Minor League Notebook: Oklahoma City Changes Ballpark Name, Again

The Oklahoma City RedHawks (Pacific Coast) kicked off their season last night as their ballpark changed names for the second time in less than 48 hours.

The Triple-A franchise, in its second year since being purchased by Mandalay Baseball Properties, announced on Wednesday that it had sold the stadium's naming rights to the local Chickasaw Nation tribe. The new name for the park was going to be Newcastle Field at Bricktown, incorporating the name of one the tribe's casinos, which is in the Oklahoma City suburb of Newcastle.

However, some local officials objected to the ballpark being named after a casino, while others resented the city-owned park being named for another town. So the team changed course yesterday and announced that the ballpark will instead be called Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. 

Having the name of one the state's historic tribes, not one of its casinos, on the ballpark was much more appealing to local officials, the Oklahoman reported yesterday.

“Out of consideration for the expressed concerns of Oklahoma City citizens, we have decided to revisit the name,” Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said in a statement.

• In other ballpark news, the International League's Empire State Yankees (their name this year instead of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre) kicked off their 144-game road trip last night in Lehigh Valley as local officials in Pennsylvania continue to work on completing the sale of the team to SWB Yankees LLC. An April 1 deadline had been set for the sale to be complete, so that construction could begin in time for the proposed $40 million ballpark to be ready by Opening Day 2013. Local officials announced today that even though no deal has been reached, the two sides are close enough that contractors can begin preparing for the demolition of PNC Field.

The Yankees are playing their home games at six different ballparks this season while PNC Field gets a facelift. Rochester, N.Y., will serve as the team's base, and they will play 37 of their 82 home games at the Red Wings ballpark.

• Sure, it's Fort Wayne's (Midwest) fourth season at Parkview Field, but it's still worth nothing that the TinCaps set a new mark for attendance at the ballpark by drawing 8,577 on a chilly evening last night. It was the largest crowd there since Aug. 9, 2009, when the TinCaps drew 8,572.

The TinCaps have been a hit in Fort Wayne since moving into their new downtown digs and have been among the most creative teams in the minors. Fort Wayne took home top honors at Minor League Baseball's promotional seminar last September and won BA's Class A Freitas Award for overall excellence. And for the second straight year, the TinCaps showed off their creative flair on Opening Day. After converting the video board to 3-D for the first game last year, Fort Wayne kicked off this season by picking one fan to have a bobblehead made in her likeness.

The TinCaps drew 376,022 fans last year, third-most in the Midwest League behind the record-setting Dayton Dragons and Lansing Lugnuts. Fort Wayne's average attendance actually dipped 3 percent from 2010, which the team says was due mostly to poor weather, and the TinCaps are intent on topping that mark this season.

“If anything, we see a potential for an increase,” TinCaps vice president of marketing and promotions Micheal Limmer told The Journal Gazette (Fort Wayne, Ind.).

• The TinCaps weren't the only team to have a big Opening Night. The Pawtucket Red Sox (International) led the minors in attendance with a crowd of 10,333. The Lehigh Valley IronPigs (International), minor league baseball's attendance leader the past two seasons, came in second at 9,722 against the Yankees. The IronPigs showed off several improvements to Coca-Cola Field, including a Tiki Terrace (a tropical themed gathering spot above the left-field fence), a new LED scoreboard and a new burrito stand.

• The Pensacola Blue Wahoos made their debut in the Southern League before a sellout crowd of 5,038. The game kicked off with a flyover by the Blue Angels, included the ballpark's first home run courtesy of Reds third baseman Henry Rodriguez and was attended by minor league dignitaries including Reds vice president Bill Bavasi and Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner.

"You can't come here and not recognize the value of a ballpark on the water," O'Conner told the Pensacola News-Journal. "I've been in a lot of ballparks the last 20 years, and there are only a handful I would pay to get into. This one makes the list. This park is everything you need and then some. It's a tad on the small side (for Double-A ballparks), but it fits the market."

• Pirates president Frank Coonelly was on hand for Opening Day in Altoona (Eastern) last night and announced to the 5,354 fans in attendance that the Pirates will be coming to town next spring for an exhibition game. The Pirates last played in Altoona in 2000. "(I'm) "tremendously impressed every time I come down here," Coonelly told the Altoona Mirror. "It's a fan base that loves baseball and understands baseball, comes out and supports the local team. You can really tell that they are baseball fans."

• The Frederick Keys (Carolina) are rolling out a new menu that includes a two-pound pretzel and offerings geared to the hometown of the visiting team (for example, beer-battered shrimp will be offered when the Myrtle Beach Pelicans come to town). The pretzel is called the Texas Twist goes for $20 and can feed three to four people.

• In other news, Casper has a new team in town after the Pioneer League's Ghosts moved to Grand Junction after last season. Meet the Casper Cutthroats, who will compete in the Mountain Collegiate League. The nickname is a reference to the Cutthroat Trout, not anything more sinister. A logo has yet to be released. "It's great. It's Casper. And it's fishing. And it sounds tough. So that's nice," team owner Aaron McCreight told the Casper Star Tribune.