"We're going to send the 2009 season out with a bam. We're hoping it's going to be our best season yet," said Drillers' general manager Mike Melega of the final season in Drillers Stadium. The feeling is shared citywide.
Anticipation for ONEOK Field might overshadow the 2009 season. A state-of-the-art ballpark in T-Town excites the masses. While we touched on the subject in our interview with Melega, we're going to try and reign the enthusiasm until 2010.
We'll talk about the new stadium in due time. First, a word or 931 on the 2009 Drillers.
It's astonishing when you look at previous Drillers players and some of the success they've had at the next level. Without going too far back in the way-back machine, just look at last year's squad.
Dexter Fowler and Casey Weathers donned the Drillers' jerseys. They also suited up for Team USA in the Olympics. Chew on that for a moment. A Double-A squad provided two players for the team representing our country in the Summer Games. Fowler earned a spot on the Colorado Rockies opening day roster this year.
Fast-forward to this year and the "can't miss" prospect is Jhoulys Chacin. Here is my attempt to provide the pronunciation: Jo-lease Cha-seen.
"He had a great spring training at big league camp. It looked for quite some time that he might be skipping Tulsa. He's that high of a prospect. He lead the minor leagues in wins last year, he went 18-3 in high A ball," said Melega. Chacin sported a 2.03 ERA last year. His numbers speak volumes of his pitching prowess.
The club will lean on the pitching staff to lead the way this year. Chacin heads the group.
His stable mates include Samuel Deduno, Chaz Roe, Keith Weiser and Esmil Rogers.
Deduno led the Texas League in strikeouts during the 2007 season. He missed last year due to injuries but looks to bounce back strong this year. "He's a power pitcher who struggles with his control at times but when he's on, he's on," said the GM.
The Rockies selected Roe in the first-round of the 2005 MLB draft. He battled injuries with the Drillers last year. Once healed, he pitched strong enough to earn Texas League pitcher of the week honors in mid-July.
Weiser is a lefty. He was solid with the Rockies high-A affiliate in Modesto last year before getting called to Tulsa. He's poised to solidify the middle of the rotation this season.
The fifth starter is an unknown commodity. Esmil Rogers has a powerful arm. Any contributions from Rogers will be a welcome addition to the strong staff.
Adam Bright and Shane Lindsay strengthen the bullpen. They come from the land down under. Bright pitched for the Australian team in the World Baseball Classic.
Andrew Johnston is the closer. He was a stud in A ball last year. Here's hoping he has a little Rick Vaughn in him. (Yes, that was a Major League reference from 1989.) Until Hollywood gives us another re-watchable baseball flick, I'll use it again.
All pitching and no hitting come up short on the scoreboard. Fans demand runs. Chicks dig the long ball... or so I'm told. Where is the run production coming from this year? I'm glad you asked.
Mike McKenry is the guy the organization will keep a close eye on. "He's our catcher. The Rockies have been talking about this kid for two years. He's got a little pop. He can probably hit 15-18 homeruns. He's a good player all around. He's an excellent defensive player. He throws out 45 percent of would-be base stealers. That's an enforcer," Melega said.
Third baseman Darin Holcomb is the other guy to watch. He played low A ball last year in Ashville. He's skipping high A and going directly to Double-A. His smooth stroke and natural swing are artistic.
Anthony Jackson is the diminutive centerfielder. He stands just five-feet, eight-inches but runs on high octane. He stole 39 bases last year in limited playing time. He'll start the season in the leadoff spot.
The organization has done a tremendous job balancing this season with the excitement of next. They are offering their own version of a "Stimulus Package." Their way of keeping the Drillers at the top of your "affordable entertainment destinations" list.
Nine free ticket nights, Monday-Wednesday games half price and free youth clinics are just a few of the overtures the organization is making for the patrons.
Thursday, April 16 is the first home game. "We're ready to go," said Melega.
Newer is probably better. So much fuss over the new ballpark. Here is a quick update on ONEOK Field which is on pace to open the 2010 season.
The big picture concept of the ballpark is in place. "When you get down to the details like where to put the outlets and what color the carpet is going to be and what color stain you want to have on the cabinets... those are the things that seem to take a long time," said Melega.
Owner Chuck Lamson has the best seat at the decision making table, but he's not alone. Melega has input as well as the "Trust" and Manhattan Construction. It's a collaborative effort.
"They want to make a first class facility for our fans and for the people of northeast Oklahoma and the surrounding areas. We're thrilled with the way things are going and we're at the point now where the construction is taking place. You can see progress almost on a daily basis," said Melega.
In fact, you can view time elapsed video on their Web site www.tulsadrillers.com. You can get an upcoming schedule and tickets through the same site. One stop shopping.
It's a great spring and summer for a home ballgame, let's play 70!
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