You can’t make something out of nothing. Yet the Tulsa Drillers (Texas) have seemingly done just that, by turning their new stadium into a catalyst for the community.
ONEOK Field opened in downtown Tulsa in 2010, surrounded by plenty of empty space. Since then, each of the bustling districts in the distance have expanded to the ballpark, creating a revitalized environment.
“The ballpark is fantastic,” Tulsa general manager Mike Melega said. “That was really the catalyst for us to take our operation to the next level. ONEOK Field has been amazing. We’re a part of a really vibrant and revitalizing downtown. The amount of development that has happened here since we’ve moved in is unbelievable. Over $300 million of additional development has come on line and it seems like new projects are coming in every day.”
Even before the expansion of the surrounding area, the Drillers had built a fantastic facility. Jeff Francis, who started Game One of the 2007 World Series for the Rockies, had a chance to pitch at the new stadium on a rehab assignment in its inaugural year.
“The new ballpark is just done right,” Francis said. “It’s definitely done right. It looks like a lot of the new parks in minor league ball and as far as the player experience goes, the clubhouse is great and there’s a weight room and a nice training room.”
The organization has offered a great experience for many years, which is something that Melega credits to its ownership. Longtime owner Went Hubbard died in September 2012, leaving a legacy that has been embraced by the new owners, his two sons.
“The best thing about working for the Drillers is working for Dale and Jeff Hubbard, to be completely honest with you,” Melega said. “They make my life easy and allow our folks to get excited about everything we do, whether it’s building a promotional calendar, coming up with a social media campaign, developing a new app or investing in something that’s going to enhance the fan experience.”
Texas League president Tom Kayser believes that there isn’t just one thing that the Drillers do well, but that they do everything well is what makes them so successful.
“They are so comprehensive with everything they do,” Kayser said. “No organization is successful without them doing many things right and that’s certainly how the Drillers are. Customer service is certainly one of the things they do well and that’s always been emphasized from the time Went Hubbard operated the club. They’ve got a wonderful ballpark and they keep it up really well, they have excellent food service; they make great use of their ballpark and all of its spaces. It’s the totality of their operation that is just so well done.”
Tulsa is great at responding to what its audience is looking for and aims to make the ballpark an all-inclusive environment. Recently being named the most vegetarian-friendly minor league ballpark by PETA and just having added splash pads to the stadium’s kids’ zone, the Drillers almost matched their regular-season attendance record from the inaugural season at ONEOK. Melega believes that they are strongly focused on all the right things, which will help them find continued success.
“We continue to operate with a lot of the principles that their dad put in place a long, long time ago,” Melega said. “There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t think about Went and how he did things. It keeps us grounded and keeps us humble and he keeps us putting the fans and the part-time employees first and not worrying too much about ourselves up in the front office. That stuff comes together when you take good care of everybody that makes your business great—that’s your sponsors, your fans, your season-ticket holders and your part-time employees.