By DAVID JONES
Editor at Large
BATTER UP: Brian Carroll, left, the Drillers marketing director pauses with Mike Melega, Drillers general manager as crews prepare Oneok Field for DrillerFest and opening day. In the background is the scoreboard, which has been moved to right field to prevent sun glare.
DANIEL C. CAMERON for GTR Newspapers
A year ago Brian Carroll would go to his office and survey a work of art. It had taken years to plan and millions to build. It was located in a long-neglected part of town that only recently had begun struggling back. It had been decried by some patrons familiar with the old facility and unconvinced that Tulsa needed a new one.
Yet there it was, Oneok Field, a new ballpark for the Tulsa Drillers located in a part of the town once given over to cheap bars, cheaper hotels, pawn shops and once a horrific race riot. North Tulsa has been surging back with waves of respectability in the form of entertainment venues, new restaurants, art studios and a host of other attractions. Carroll had to wonder, would Tulsans follow their team to the new park.
“The fan’s reaction,” says Carroll, who is Media and Public Relations Director of the Tulsa Drillers, “has been even more favorable than I expected. You always expect something to go wrong when you open a new facility and it just didn’t happen. The fans loved it. The numbers bear this out.” In their first year in their new digs despite losing four dates to rain, the Drillers drew over 408,000 fans, easily a record for the team. Carroll spent much of that first year wandering through the stands and talking to the fans. What were some of the reactions he heard? “I think the most surprising thing was the comment on the parking.” Many of the fans of the old park liked the fact that outside the park was a gigantic parking area where the fans could park their cars and walk a block or two to the park. “We don’t have that kind of parking facility and people often park on the streets. Yet no one complained of having to walk an extraordinary amount of time. Most could get to the park in 10 minutes because there is parking all around the park whereas with the old Driller’s Stadium it was crammed into one direction. That dispersal has had another desirous effect: with three expressways coming within a few blocks and people parked in all directions, it is easy to get out after a major event. With the old park you had thousands of cars crammed into a fairly compact spot and when we had a fireworks show or a post-game concert that would keep everyone there until they all left at the same time, there was difficulty trying to get all those people out on 15th Street or 21st Street. Our patrons don’t have that problem now.”
Easy access to the park is nice but what about inside the park. “People seem surprised at how comfortable it is. They like the new seats and they love the concourse.”
The concourse is a wide area that leads fans to the concessions stand, the souvenir shop or the restrooms. At Driller’s Stadium, a trip for hot dogs for the family drew the fan downstairs and out of sight of the field. By the time he returned half an inning might have passed and several runs scored. The new concessions stands overlook the playing field. While waiting to give an order, the fan has a full view of the action and can keep up on what is happening. This is a tremendous boon to anyone trying to keep score. Having the concourse going all around the field enables fans to take a leisurely stroll and see part of the game from the left field, some from the right, and some from the infield area.
Another enormously popular area, and one the old Driller’s Park didn’t offer is a grassy slope in right field where families can come for only $5 each and watch the action from the outfield. Those sitting at the top of the slope can bring lawn chairs while those sitting below can spread out on their blankets. “It’s a great picnic atmosphere,” says Carroll, “although they’re not allowed to bring food and drink into the park.” No matter, the concessions stands will prove ample goodies. “Fans with toddlers love it,” says Carroll, “and for older children, there’s a playground right behind the slope which allows parents to keep an eye on them.”
It would not quite be right to say nothing went wrong with the new park, but the offending item has been corrected. “We didn’t know it, but from a few seats down the third base side you don’t have a clear view of the scoreboard. We had an auxiliary scoreboard stretching from third base down the left field line and its back was to the fans which obscured the view. We have now moved it to down the first base line so those fans can keep up with the balls and strikes and inning and score.
Comfortable seats, good food, an inviting concourse, ample access to the park, a jumbo scoreboard, what is missing?