As winter hits much of the country with record low temperatures, about 130 Arkansas Traveler fans warmed up Tuesday night by turning their thoughts to the summer game of baseball.
The annual Hot Stove gathering at the Robinson Center was the first team event since the Travs fell to Tulsa in last year’s championship series to finish second in the Texas League.
Since then, a change in the manager’s chair brings 34-year-old Seattle native Mitchell Canham to take over his hometown Mariners’ Double-A team. Canham’s previous experience in central Arkansas was as a player on three Texas League teams that visited Dickey-Stevens Park.
Travs General Manager Paul Allen told the crowd players made 83 separate appearances in the community last season. Canham promises even greater community involvement.
“One of our biggest sayings is ‘embrace your grass,’ or ‘be where your feet are,’ ‘make the most out of each and every day.’ So, it’s a strong mission to not only go out there and be competitive on the field but focus on developing strong men. And that can also equate to winning games, but our main focus is helping out with the community,” Canham said.
It’s the 116 th season for the Travelers, a franchise that dates back to 1901 in Little Rock. Texas League President Tim Purpura, who attended the event, said it enjoys a rock-solid reputation throughout professional baseball.
“It’s a strong reputation because this is a storied franchise,” Purpura told KUAR.” A lot of great players have come through Little Rock, and there’s a lot of players who owe their careers to good seasons they had in Little Rock. It’s a strong piece because it’s been around a long time, and it’s been successful here.”
“I’m proud to say we are the only team that I know of in baseball that carries no long-term debt,” Team President Russ Meeks said. “We have no mortgage. We won’t borrow money. We keep cash on hand, we are very liquid. We can pay all our bills not only when they’re due but for several years if we didn’t make another dollar. So, we are very sound financially.”
Allen told Hot-Stove gatherers the Travelers’ average cost for a family of four to attend a game—$55—is $13 lower than the minor league average and the 30 th lowest in the game.
“We’ve kept our costs down,” Meeks said. “And the reason that we do that is real simple—we do it because we’re family entertainment… We are kid-oriented because you and I came as kids, and I know the importance of this for kids. They’re going to be proud of where they came from partly because they had one of the 30 professional baseball teams in Double-A.”
Meeks was awarded the Bowie Kuhn Award at Major League Baseball’s recent winter meetings for the team’s work with Major League Baseball Chapel, a program that promotes chaplain services for all professional baseball teams.