, for the first time the introduction of me performing the anthem not only included information about my tour and book project, it also mentioned that I am accompanied by my wife Bonnie.  Indeed, she deserves mention since she’ll be attending more than three-fourths of the games when I sing.  That’s probably a Minor League record for spousal attendance at ballparks in a single season.  When David Lamb (A Stolen Season), Ernest Green (The Diamonds of Dixie), and Cass Sapir (who attempted to see games in all 189 professional ballparks) made their season-long tours through Minor League cities and ballparks, they did so alone.  While at least two couples are tallying all professional ballparks over several years, I’d bet that Bonnie will hold the spouse's single season record.  At the very least Bonnie wins an award for joining me on this jaunt, and the Drillers should win an ESPY for recognizing her.
The Drillers also should win ESPYs for a few other reasons, highlighted by the distinction of featuring the wildest promotion thus far, wilder even than Cowboy Monkey whose routine is rehearsed.  On this “Country Night” in Tulsa, which was sponsored by two radio stations and which encouraged Drillers’ staffers to dress in country “get-up,” a between-innings competition featured an armadillo race.  Three fans wearing thick gloves tried to cajole the critters to run the length of an Oklahoma roadway’s width to win the race. 

Ready, set, go....
The veering armadillos about to be netted.

If you’ve ever seen the armadillo road-kill on and beside the highways in this region of the country, you’d understand why the road width would be a good distance goal.  Two of the critters were named Speedy and ArmaDriller.  As one of the armadillos started to veer and reverse course, the Drillers’ staff corralled it with fishing nets.  I had hoped to see them try to rope it with little lassos!

Speedy prefers water for winning, not champagne.
A few other fan activities distinguish the Drillers’ operation.  To increase the opportunities for children to participate in the pre-game activities, the Drillers also create a “high-five corridor” through which the starting players run—and slap hands with the kids—on the way to their field positions.  On this night a Little League team of Braves enjoyed the hand-slapping routine.  About a half-hour later, one of the little Braves caught a pop foul in his glove and again got high fives, this time from exuberant teammates who shared in his success.
The Braves hand-slap the Drillers starters.
During the seventh-inning stretch, all of the fans get to sing long and loud.  Following the most accelerated rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” that I have ever heard, they fervently join in singing “Oklahoma.” 

Before the game while I waited behind home plate, Justin Gorski, the Drillers Assistant Manager of Promotions, and I talked about the enthusiasm that had been generated by the open auditions that the team held for anthem performances.  Last year, the first for the Drillers’ musical try-outs, more than 130 individuals and groups showed up, taking all day to compete for the few dozen dates available.  This year, the team limited try-outs to the first 100 performers.  Even so, individuals started lining up in the parking lot at 6:00 a.m., three hours before the competition for the weekend home dates began.  On week nights, the Drillers usually play a recording of the anthem.  I was fortunate that Mike Tarranto, the Director of Promotions, booked me for a Thursday night and that Justin made the effort to write the kind, inclusive introduction. 
The only downer for the Drillers was that Salvador Perez, the catcher on the visiting Naturals from Northwest Arkansas, drilled a two-run homer while Tulsa was held to a three harmless hits, sort of like the straying armadillos. 

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