It wasn’t the first time that I have driven past the offensive parking lot that UAMS built on the spot where Travelers Field/Ray Winder Field stood from 1932 until sometime last year. But it may have been my first trip by that hallowed historic spot since I returned from a eight-month stint of working in Poteau, Okla.
So it was jarring to my psyche again.
The asphalt lot looks so damned small. I realize that our memories from childhood can make something that seemed so large then appear quite small as adults. But I attended games there from 1960 until the last one in 2006. So I remember how large the outfield was.
It holds — what? — maybe 100 cars? I don’t know — I was driving 60 mph. Maybe there were 200 spots there. Whatever the number, it seems like a bad trade — a historic place where hundreds of thousands of people spent many hours enjoying their favorite pastime so a couple of hundred medical students or employees would have a place to park and then hike several hundred yards to their training sessions or jobs.
Perhaps there was a way to save the ballpark and turn it into a top-notch youth facility. There were rumors that the Little Rock Zoo wanted to make it a playground for their pachyderms, but nothing came of that.
Logic dictates that its use after the Arkansas Travelers moved across the river to North Little Rock’s Dickey-Stephens Park had to be something that could pay for itself. Why? Because the sprawling UAMS campus was sitting there waiting like the monster that ate Tokyo in some bad 1950s Japanese horror film.
No attempts to save the ballpark were successful, though a couple of attempts were made, but never got off the ground. Eventually, as expected, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences swooped in and had the facility where I developed most of my love for the Great Game ripped apart and then knocked down and swept away as if it were a spill on Aisle 9 at an old Safeway store.
I like to depict UAMS as the bad guy here, but actually that title should go to Little Rock city fathers, our so-called leaders, who twiddled there thumbs while North Little Rock came in and stole the Travelers from under their noses. Not only did they not care, hey were too stupid to: A. Realize that it was happening and B. Even know that it mattered to have a baseball team in what should be the state’s cultural center.
I blame members of the City Council, past and present. I blame Mayor Mark Stodola and his predecessors. Yes, I realize that Stodola, who is a friend of my wife’s family, may not have had a legitimate chance to do anything about the theft of the Travelers by the time he took office, but don’t slow me down with trifling specifics. I’m on a roll here.
Seeing that ordinary parking lot that looks like every other parking lot in which you’ve ever left your car in Little Rock just angers me again. I used to feel like the workers who built it last year were traitors, even though they likely were oblivious to what once stood on that lot. I feel the same way about people who park there now.
My yearning for the old ballpark may be a bit irrational to some. I acknowledge that fact. Love does that to you sometimes.
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