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The Travelers

After attracting fewer than 68,000 fans during a 77-game home schedule in 1958, the Travelers professional baseball team moved to Shreveport for the 1959 season.

Back home in Little Rock, Ray Winder never lost faith that baseball would return. Winder formed the Arkansas Travelers Baseball Club Inc. in 1960 and led a public stock drive to buy the New Orleans franchise. Each share of stock in the Travelers was worth $5. It was understood that the stock would never pay dividends. Any profits would go back to the club.

There were more than 2,000 stockholders, and the Travelers never accepted new requests for stock ownership.

The Southern Association was on its last legs at the time, and Winder again had to scramble. The Travs were scheduled to play in the Class AAA American Association in 1963, but that league folded prior to the beginning of the season. The Travelers played instead in the Class AAA International League in 1963.

In 1964-65, Arkansas was in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League as a Philadelphia Phillies affiliate, making trips to places such as Salt Lake City and Portland. The move to the Texas League in 1966 finally brought stability.

I grew up attending games at Ray Winder Field in Little Rock and was delighted about 25 years ago when Bill Valentine called and asked me to serve on the board. I was the youngest board member at the time.

During that quarter of a century, there were no special favors granted. I paid full price for my tickets and for all concessions. We all volunteered our services as board members because we had the same goal Ray Winder had -- to keep professional baseball in central Arkansas.

I dearly wish we could have saved Ray Winder Field for amateur baseball, but I realized at the time that the Travelers couldn't stay there. A new stadium was required to keep a professional affiliation. That new stadium turned out to be beautiful Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock.

I was there when the Travelers hosted their first game at Dickey-Stephens on April 12, 2007. Warren Stephens donated the land along the Arkansas River for the stadium. North Little Rock voters then narrowly approved a temporary sales tax to fund the facility. During a groundbreaking ceremony in late 2005, Warren Stephens had announced the park's name.

Everything changed in 2020 when Major League Baseball took over the minor leagues. More than 40 cities lost teams and control shifted from league offices to the MLB office in New York. The Texas League exists in name only. There's no Texas League commissioner. There's no Texas League office.

"Commissioner Rob Manfred's One Baseball initiative seeks to put every aspect of the game under one umbrella -- that of the major league team owners -- from Yankee Stadium to the Little League World Series, and all things in between," an article in The Athletic noted last month.

MLB began requiring major upgrades to stadiums across the country. Dickey-Stephens wasn't exempt.

The biggest requirement had to do with fully remediating the stadium's sinkhole problem. Mind you, the park is 100 percent owned by the city of North Little Rock.

In an April 13, 2022, letter addressed to Morgan Sword, president of MLB Professional Development Leagues, North Little Rock Mayor Terry Hartwick wrote: "The City of North Little Rock has deemed the sinkhole issue to be a design fault and has accepted responsibility to correct the problem. The City has engaged Black & Veatch, a hydraulic engineering firm, which has developed a plan to correct the subsurface water issue. The work is currently in progress.

"I have also committed to rebuild the playing field after the engineering project is complete. I have attached the letter I sent to Mr. (Rusty) Meeks on March 22, 2022, stating such. In total this will cost the City approximately $7 million. The City believes that the contract with Black & Veatch will resolve the deficiencies noted in your assessment ..."

The playing field was rebuilt. But two years later, the city has still not done the $7 million in work that was promised. And, I can tell you, the folks at the MLB offices in New York are none too happy. They want everything that Black & Veatch recommended done as soon as possible.

In the wake of the sale of the Arkansas Travelers Baseball Club, which was announced earlier today, the question I'm getting most often is if new owner Diamond Baseball Holdings will move the team out of Arkansas.

The current lease runs through 2026. I can tell you this: DBH won't sign a new lease unless the city of North Little Rock does what it promised to do two years ago.

Our board depleted all reserves of the Arkansas Travelers Baseball Club making improvements (totaling more than $5.4 million) that were required just to get us to this point. Those stadium improvements will now be a gift to the city of North Little Rock since Arkansas Travelers Baseball Club (which will soon cease to exist as a business) has no equity in the stadium.

Yes, the lease says "the team shall be solely responsible for, and shall make and perform, all maintenance and repairs."

But capital improvements aren't maintenance and repairs. In refusing to make the first $5.4 million in required capital improvements, the city of North Little Rock in essence drained the coffers of Arkansas Travelers Baseball Club.

I dearly hope professional baseball stays in central Arkansas after 2026. I think DBH would like to stay here if promises are kept. If not, North Little Rock will have one of the best American Legion parks in the country.

Will we keep the Travelers?

You'll have to address that question to the folks at North Little Rock City Hall.

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1 comentário

11 de mai.


Where can I find a list of the Travs’ Board Members? Travs’ webpage doesn’t seem to have it. Google isn’t much help- to me anyway. Can you provide a quick list or link?


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