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June 6, 2014

This is Not Your Father's Baseball Road Trip

Day 10: Little Rock

by Jake Mintz and Jordan Shusterman


Jake Mintz and Jordan Shusterman, the proprietors of Cespedes Family Barbecue, are taking a baseball road trip and chronicling their travels at Baseball Prospectus. You can find the series introduction and itinerary here.

Day One: Lynchburg
Day Two: Asheville and Hickory
Day Three: Huntsville
Day Four: LSU
Days Five and Six: Houston
On the seventh day, they rested
Day Eight: Dallas
Day Nine: Frisco

Started in: Mount Pleasant, TX
Slept in: Memphis, TN
Today’s Mileage: 346
Total Mileage: 2,572

Intro, by Jake Mintz
It was time to say goodbye. After five unforgettable days inside it, the grand state of Texas was finally in our rearview mirror. As we crossed through the confused town of Texarkana we returned to our home country of America. With the Clinton Presidential Library as our destination, we fittingly stopped off for breakfast in the former President’s hometown of Hope, Arkansas, for some disappointingly lackluster Subway sandwiches.

While we sped northeast across Arkansas towards the state capital, a friendly face awaited us. My father had flown in to Little Rock yesterday morning to join us for a small leg of our journey. The city is a particularly special place for my dad, who lived there for a year while working for the 1992 Clinton campaign. Through his connections we were lucky enough to get our own personal tour of the Presidential Library. We enjoyed the collection of signed baseball memorabilia, but the best part of the tour was looking at all the old, incredibly 90s pictures of Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea chillin’ like villains.

After the tour was over, we hopped in the car and my dad drove us around Little Rock pointing out all the places where he’d lived, worked, eaten, and hung out. We went past the capitol building and the Governor’s Mansion as my father waxed poetic about what Little Rock was like in 1992. “Sorry for dragging you guys along here. Thanks for humoring me,” he kept saying, even though we weren’t humoring him at all. Watching my father’s eyes light up as he relived the most exhilarating time of his life was an absolute joy.

He pulled over next to one innocuous-looking art shop and rolled down the windows. “This building was the first campaign office we had. I remember getting dropped off here late in ’91 and walking into a completely empty space. It was just a couple chairs here and there. Crazy to think about what it eventually became.” As we drove away from the site, I couldn’t help but imagine the room bustling with activity, hundreds of phones on the line with hundreds of people. All politics aside, seeing my father speak so passionately about a period in his life was a moving experience for me. I hope that at some point in my life I can be a part of something similarly meaningful, something that I can look back on and take pride in years after those days have come and gone. Other than this road trip, I mean.

Once we had spent some time revisiting my father’s past, it was time for something even more important: giant steaks. After a week of eating almost exclusively at Whataburgers and ballparks, Jordan and I were desperate for a real meal. My generous father subsidized our stomachs’ desires and ordered us an enormous three-pound porterhouse at Doe’s Eat Place in downtown Little Rock. Succulent food wasn’t the only thing being consumed at dinner, as we set up my laptop with live coverage of the MLB Draft. After our actual and draft-related hungers were more under control, we made our way across the Arkansas River to North Little Rock and Dickey-Stephens Ballpark, home of the Angels’ Double-A affiliate, the Arkansas Travelers.

Arkansas/Springfield Game Notes, by Jordan Shusterman

  • Dickey-Stephens Park proved to be a perfectly sufficient Double-A stadium, complete with a mediocre video board, acceptable food options, and an event staff that was way too enthusiastic about what was actually going on around them. Oh, and about the video board: The seventh-inning stretch introduced one of the stranger things we’ve seen on this trip.
  • While the talent on the field was fairly underwhelming, whoever was DJ-ing for the stadium last night deserves a pat on the back and several delicious cookies. As soon as Nelly’s “E.I.” came on a mere five minutes before the first pitch, we knew we were in for a night of musical throwbacks and current pop masterpieces. We heard everything from Semisonic’s “Closing Time” to 50 Cent’s “21 Questions.” They even managed to play Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” more times (three) than the Travelers scored (one).
  • Despite a disastrous 2013 season, Jason Parks ranked third baseman Kaleb Cowart as the no. 2 prospect in the Angels organization heading into this year. A one-game look at a position player is far from enough to evaluate him properly, but we were rather unimpressed with Cowart. While he did showcase a plus-plus arm on several throws, his feet looked awfully slow and he did not react quickly to the balls hit at him. The switch-hitter also looked uncomfortable at the plate, going 0-4 with 2 Ks. This wasn’t an isolated lousy game for Cowart; he’s now hitting .197/.262/.298 in 55 games this year. I talked to a scout who suggested that when Cowart was drafted in 2010, a lot of teams saw him more as a pitcher, and that maybe the Angels should consider giving that a try if Cowart’s offensive struggles continue to this ugly extent.

National Anthem: A tiny pre-teen with an enormous but still pitchy voice belted out the anthem in 1:28, just two seconds shorter than Jake’s projected time of 1:30.

Mascot Creepiness: One of the Travelers’ mascots is a giant horse wearing an old-fashioned military uniform. This mascot was not creepy at all, and was in fact one of the best mascots I have ever encountered—both distinct and well-designed. Ace the Horse was a joy to be around. Unfortunately, we didn’t encounter the team’s creepier and more famous mascot, Otey the Swamp Possum. Another day, another failed attempt at interacting with a swamp possum.

Purchases: Jake’s dad picked out a pretty sweet Arkansas travelers hat. I purchased at least four slushies.

Trip Counter (We’ll be counting some of the things we run into on our travels.)

Happy Count: 9
Mup Count: 4
Life Goes On Count: 24
Fast Food Stops: 7

Whats Next (Jake): After driving my dad to the airport at five in the morning, Jordan and I will start our day off at Graceland, former home of Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus...or something like that. Then, after picking up some BBQ downtown, we’ll drive west back to Huntsville, Alabama to watch the Stars play a doubleheader. I’ll be throwing out the first pitch for game two of that doubleheader, and you better believe I have something special planned.

Related Content:  Caleb Kowart,  Arkansas Travelers

4 comments have been left for this article.

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