We take a break from our regularly scheduled freak-out over Drayton to talk to The Oklahoman's Ryan Aber on the local reaction to the Astros/Rangers Triple-A Switchem.
AC: Pretty much as soon as Nolan Ryan joined the Rangers, we Astros fans felt it was inevitable that Round Rock would become a part of the Rangers' system. What was the feeling in Oklahoma City this season regarding Ryan's ownership bid in Arlington?
RA: I think people here view Ryan's ownership as a double-edged sword. Rangers fans, and there are plenty here, knew that having Nolan Ryan involved in the ownership group would be a good thing for Texas. But it was also very apparent that with Ryan's ownership would come an end to the relationship between the Rangers and Oklahoma City.
AC: Mandalay Baseball owns a number of minor-league teams, including the Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees -and those Scranton people aren't so happy with Mandalay's running SWB, particularly with attendance. What kind of changes do you think Mandalay will bring to Oklahoma City, and is that even a concern for fans?
RA: It's definitely a concern. They've already made some big-splash changes. Nobody would say that their addition of a video board in left field is a bad thing. Also, the changes they've made in ticket packaging has been very positively received. They've also made the decision to tarp over the upper deck on the right-field line and changed the name of the ballpark when the corporate sponsor decided to go another direction. The upper-deck tarping won't be a big factor for most games. But for games like opening day, Fourth of July and others, those are valuable seats that aren't going to be filled. Through three corporate sponsor names (SBC, Southwestern Bell and AT&T), the base name for the ballpark has been Bricktown Ballpark. It was the perfect name for the park that was the cornerstone of the MAPS program that led to downtown Oklahoma City and the Bricktown rennaissance in the '90s. The stadium now, pending a corporate sponsor, is RedHawks Field. I think having non-local ownership certainly plays a part in not understanding the history of that name.
AC: Reading through some of the comments in the Oklahoman's articles about the Rangers and Astros basically swapping affiliates, it's pretty obvious that OKC baseball fans aren't so happy. What has been your experience in interacting with fans and management about the new partnership with the Astros?
RA: I think the fans here are cautious about the new affiliation. They see the success the Rangers had here over the last decade or so and the struggles the Astros have had lately and are concerned. Plus, the Rangers have a pretty healthy fanbase here since it's the closest MLB team and they're on TV almost every night. The Astros are on TV regularly here too but aren't the same draw as the Rangers. This is a market where winning is important. There will be people who come out just for the minor-league experience, like anywhere, but winning is a bigger factor here than in most places, I'd think. Win and the concerns about the Astros-RedHawks partnership goes away.
AC: The common perception about the Astros' farm system is that they basically field a team of invalids and Make-A-Wish Foundation recipients whose dream it is to play Triple-A baseball. But since we (and our readers -all six of them) are pretty hardcore followers of the minor leagues, we know that's not the case -not that there's anything wrong with that. What is the Fan on the Street's opinion of the Astros' farm team?
RA: I think people are starting to learn about Jordan Lyles and are excited to see him here, even if it might be brief. The Astros lack of draft success and big-time prospects has been noticed but I think people here understand that things are getting better in the Astros system. How quickly that shows up here, though, is an open question.
AC: What are some of the storylines you find intriguing as you now cover the New OKC RedHawks?
RA: A lot of the things I've already mentioned: Jordan Lyles' start here, the ownership change and just the unknown of the Astros-RedHawks partnership. The Rangers partnership with Oklahoma City was a productive one but having another team, especially one that has had the connection with the Astros/Colt .45s before, is exciting. I'm looking forward to getting to know all of the new players here and telling their stories, both on and off the field, this season.
AC: How is it even possible that people think this affiliation switch means that the Astros and Rangers completed a 50-man trade?
RA: People don't pay attention. Or don't think. Or both. But that's why we try to explain things.
Big thanks to Ryan for taking the time to answer these, and we'll check back in with him throughout the season.