Heeeeey, batter-batter-batter-swing-batter. Yes, it's go time for a little baseball action in Tulsa. The Drillers wield a big stick in town when it comes to spring and summertime entertainment for the family.
Here is one thing every Tulsan can agree on. We have absolutely no shortage of classy, minor league sports entertainment. Each of the big four sports are well represented.
You will be hard pressed to find more bang for you buck than a Drillers game. The entertainment value is immense. The on-field product, giveaways, affordable food and beverages make a day at the ballpark enjoyable for all.
The Colorado Rockies' Double-A team means business in the Texas League. Last year's potent lineup charged to a first-half division title.
Gone are the days of slamming dingers over the wall to produce runs. Can the team still knock the occasional ball out of the park? Absolutely.
However, this season's team will have a National League feel to it. In other words, they will manufacture runs with smart base running and timely hits. A hit-and-run here or stolen base there.
Call me old school but this makes for a more entertaining game to watch. Everyone digs the long ball but there is something to be said about situational baseball. It conjures up the inner manager in all of us.
Of course pitching usually wins championships. I say usually as the St. Louis Cardinals defied baseball pundits by out sluggin' the Tigers a year ago. They captured the World Series against all odds.
Starting pitchers Franklin Morales and Greg Reynolds lead a solid rotation for Manager Stu Cole.
Morales has one of those baseball intangibles that you simply cannot teach.
He is a lefty. A hot commodity at every level.
Reynolds, the number 2 overall pick in last June's draft, gives the Drillers an outstanding one-two punch on the mound. "The starting pitching will be one of the strengths of this team. They all have good arms," says Cole.
Steven Register opens the season as Tulsa's closer. A year ago he struggled to a 4-10 record but perhaps the shift to the bullpen can re-ignite his career. At least that's what the team is counting on.
Ahhh -- as good as your pitching may be, you still cannot win without scoring some runs. (It's true, I looked it up)
Many of the heavy hitters in last year's lineup are gone. No worries. The Drillers diverse squad includes such gems as Joe Gaetti.
Does the last name ring a bell? His father, Gary, played for six different major league teams. Most notable were his initial years with the Minnesota Twins.
The younger Gaetti is not relying on name value alone. He re-wrote the Class A Advanced record books two years ago with the Modesto Nuts. The Modesto Nuts -- it bears repeating.
He'll be patrolling the outfield with Matt Miller, Jordan Czarniecki and Chris Frey. Miller and Czarniecki adorned Drillers' sweaters last season as well.
Infielders Christian Colonel, Jeff Dragicevich and Jonathan Herrera all spent time with the Drillers in 2006. They return for an encore performance.
These players consume themselves with a Texas League Championship. They also realize Drillers baseball is a means to an end - a platform to launch their career.
"With last year's team - we had a ton of talent. We knew that if those guys went out and did what they were supposed to do - they were going to have the opportunity to move up," says skipper Cole.
The ripple effect down to Tulsa's team is felt by all involved. Don't expect the Rockies organization to change their methods any time soon.
There is a reason the Rockies rank at the top of the list when it comes to their minor league system. Homegrown talent begets lower payroll and stability in the 'Bigs'.
"It hurts in the minor leagues but it gets the kids to where they want to be and where they need to be. That's the nature of farm clubs," Cole reiterates.
The Drillers last TL Championship came back in 1998. It is particularly easy for everyone to say 'oh well -- the players were called up so it's ok.'
Let's spin the situation a different way. Losing players hurts, no doubt about it. However, new faces getting called up should be ready to produce.
Whether you participate in little league, Single-A, Double-A and on up the ladder; the fundamentals remain the same. Nuts, Drillers, Rockies... whatever.
If you are earning a paycheck you should be ready to produce at the highest level. Besides, you never know who is watching.
"You're playing for your organization; you're playing for the Rockies but you're also playing for all the other organizations out there as well. Anything can happen during the course of free agency," reminds Cole.
And finally, what would a column about Drillers baseball be without pontificating on the endless possibilities of a new stadium.
Drillers Stadium, 15th and Yale, is an oldie but goodie. However, this dog is on its last leg. Pretty soon, someone is going to pull a shotgun on the old dog.
The subject is a touchy one. We've heard everything from Jenks to downtown to west of downtown (which to us, is the best invention. Imagine, watching a Drillers game from the west bank of the Arkansas, with a behind homeplate, grandstand view of downtown over the outfield walls!) It's enough to make you forget all about the ill-fated East End location.
One thing is for sure. Driller's owner Chuck Lamson is all ears when it comes to ideas.
The season gets underway Thurs., April 5 at 7:05pm against the San Antonio Missions. Visit HYPERLINK "http://www.tulsadrillers.com"; www.tulsadrillers.com for ticket information or daily statistical updates.
One last item on this season. Sunday Kids Days are a new item for the season. Children can enjoy a plethora of activities throughout the season.
An idea I'd like to see this year is a corked bat giveaway. We can honor Sammy Sosa and give away mini-bats made entirely out of cork. Seriously, like you wouldn't want one.
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