Baseball is often referred to as “America’s Favorite Pastime”. The crack of the bat, roar of the crowd, and feeling of camaraderie that come with a baseball game are hard to match. When we were offered an opportunity to attend a game during our visit to Amarillo, there was no way we were going to pass it up. The Amarillo Sod Poodles, a Double-A franchise, was playing in their inaugural season in their new home. There is a new game in town, and we were going to watch it. After a hearty dinner at The Big Texan Steak Ranch, we were in the mood for some live entertainment as big as the state of Texas.
We want to thank Visit Amarillo and the Amarillo Sod Poodles for hosting our visit. Rest assured all opinions are our own.
We found a parking spot close to the stadium and made our way to the gate. The new park has been named Hodgetown in honor of Jerry Hodge, a local businessman who happened to be the city’s 26th mayor. The team had spotted us a seat in the section behind the home plate, so we had a bird’s eye view of the evening’s festivities. As the players warmed up on the field, the team’s mascot arrived in a four-wheeler. The name for the team was determined from a local contest. Other names, like Boot Scooters, Bronc Busters, and Long Haulers were passed up in favor of Sod Poodles. Soddies, as they are called, are a reference to prairie dogs, which are a common sight in the Panhandle-Plains.
Now that the mascot had whipped us all into a frenzy, it was time to play ball. In days gone by, I was a huge fan of Major League baseball. Since we began our travel blogging adventure, it is hard to find enough time to follow any team. We still enjoy a day at the park, they are just too infrequent. The Amarillo Sod Poodles are a minor league team that belongs to the Texas League. The eight teams that make up two divisions are located in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri. It is interesting to note that the Texas League has existed in some fashion since its founding in 1888. Amarillo became the newest city when it was awarded the franchise of a team relocating from San Antonio.
Now before you think that a Sod Poodles game is exactly like an MLB version, let’s note some differences. The park is smaller, so it offers a more intimate setting to enjoy the game. Hodgetown seats about 6630 fans, but with an outfield terrace and other areas, it has seen numbers swell to over 7100. While the main attraction is the baseball game being played out for admiring fans, there are plenty of secondary events to keep the throng engaged between innings. The people in the stands watched one hilarious episode unfold, as a cluster of audience volunteers bounced each other to the ground.
Fun for All Ages
While many of the between-inning games are designed to be played by young adults, there are some that include the younger fans. We watched as a youngster pitched bean bags through a cut-out stand. Each game ends with someone winning a consolation prize, even if they didn’t quite get the results they were hoping for. This makes good entertainment for everyone and the crowd’s cheers make the contestant’s evening memorable.
With the game progressing well for the home team, it was time to take a little closer look at Hodgetown. We met up with Tess Bloom, the Director of Marketing, for a tour behind the scenes. After introducing us to the life-size bobblehead of the mascot, we made our way into the area that holds the suites. Here is where many of the local businesses will host company outings and special events. After all, who doesn’t enjoy an evening at the ballpark?
Behind the Scenes
Even though our visit was in late July, the weather was perfect for attending the new game in town. As we made our way through the facility, we were introduced to a wide range of staff members. Everyone was so friendly, but that is something we always find in Texas. It was apparent that these fans were excited to have a minor league baseball team in Amarillo. The team was showing its thanks by having a solid first season.
We came out of the upper level and followed Tess, as she led us through the park. As we said before, this park is designed to offer every fan an intimate experience. Seating options include the regular stadium seats, as well as a huge outfield lawn area. In this part of the park, we noticed lots of fans laid out on picnic blankets, soaking up the last rays of the day. We continued around the outfield and came to a patio area that had hightop style seats above the outfielders. This was a popular place for home run balls to be caught, and we saw a few kids hanging around with their gloves at the ready.
Up Close & Personal
Now that we had seen the views from above, it was time to get down to the field level. Tess led us down to an area near the home team’s dugout. We noticed the addition of an outside seating area that mimicked small suites. It was made up of clusters where groups of four to six fans could congregate around a table to watch the game. This was the first time we had seen this type of outdoor seating, and it seemed like a great idea. The game was really heating up into a nailbiter, so we decided to hang out in this area for a while.
The New Game in Town
Heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, the visiting team was carrying a 4 to 2 lead. The Sod Poodles tied the game and sent it into extra innings. The fans were certainly getting their money’s worth tonight. The tenth inning had both teams scoring another run, which led to the need for another inning. At the top of the eleventh, the visitors scored three runs, which sent some of the fans heading toward the gates. Those that stayed behind were treated to a four-run half, that had the Sod Poodles staging a come from behind victory.
Taking It All!
The fun and excitement of that evening would be played out over and over at Hodgetown. In their first season in Amarillo, the Sod Poodles would end up making it to the playoffs. As they say in sports, once you are in the playoffs, its anybody’s game to win. In true underdog fashion, the Sod Poodles would go on to capture the Texas league Championship and set themselves up for a 2020 season as defending champs. This is just some of the excitement that can happen when you are the new game in town.