Entertainment

Regional minor league baseball offers major fun

Fans sit on the lawn to watch an OKC Dodgers game at the stadium in Bricktown.
Fans sit on the lawn to watch an OKC Dodgers game at the stadium in Bricktown. Courtesy photo/OKC Dodgers

The Kansas City Royals are one of the hottest tickets this summer, with fans wanting to watch the world champions make a run at a third straight World Series appearance. But not everyone can afford to pay the $192 on average, according to a 2015 study by Team Marketing Report, to take a family of four to a game at Kauffman Stadium.

A fun and affordable alternative is to see a minor league or independent league baseball game. Ticket and concession prices are lower, smaller stadiums get fans closer to the action and there’s always a chance the rosters include an up-and-coming star. Fans will find kids’ play areas at minor league ballparks and a focus on giveaways, special appearances, entertainment, theme nights and daily promotions.

“With the Kansas City Royals doing so well, everyone has baseball on the brain,” said Morgan Kolenda, director of promotions and marketing for the Kansas City T-Bones. “As an independent baseball team, the T-Bones focus on fun well done. Our fans are not just coming to watch the game but also to enjoy the activities before, during and after the game.”

Kansas has a growing number of independent baseball teams, which are teams that do not have an affiliation with an MLB club. The Wichita Wingnuts and Kansas City T-Bones compete in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball. They play from mid-May through Labor Day. The Garden City Wind played its inaugural season in 2015 in the Pecos League, considered a rookie league for independent teams, and will be joined this season by the Great Bend Boom, Salina Stockade and Topeka Train Robbers. The Pecos League plays from mid-May through July.

The Garden City Wind’s season began May 11.

“Our ballpark is in Finnup Park, so you can go to one of the best zoos in the region (Lee Richardson Zoo), which is free to walk through, you can go swimming in the Big Pool and then come to a Wind game in the evening at historic Clint Lightner Field, built in the 1920s,” said Marcus Sabata, general manager of the Wind. The team averaged about 200 fans in its first season of playing professional baseball, drawing as many as 800 on Thursday dollar beer nights.

While there are no Minor League Baseball teams in Kansas, there are four within a reasonable driving distance: Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Springfield, Mo., and Springdale, Ark. Both Oklahoma teams are affiliated with the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose minor league system was rated the best in baseball for 2016 by three publications, including Baseball America. Springfield is the farm team for the St. Louis Cardinals. Springdale is home to the former Wichita Wranglers, the Double-A team of the Royals. Their seasons run early April through Labor Day weekend.

Here’s a primer on the ballparks in the region

Triple-A

Oklahoma City Dodgers

Parent: Los Angeles Dodgers

League: Pacific Coast League

Ballpark: Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark is in the Bricktown area of Oklahoma City, surrounded by restaurants, bars, hotels and attractions. The team averaged nearly 7,000 fans a game last year and had 23 sellout crowds.

Tickets: $8-$24

Promotion highlights: $2 Thursdays (soft drinks, bottled water and select 16-ounce beers); Friday night fireworks; family Sundays, offering player autographs, inflatable games, face painters, a craft station and running the bases

Don’t miss giveaway: On Aug. 12, the first 2,000 fans will get a bobblehead of Corey Seager, a former OKC Dodger who is now the starting shortstop for the LA Dodgers and entered the season as a National League Rookie of the Year contender.

Concession highlights: Gourmet burgers at Burgertopia and gourmet hot dogs at Franx; both rotate new creations onto the menu throughout the season. For example, from June 21 to July 10, fans can order The Underdog Burger, a four-ounce Angus beef patty topped with a third-pound jalapeno cheddar sausage, grilled peppers and onions, sweet and spicy J.R.’s Main Event mustard and cheese on an artisan brioche bun.

Double-A

Tulsa Drillers

Parent: Los Angeles Dodgers

League: Texas League

Ballpark: The $39 million Oneok Field, featuring the downtown Tulsa skyline behind right field, opened in 2010 and is No. 16 on Baseball America’s most recent list of the best minor league ballparks. Tulsa celebrated the start of its 40th season of professional baseball on April 14 in front of 8,762, the largest crowd for a Drillers game at Oneok. The team averaged nearly 6,000 fans last season, its first as a Dodgers affiliate.

Tickets: $5-$16

Promotion highlights: $2 Tuesdays feature $2 lawn seats and a handful of concession items for $2, Thirsty Thursdays offer $1 beers and soft drinks as well as eight games with premium jersey giveaways, kids 12 and under eat free on Sundays

Don’t miss giveaway: On June 23, the team will hold a pre-game ceremony to induct Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez into its hall of fame. Rodriguez, a former Drillers catcher, was the 1999 American League MVP while playing for the Texas Rangers. The first 1,000 fans will get a throwback Pudge jersey.

Concession highlights: New on the 2016 menu: The Wrecker, a three-quarter pound smoked andouille sausage on a nine-inch sourdough bun topped with sauteed peppers and onions, sauerkraut and melted Gouda cheese. There’s also a locally sourced chicken curry hot dog. PETA named Oneok Field as the most veggie-friendly in the minors, and that was before this season’s debut of a new Farmer’s Market stand featuring options for those wanting to eat healthy or who have food allergies.

Northwest Arkansas Naturals

Parent: Kansas City Royals

League: Texas League

Ballpark: Arvest Ballpark was built in Springdale, Ark., when the team moved from Wichita in 2008. Last year, the Naturals averaged 4,500 fans a game, hitting the capacity of 6,500 for 10 games. A kid zone includes inflatables, a whiffle ball field, mini-golf, a pitching booth and a train that kids can ride around the concourse.

Tickets: $7-$13

Promotion highlights: Mondays $1 hot dogs, Tuesdays $1 brats and two-for-one Kids Zone wristbands, Thursdays $1 small fountain drinks and $2 16-ounce select beers, Friday fireworks, Saturday happy hour with half-price drinks in The Bullpen, Sunday kids 12 and under eat free.

Don’t miss giveaway: The first 2,000 fans on Aug. 20 will get a Mike Moustakas Bobble-Antler celebrating the former Natural who was the Texas League Player of the Year in 2010 and is a member of the Kansas City Royals.

Concession highlights: The Naturals were the first to offer the Funnel Dog, a deep-fried hot dog on a stick coated in funnel cake batter and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Fans can also order a Texas League Squealer, a patty combining ground beef and bacon with up to five custom toppings. The Bullpen features high-top seating, TVs, bean bag games, food and a drink menu of more than 60 beverages, including an extensive list of craft beers.

Springfield Cardinals

Parent: St. Louis Cardinals

League: Texas League

Ballpark: Businessman John Q. Hammons built this downtown Springfield ballpark in 2004, before the city had secured a minor league team. The Springfield Cardinals began playing there in 2005. They offer more seating options than many other minor league parks, including all-you-can-eat seats in the Champions Club luxury suite ($49) or down the first-base and third-base lines ($29). The team averages 5,100 fans a game and is hosting the 2016 Texas League All-Star Game on June 28.

Tickets: $7-$49

Promotion highlights: $1 hot dogs on Tuesdays, $1 brats on Thursdays, Friday fireworks, free ice cream for kids before Sunday games along with running the bases after the game

Don’t miss giveaway: Springfield has 23 promotional giveaway games, including a Busch Stadium series of seven items also being given out at the major league park. On Aug. 27, the first 2,000 fans will get an Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina dual bobblehead commemorating the last out of the 2006 World Series.

Concession highlights: Hammons has a specialty hot dog and hamburger stand with creations like the Hog Tied Dog, a hot dog wrapped in bacon and topped with nacho cheese sauce. The Cardinals Creamery dishes ice cream into fresh-baked waffle cones. The all-you-can-eat seats in The Nest and The Roost include standard ballpark fare along with a salad bar and cookies; the Champions Club includes those food items as well as a nacho bar, pasta dishes and four adult drink tickets per person.

Independent

Wichita Wingnuts

League: American Association

Ballpark: This is the ninth season for the locally owned Wingnuts, who have won a division title in each of the past five seasons. They averaged nearly 3,000 fans a game last season and in the off-season hired Pete Rose Jr. as manager. Seat backs for the upper bowl seats have been added this season. The Wingnuts’ home, Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, is also home to the National Baseball Congress tournament, which is being played this summer for the 82nd year.

Tickets: $6-$15

Promotion highlights: $1 general admission vouchers available at Kwik Shops for Monday games, $1 soft drinks and domestic beer on Thirsty Thursdays, Friday night fireworks, Sunday Family Fun Days with on-field catch and running the bases

Don’t miss giveaway: On June 18, the team is giving out Wichita State University basketball coach Gregg Marshall bobbleheads to the first 1,500 fans and on July 16 fans can get a bobblehead of David Peralta, a former Wingnut currently playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Concession highlights: For the first time, the Wingnuts are serving pizzas made in-house this season.

Kansas City T-Bones

League: American Association

Ballpark: CommunityAmerica Ballpark is at Village West, next to the Legends Outlets shopping and entertainment area in Kansas City, Kan. The team draws about 5,000 fans a game and claims that no seat is more than 50 feet from the field. There’s a large playground within view of the field and basketball courts around the stadium.

Tickets: $6.50-$16

Promotion highlights: Kids eat free on Mondays, $1.25 beers on Thursdays, Falcon Skydiving Team lands on Fridays, fireworks on Saturdays, run the bases and autographs on Sundays

Don’t miss giveaway: On July 26, the first 1,500 adults will get a free T-Bones jersey.

Concession highlights: Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque is served inside the park. Hot dogs are $2.50 every night except Fridays, when they are $1 with the purchase of a drink. A kids concession stand near the kids play area has lower counters along with lower prices on kid-sized items.

Garden City Wind

League: Pecos League

Ballpark: Clint Lightner Field

Season: May-July

Tickets: $6

Great Bend Boom

League: Pecos League

Ballpark: Al Burns Memorial Field

Season: May-July

Tickets: $6

Salina Stockade

League: Pecos League

Ballpark: Dean Evans Stadium (playing only 11 home games)

Season: May-July

Tickets: $6

Topeka Train Robbers

League: Pecos League

Ballpark: Lake Shawnee Sports Complex

Season: May-July

Tickets: $6

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