This serves as the 10th 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.)
With nearly a half-million residents, Northwest Arkansas is one of the fastest growing regions in America. And when the Wichita Wranglers chose to move southeast following the 2007 Texas League season, Springdale, Ark., was pleased to be named the Kansas City Royals new Double-A affiliate. Arvest Ballpark responded in its debut season by being chosen Ballpark of the Year.
Springdale is a legitimate city with more than 70,000 residents (triple the population of three decades ago) and a quaint downtown, but the stadium was built slightly west of Interstate 540 in a still-developing area. Though this means limited food and hotel choices nearby, and only one parking option, it does provide great egress, ingress and a fun, safe atmosphere to enjoy baseball.
There are more than 20 gleaming luxury suites at Arvest, hovering over a large seating bowl and sunken diamond. Left field holds the party section, berm seating is mostly in right field, and a usual breeze to left makes this a hitter’s park for righties each summer. While many shaded seats and concourse misters keep fans cool, children stay entertained via pay and free play areas in center and left field.
After a rough first half in 2013, the Naturals hosted the annual league All-Star Game, and have been stronger in the second half, especially offensively. I attended on a steamy, overcast Wednesday evening with temperatures in the upper 90s, yet nearly 4,000 folks still came through the turnstiles. With a seating capacity of 6,5000 — though room for more than 7,200 — Northwest Arkansas currently sits in the middle of the league attendance tally.
With three other teams in a 200-mile radius, the Naturals generally draw from the region, which is mainly split between Cardinals and Royals fans. There are some Rangers supporters too, though Royals interest has risen since the farm team relocated from southern Kansas six years ago.
The Naturals, whose moniker emanates from the state nickname as well as an ode to the classic 1984 baseball film, captured their lone league title in 2010. Many of those players moved on to the 2011 Omaha Storm Chasers Pacific Coast League Championship squad and the ongoing revitalization of the parent club in the City of Fountains.
Next time you’re in the region which calls home to global giants Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt Transport Services, find three hours to enjoy some Minor League Baseball at another clean facility in suburbia.