4/30/2014 at 3:46 p.m.
Photo courtesy of the Arkansas Travelers
Los Angeles Angels sensation Mike Trout in a photo from his all-star playing days with the Arkansas Travelers. Dickey-Stephens Park will host this year’s Texas League All-Star Game on June 24, giving fans a chance to see future big league stars.
By KEN MOORE
Arkansas Farm Bureau public relations
Tuesday, June 24, Dickey-Stephens Park, home of the Arkansas Travelers in North Little Rock, will host the Texas League All-Star game, and you’ll not want to miss it.
The last time the All-Star game was played in Pulaski County was in 2006 at Ray Winder Field, the year before the Travelers moved to their new home on the banks of the Arkansas River.
The game has been a showcase for future Major League Baseball (MLB) players and All-Stars. Scanning the box score from the 2006 All-Star game at Ray Winder you see names such as Troy Tulowitski, an All-Star with the Colorado Rockies, Hunter Pence of the San Francisco Giants, Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays, Kurt Suzuki of the Minnesota Twins and Chris Ianetta of the Los Angeles Angels. The winning pitcher was Ubaldo Jimenez, who came up through the Rockies organization and is now with the Baltimore Orioles.
The Travelers became the AA affiliate for the Los Angeles Angels in 2001, and a number of major league players have spent time in Little Rock. Fans who followed the team in recent years remember the names Eric Aybar, Howie Kendrick, Mike Napoli, Hank Conger, Garrett Richards, Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos, Jean Segura, Randal Grichuk and, most notably, Mike Trout.
Fans then may not have known just how special a player Trout would become. He played in the All-Star game for the Travs in 2011 and then would go on to be named the 2012 American League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player runner-up for the Angels in 2012 and 2013.
“Mike Trout was in a category all his own,” said Phil Elson, the radio voice of the Travelers the past 13 years. “No question, he’s the best player I’ve ever seen up close. I grew up in Pittsburgh watching Barry Bonds turn into a star, and I would put Trout on that level.”
Trout played a little less than one full season for the Travs, having been called up by the Angels in September while the Travs were playing in the Texas League championship series.
“What sets Trout apart is he’s not just a five-tool player, he’s got a sixth tool, like a sixth sense. The five tools are understood to be able to hit for average, power, run, throw and have good speed,” Elson said. The sixth sense is essentially the ability to understand the strike zone better than most players, an ability to just get on base consistently. The knowledge of just how to play the game seems to come to him. When he was here he was 19 years old. Even at that time he had a greater idea of what he was doing and his sense of the game than any 19-year-old I think I will ever see.”
Trout fondly remembers his short stay with the Travs. “I really enjoyed my time in Little Rock and was amazed at the passion of the fans. I loved the city and the atmosphere the fans provided every night.”
Future Angels’ teammates of Trout’s who played for the Travs included Bourjos and Conger. A common theme for the players about their time playing in central Arkansas was the passion and loyalty of the fans.
“The fans really understand the game and want to get to know the players,” Bourjos said during a phone call from the St. Louis Cardinals’ spring training facility. After being called up and playing parts of four seasons for the Angels, he was traded to the Cardinals in the offseason.
“It was great to play in the Texas League All-Star game alongside future big leaguers like my teammate Mark Trumbo. I remember hitting against Matt Latos who is with the (Cincinnati) Reds and thinking this guy is good,” Bourjos said. “I really encourage even the casual baseball fan to come out and attend the (All-Star) game. You’ll have opportunities to meet and get autographs from players you may be watching on ESPN the very next season.”
Conger is a catcher for the Angels now and played with Bourjos in 2009.
“I vividly remember certain fans who were at the park day after day,” Conger said. “In the minors it’s more relaxed before the games, and it was great getting to know some of the loyal fans who got to the park early and chatted with us while we were warming up. Some of them continue to follow me on Twitter, and that’s really cool.”
Dickey-Stephens Park has become known as a “pitcher-friendly” park where it’s difficult to hit home runs. That should make it interesting to see how many are hit out during the home-run derby prior to the game.
One of Conger’s All-Star game memories was watching his good friend Trumbo (now with the Arizona Diamondbacks) win the home-run derby in 2009.
Fans who followed the Travelers last season will remember outfielder Randal Grichuk who represented the team in the All-Star game hosted by the Northwest Arkansas Naturals at Arvest Park in Springdale.
Grichuk was part of the deal that sent Bourjos to St. Louis and is now a member of the Cardinals’ system.
He echoed the comments that playing in central Arkansas was special.
“For many of our fans, coming to the park was not just a social event,” Grichuk said. “Many of them are season ticket holders and made it to the park several times a week. They followed us faithfully and made it a point to get to know us.
“Even though I’m in the Cardinals’ organization now, some of them are still keeping up with me on social media, and that’s pretty cool.”
Garrett Richards, a right-handed pitcher with the Angels, was an All-Star for the Travs in 2011.
“I always felt at home playing in Little Rock,” he said. “The talent throughout the league was tremendous, and it was always a challenge taking the mound in the Texas League.”
Elson has been with the team long enough to appreciate the history of baseball here and the support the two river cities have given the Travelers through the years.
“I honestly believe it’s unrivaled by any other place in the league,” Elson said. “You have a franchise that has been using the same name since its inception. Not many teams can say that. Six major league Hall of Famers played here, including Bill Dickey of the Yankees, who the park is named after. That’s more than some big league teams can boast.
“But what matters to the players is that there are people in the seats, the ballpark’s nice, the clubhouse is good,” Elson said. “No doubt the players appreciate the atmosphere the fans provide. That’s one thing that will make baseball stand out in a city is that special atmosphere in the park night after night. Fans here have had character, whether it was ‘Hook-Slide’ Bradshaw doing his thing entertaining fans in the third base bleachers at Ray Winder Field or our bleacher fans at Dickey-Stephens.
“Get tickets to the All-Star game. Make plans to arrive early to take in all that the team has planned,” Elson said. “It will be a fun time for the kids and whole family. You won’t want to miss it.”
And enjoy seeing some future MLB stars.
Save the Date
The Texas League All-Star Game, June 24, is sponsored by the Farm Bureau Insurance companies and is truly a family friendly event. The Travelers are going all-out to “pack the park.”
“We are honored to have the opportunity to host the 78th Annual Texas League All-Star Game for the first time here at Dickey-Stephens Park,” said Drew Williams, director of tickets and corporate sales for the Travelers. “This game gives us the chance to showcase the community, our beautiful park and some of the top talent in all of Minor League Baseball. Featuring live entertainment, player autographs, a pregame home-run derby, great baseball and a postgame fireworks show. This event has all your favorite promotions all wrapped into one day.”
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the Spring issue of
Front Porch magazine.