Tulsa Professional Baseball Enters 100th Year
By DAVID LLOYD JONES
OILERS HOME: Originally called Texas League Park and located about three blocks west of the present Drillers Stadium, then-owner A. Ray Smith changed the name to Oiler Park and remodeled it in 1962. Built as a WPA facility in the Great Depression, it was the last home to Triple-A baseball in Tulsa.
From Let’s Goooo Tulsa, WAYNE McCOMBS
One wonders if somewhere the ghost of Charley Shaft isn’t smiling.
It was 100 years ago that a group of Tulsa businessmen asked Shaft to go to Kansas City and form a baseball team. Tulsa had just joined the Missouri Valley League, and in those pre-statehood days having a baseball team in your city was considered a value almost on a par with the railroad stopping downtown.
That first Tulsa team played in Athletic Park, a tiny structure three blocks north of the present downtown post office.
Baseball had its ups and downs in those days. Tulsa baseball historian Wayne McCombs recalled the Oilers, as they were called, didn’t have enough cash on hand to finish the season in 1906, 1911, and 1912 and had to skip the season entirely in 1913 and 1918.
The Oilers were not always the Oilers. In 1914 the squad was renamed the Producers and renamed the Oilers in 1918 when Spencer Abbott moved his Western League club from Hutchinson, Kansas, to Tulsa and set up shop at McNulty Field at 10th and Elgin.
McNulty field was sold in 1930 and, with no place to play, the Oilers ceased operation, only to be reborn when Art Griggs moved his team from Wichita to Tulsa to take up in a new field in the Fairgrounds.
You could go on and on about the glorious history of the Drillers or some of the great names that played here (ever hear of Dizzy Dean or Steve Carlton or Sammy Sosa?) but Chuck Lamson, the Drillers’ general manager and part owner, would rather look at the future than the past.
For a quarter of a century a Texas Ranger farm club, the Drillers have been with the Colorado Rockies for the last two years. Still, says Lamson, a lot of what Tulsa fans are used to is continuing.
“Our broadcasting service is expriencing a major upgrade,” says Lamson. “We’ve had a wonderful relationship with Clear Channel radio for 20 years and this year the broadcast of the games has been switched from AM1300 to AM1430 (Tulsa’s sports radio station known as The Buzz). This will boost the power of our flagship station from 5,000 to 25,000 watts. Our games will cover a much wider area.
“We are also fortunate to have had Mark Neely as the voice of the Drillers for the last decade. That has given us a media continuity that the fans like: they enjoy hearing a familiar voice year after year.”
Often buffeted by financial headwinds, the Drillers were fortunate to have been purchased by Went Hubbard in 1986. Saved in various eras from heading over economic cliffs by Grayle Howlett, A. Ray Smith, Bill Rollings and singer Roy Clark, the fortunes of Tulsa baseball were improved tremendously under Hubbard’s leadership. In a town where attendance struggled to total first 100,000 then 200,000, Hubbard’s teams spent a couple of years just under 200,000, a couple of more years in the 200,000s, and then passed 300,000 every year from 1993 to the present except for 2003 when Tulsa’s economic fortunes nose-dived. Lamson says advanced ticket sales are on a par with those of last year when Tulsa’s final attendance was 320,733.
“We are fortunate to have the largest stadium in class AA ball (capacity 10,997), which gives us the opportunity to boost attendance with really major promotions.
“Of course we try to make every baseball experience as enjoyable as possible even when we’re not having a ‘major’ event. We are constantly upgrading our concessions, for example. This year we will not only be offering cookies and Buffalo wings for the first time, but also freshly-carved beef brisket and turkey sandwiches.”
The club is also paying attention to shifts in its fan base.
“Tulsa’s Hispanic population is increasing and for the first time we are printing schedules in Spanish. Hispanics love baseball and we want to do all we can to make them, along with all our other fans, feel welcome at Driller Park.”
Parking has improved at Driller Park. Between parking in the infield at the racetrack next door, which will be available during all but the horse racing season, and a recently opened parking lot, which was formally used by recreational vehicles, the Drillers will now have 3.000 parking spaces within two blocks of the park. At an estimated 2.5 people per car, that means a crowd of 7,500 won’t have far to walk to the game.
In short, baseball is alive and thriving at Driller Park. One hopes that somewhere Charley Shafft has a smile on his face.
If you are interested in a first-rate history of the National Pastime in the Oil Capital, check out Wayne McCombs “Baseball in Tulsa” published in 2003, which is available at Steve’s Sundries.