This serves as the seventh post in my third season of a series called “Down on the Farm” that chronicles visits to various minor league parks throughout the 2013 campaign. (All prior editions can be accessed here.)
After five days of ballparks and thousands of miles, it’s possible we saved the best stadium for last. Following 10 twisty, rainy hours through the Delta and then the Ozarks, we arrived in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second largest city.
It never ceases to amaze how baseball revitalizes downtowns, and ONEOK Field — pronounced One “Oak” Field — is a quintessential example of this phenomenon. In its fourth season, the yard combines a rare feat: modern, clean and spacious, along with excellent character, regality and great views of the Tulsa skyline from most seats.
With all it offers, you’d assume ONEOK would be a pricey experience, but that is not the case. We were resourceful and located free parking two blocks from the stadium, then walked up to procure two second-row seats for $12 each.
Egress and ingress is a breeze at this gorgeous park in the historic Greenwood district just north of downtown. The facility is certainly an improvement over Drillers Stadium, where the team played for nearly three decades.
The press box sits stately on a third level above 23 luxury suites and one large seating bowl. ONEOK contains a similar layout to Bowling Green Ballpark or Omaha’s Werner Park — both built at nearly the same time — but obviously has superior views. Built in just 16 months, fans enjoy a pleasant mix of modern and new architecture as a backdrop.
The Drillers are welcoming nearly 6,000 fans per game in 2013, currently second in the Texas League, just behind Frisco, which benefits from the enormous Dallas market. Official ballpark capacity is 7,800 fixed seats, but with berm areas and tons of standing room, it holds more.
However, the record crowd is not the 8,600 spectators who filed through the gates as ONEOK opened in April 2010, but rather 9,400 a month later for the “Bedlam Series” when Oklahoma took on Oklahoma State. We enjoyed a 15-inning marathon win over Springfield, with 5,100 attendees on a weeknight as scattered rain was expected.
An active, involved crowd was also a surprise, especially considering the Drillers are the Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies and therefore have little connection to parent club 700 miles away. Attendance and interest is also pretty impressive, since on-field success has been missing recently. Tulsa hasn’t won an outright league title since 2002, and though perched near the top of the standings, has a mediocre record so far this season.
A spacious concourse takes you to picnic areas in right field, with bleachers and berm seating behind the visitors’ bullpen. The right field wall is very low and an outfielder actually flipped over trying to snag a home run early in the contest. Fans can see games free through outfield gates if not blocked by a faux oil derrick in center field. There is also a party deck section on the first-base line called the refinery deck.
The left field fence is slightly higher, and there is a large terrace section with benches across most of that area toward center field, all situated beneath some developing condos beyond the fences. The foul area in left also has the ubiquitous beer pavilion full of well-groomed urban professionals blowing off steam after work.
But not everyone visits ONEOK to drink and carouse. As noted earlier, most Oklahomans were involved in the game. I saw numerous fans keeping score, and enjoyed good baseball discussion with fans throughout the stadium.
I don’t usually mention ballpark food, but we raced such a long distance — from southern Mississippi to northern Oklahoma — that there was no time available for a pregame meal. I’m glad we waited because of the great selection available at ONEOK — from ethnic food to tons of fresh, interesting sandwiches. I enjoyed a “Beer and Cheese” Burger, which was delectable. I was equally tempted by the “Oktoberfest” bratwurst and Rodeo Burger (angus beef with grilled onions, mushrooms and American cheese).
ONEOK, one of the largest natural gas distributors in the U.S., is a century-old corporation whose headquarters are visible from most seats. The company should be proud of the stadium bearing its name.