Hot Stove

The ice storm came a few days early this year.

The Arkansas Travelers held their annual hot stove meeting Tuesday night in North Little Rock. When the Travelers host the hot stove gathering, it’s usually a recipe for either winter weather or, as was the case two years ago, tornadoes.

My friend Mike Dugan, who knows as much about the sport of baseball and its history as anyone I’ve met, always drives up from Hot Springs for the hot stove meeting. He can tell some horror stories of sliding back to Hot Springs on slick roads following these winter gatherings in years past.

It was a bit chilly this year, but otherwise the weather was fine. The term “hot stove” often is used in baseball lingo to refer to offseason activities. The daily offseason show of record on the MLB Network is titled “Hot Stove,” in fact.

Having attended this event for the past 20 years, I can never remember a larger crowd for a Travelers hot stove meeting. There has been a renewal of interest in minor league baseball nationwide in recent years. And rather than having fan interest drop off significantly after the first season of playing games at Dickey-Stephens Park, interest in the Travelers seems at an all-time high as they prepare to play their fourth season there.

I have great memories of that first Dickey-Stephens game on the evening of Thursday, April 12, 2007. Walking around the ballpark, you could tell this was a place where virtually everything had been done correctly. For once, the architects had listened to the baseball people. You knew attendance would be high that season. People would come simply because they wanted to check out a new facility. But they kept coming in 2008 and 2009. I expect good crowds again this year.

Travelers fans might be interested in knowing that there’s an informative blog called Travs and Such, which can be found at www.travsandsuch.blogspot.com. Here’s what that blog had to say about Tuesday’s event at the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce: “For what is essentially a non-event, I sure do look forward to the hot stove every year. Look, the hot stove is basically hot dogs, beer, some giveaways, the usual smoke being blown about the organization and how they love their affiliates, the Travs staff and a roomful of people who care way too much about baseball. There is nothing going on worth the effort it takes to get out on a cold February night. Yet there I was, in a standing-room-only crowd, dreaming of April evenings at the ballpark.”

Yes, we were all dreaming of April. The older I get, the less tolerant I become of winter. I realize there are still several weeks of winter staring us in the face (it appears as if it will be cold all of next week). But we can dream.

The Travelers open the season on April 8 in Midland. The home opener is Thursday, April 15, also against Midland. Those wanting to buy season tickets can call 664-1555.

Once again this year, all of the Travelers games will be on KARN-AM, 920, their traditional home back in the days when Jim Elder did homes games and re-created the road games from a Little Rock studio. For a number of years, there was no coverage at all of Trav road games, making them one of the few AA teams not to broadcast games on the road. The Travs finally moved into the 20th century early in the 21st century when Phil Elson was hired in 2001 as the club’s first full-time broadcaster.

Luckily for Arkansas fans, Elson, now 33, found a home and decided to stick around for the past decade. Continuity is a good thing — and a rare thing — in minor league baseball. Elson recently was named the Arkansas Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Assocation. For much of the past decade, Elson’s broadcasts were bounced from station to station, sometimes on signals that were even hard to pick up at night at my home near Foxwood. So it’s good to have the Travelers on KARN’s 5,000-watt AM signal for a second consecutive season.

By the way, I may take off work on May 11. The Travelers and the Springdale Cardinals play an 11 a.m. game that day. At 7 p.m. the same day, the University of Arkansas baseball team will take on Louisiana Tech. Thus in its fourth season, Dickey-Stephens Park will host its first day-night doubleheader — one professional game and one college game. It should be fun.

With football ending Sunday (Geaux Saints!), spring cannot get here soon enough. I have the winter blues. The cure is to remind myself that pitchers and catchers report later this month.

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