Tulsa Drillers Open Season with Traditions and Changes

Contributing Writer

READY TO PLAY BALL: Chuck Lamson, who has been with the Tulsa Drillers for 28 years, recently acquired majority interest in the team. Lamson first joined the Drillers as a pitcher during the 1979 season. After his playing career ended, he moved to the Drillers front office, working in ticket sales and as a groundskeeper. He was eventually promoted to Assistant General Manager and to General Manager and became the club’s Executive Vice President after acquiring a minority stake in the team’s ownership in 1994.

For years the Tulsa Drillers have come up with something at the beginning of every year to make baseball viewing a more pleasurable experience for their fans.

Sometimes it’s a major piece of construction, like taking the three separate grandstands that were the early Driller Stadium and joining them in a graceful grandstand arc.

Sometimes it’s a major addition to the concessions stand.
This year one of the biggest changes will be something you will see but might not notice. Another will be something that you can do at 3 a.m. in your slippers and bathrobe in front of your own computer. And another is a changing of the guard.

After years of upgrading everything from seats to bathrooms to concession stands, the Drillers are getting back to basics. That lovely grass infield you will see on opening day is brand new.

“The old infield was installed in 1994,” says Driller Assistant General Manager Mike Melega. “For a long time we were able to cover up a season’s damage with a little artful grass replacement, but after a dozen seasons the infield had just been beaten down. We replaced the whole thing.”
The second huge improvement, the slippers-and-bathrobe one, is the way you’ll be able to purchase tickets.

“You can sit at your computer, order a ticket for a game, pay by credit card and then get a print-out so you have your ticket in your hand when you come to the ball park. You can even, if you’re unfamiliar with Driller Stadium, get an idea of what it is you’re buying. We have pictures on the web with the view of each section toward home plate. You can scout for a location you like, make the purchase, get the ticket and then, when you go to the game, bypass all the ticket windows and head right into the park.”

Happily, modernization doesn’t completely end the old ways of doing business. If you are not computer literate, you can call for advance tickets the way you’ve been doing for decades and then go to the ‘Will Call’ window to get them. Of course, same day general admission tickets will be sold as always, but Melega hopes that enough people will use the computerized opportunities to shorten lines everywhere.

Although it’s not new, modern communications have even changed the way beer is sold. Many of the grandstand vendors have been with the Drillers for decades, and when a fan they know wants a brew they can simply call the vendor and make sure he’ll have a cold one ready for them on his next round.

The biggest change from 2005 to 2006 is at the top of the Tulsa Drillers chain of command. Went Hubbard, who saved a struggling Tulsa baseball franchise and built it into one of the finest minor league organizations (duly noted by multiple awards) sold majority interest to his general manager Chuck Lamson.

When it comes to Hubbard, Melega waxes lyrical. “Went was the perfect owner. He paid his people well and rewarded them for outstanding service. He was a hands-on kind of owner, a wonderful man to work for. Chuck, who came to the Drillers organization as a pitcher in 1978 and then moved to the business office when arm troubles cut short his career, learned his managerial style from Went. He also is great.

Melega adds, “Just look at our front office! We have a number of employees who have been here a dozen years or so. People don’t readily leave, and that is a tribute to Went and Chuck.”

True baseball fans come whether the home team is winning or losing, but Melega thinks Driller fans will be looking at young talent with enormous Major League promise. They are names that mean nothing to most fans now, but in a few years may be on all fans’ lips. Remember a few years ago when Tulsa got a pudgy catcher called Rodriguez?

“We have five players we think are among the best on the Colorado Rockies waiting list of superstars. Take Troy Tulowitzki, for example. He plays shortstop and was the number one draft pick of 2005. Ian Stewart, scheduled for third base, was the top pick of 2003. Pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Juan Morillo and catcher Chris Iannetta are also youngsters the Rockies are high on.”

Of course, Melega warns, just because they are currently penciled in for Tulsa doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily play here. A rookie with an incredibly hot spring training camp, or a series of injuries to veterans that necessitate unexpected rookie call-ups, can change the opening line-up. Still, there shouldn’t be too many of those and most if not all the above names may be on the opening Tulsa roster.

There will be the usual giveaways. There are seven nights when fans can get in free just by getting free tickets from area merchants. Baseballs, bobblehead dolls, Driller caps, beach towels, wristbands and lunch boxes will be handed out gratis to happy fans. There is even one night when fans are invited to bring man’s best friend, the family pooch, to the park. What is the special that night? Fifty-cent hot dogs!

Melega loves it all. The Syracuse University grad with a degree in marketing has no thoughts of moving on.

“I don’t look at the big league level,” he says. “It’s just so rewarding working here, to be part of it all. I’m happy right where I am.”

Play ball!

Updated 03-20-2006

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