Things appear to be shaping up nicely for an action-packed season at ONEOK Field.
This year the Drillers welcome first-year manager Kevin Riggs to Tulsa and also have the pleasure of entertaining at least five of MLB.com's top 20 prospects in the Colorado Rockies organization. Pitcher Chad Bettis had a great spring and looks to pick up where he left off in 2012 after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury, while outfielder Kyle Parker continues to build on a brilliant young career that has him currently ranked as the top power hitter in the Rockies farm system. By September, Parker could be wearing purple pinstripes in the Mile High City.
Among the other Drillers listed in the Rockies top 20 are pitchers Tyler Matzek and Joe Gardner and shortstop Christhian Adames.
Along with future stars of the Rockies, several former MLB stars will also make their way to Tulsa this year as managers and coaches. Among them are San Antonio Missions hitting coach and former Minnesota Twins star Jacque Jones, 2000 NLCS MVP and current pitching coach of the Arkansas Travelers Mike Hampton, and former Drillers and Texas Rangers star, Frisco Rough Riders manager Steve Buechele.
As always, ONEOK Field promises to provide a pleasant experience for fans in 2013. Promotions like Thirsty Thursdays, Bark in the Park and weekend game fireworks return this season, with unique promotions like Mickey Mantle scale figure night on June 22nd and Pudge Rodriguez jersey night on Aug. 8. The most intriguing promotion scheduled for 2013, however, is R.A. Dickey Garden Gnome night on May 25. The first 1,500 fans will receive a garden gnome bearing the likeness of last year's National League Cy Young Award winner and former Driller Dickey.
The Drillers home opener is Thursday, April 11 at 7:05pm against San Antonio. The second annual Opening Night Parade will take place along N. Greenwood Avenue and E. Archer Street beginning at 6pm, and the Liberty Bowl champion Tulsa Golden Hurricane football team will be honored prior to the game. Head Coach Bill Blankenship will throw out the ceremonial first pitch, with American Idol contestant and Broken Arrow native Kayden Stephenson throwing a ceremonial pitch as well.
As legendary broadcaster Harry Caray used to say, "You can't beat fun at the ol' ballpark."
Adding to an already eventful few months, the University of Tulsa has accepted an invitation to join the former Big East Conference, now to be known as the American Athletic Conference. After watching several fellow Conference USA members including Memphis, SMU, Houston and Tulane all jump ship, it seemed only a matter of time before Tulsa would be faced with the dilemma as well.
Tulsa native Parker Frazier
RICH CRIMI/TULSA DRILLERS
Luckily for Golden Hurricane fans, TU President Steadman Upham and his athletic administrators made a wise decision.
As part of the project aimed at re-branding and renaming of the conference, a television deal was recently reached that will bring an estimated $2 million a year to each of the member schools and provide national coverage via ESPN and ABC for about 60 football games and more than 100 basketball games. Such exposure should be well received by Tulsa, which has suffered a significant decline in attendance and overall fan interest over the past few years.
Tulsa's move will take effect July 1, 2014. At that time, TU will join the likes of Connecticut, Cincinnati, South Florida, Temple, Navy and former C-USA schools Memphis, SMU, Central Florida, Tulane and Houston in the new Big East.
The Quest for an NBA Title
A year ago it seemed nothing could stop the Oklahoma City Thunder. The only question Thunder faithful had was not whether the Thunder would win an NBA championship, but whom they would have the pleasure of knocking off en route to the top.
After knocking out the rival Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, things quickly changed once the Thunder met its Eastern Conference opponent, the Miami Heat -- or more notably the freak of nature known as LeBron James. Following a convincing game one win for the Thunder in the best-of-seven series, James and the Heat won the next four games and ended a heartbreaking season of basketball in Oklahoma.
Now a year later the Thunder finds itself in an almost identical situation with the NBA Playoffs approaching. Once again the Thunder is tops in the Northwest Division of the Western Conference, and once again finds itself dueling down the season's home stretch with the Spurs for the top playoff seed in the West. While much of this season has been remarkably similar to last year's campaign, the Thunder looks to be even more of a favorite to repeat as champions of the West because of the downfall of one major competitor: the reloaded yet wildly underachieving Lakers.
Offseason acquisitions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash were supposed to put the Lakers over the top in the Western Conference and provide the Thunder with an overwhelming competitor come playoff time. Because the Lakers have proved to be largely disappointing this season (currently in jeopardy of missing the playoffs altogether), the Thunder is once again the runaway favorite to reach the NBA Finals for a second consecutive year.
Sure, Denver, Memphis and the Los Angeles Clippers once again stand in the way of Kevin Durant and company, but the true barometer of this season once again resides in South Beach.
Barring a monumental collapse, Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka should find themselves face-to-face with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh come June in a rematch of last year's NBA Finals.
While the Heat is slightly improved with the acquisition of aging three-point specialist Ray Allen (Jesus Shuttlesworth to you movie buffs), the Thunder is essentially the same team that fell just short of the NBA's Holy Grail last year. Save for the departure of James Harden and acquisition of Kevin Martin, the Thunder has remained mostly unchanged -- guard Derek Fisher was even re-acquired recently, giving OKC an even more familiar look and feel.
Will this be a year of retribution for the Thunder? Will the potential that's been long talked about in Oklahoma City finally come to fruition in the form of an NBA title? Can Kevin Durant unseat LeBron James for the title of NBA's most dominant player?
These questions and more will soon be answered.
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