This is the third post in my 2012 “Down on the Farm” series that chronicles visits to various minor league parks throughout America. (Prior articles, including the entire 2011 edition, can be accessed here.)
The Red River of the South flows for nearly 1,400 miles between the Texas Panhandle and the Mississippi River in central Louisiana, but is best known for separating the great states of Texas and Oklahoma.
On the final day of May, I was in the affluent Dallas suburb of Frisco, while on the first of June I crossed north to attend a tilt in Oklahoma’s capital city, which I’ll review later this week. Both were enjoyable evenings, though quite different.
This morning, let’s focus on the Lone Star State, reviewing Dr. Pepper Ballpark, home of the Frisco RoughRiders.
It was perhaps providential I saw the RoughRiders on this sojourn, since during a five-day 2,500 mile journey, I listened to an audio version of The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, which naturally discussed his formation of the “Rough Riders,” the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment during the Spanish-American War. And T.R. would likely be proud of his Unit’s baseball namesake, considering the success they’ve enjoyed on baseball’s battlefield.
Oh, and their stadium is pretty impressive too. In 2009, it was ranked fifth-best by Baseball America and second in all of Double-A.
While the AA RoughRiders have enjoyed three division titles and one league crown in less than a decade of existence, the only ballpark the franchise has known (with a capacity of more than 10,000) has seen huge attendance and positive reviews for its classy design.
The Dallas-area franchise is outpacing its counterparts in attendance during 2012 by nearly 30 percent. Frisco sits atop the eight-team Texas League as well, much like their big league affiliate to the southwest in Arlington.
But why so much success at the gates and on the field?
Surely a large, involved, prosperous fan base fewer than 40 miles from the parent club, which keeps high-level talent like Jurickson Profar in Frisco, helps.
More importantly, even when strong draws like Profar are promoted, the uniqueness of the stadium itself, unmatched in any of my various travels, keeps people coming back.
One could simply describe the center-field swimming pool ensconced by rocks; the bullpen built into the stands so players essentially sit with spectators; the press box four full levels above the playing surface; 8,000 traditional green fold-down seats with stellar sight lines; or the manicured dirt path around the entire ballpark with a view of the playing field.
However, the simple charm of a clean baseball facility with lively fans and architecture that bucks the trend of most ballparks built in the past two decades is the reason Dr. Pepper Ballpark is a winner.
A spectator told me this stadium “took the best features from standard ballpark designs and improved them” with the aforementioned unique aspects. He said it well.
As a traditionalist, I love brick, especially red brick — on houses, office buildings, stadia, you name it. Dr. Pepper Ballpark has zero brick, just light gray fiber cement siding material, much like a village or country club. Nonetheless, this doesn’t detract from its appeal; in fact, since Frisco and neighboring Plano are not small, charming Midwestern towns, rather robust Texas suburbs of nearly 400,000 total people, the format makes sense completely.
The park inside has several buildings that matriculate down the baselines. These are luxury boxes on the second floor and concession stands on the main level. Clever, indeed. The buildings, which are wisely set back a good distance, also make for a very spacious concourse. And with Texas summer temps in the upper 80s at first pitch, many shaded seats and a cool breeze aid fan enjoyment.
I could go on, but the picture is clear. When passing through the massive Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex in search of a great baseball experience, look no further than State Hwy 121 off the North Tollway.