For three and a half decades, from 1966 through 2000, the Double-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals was the Arkansas Travelers. For almost twice as long, starting in 1932, Little Rock’s Ray Winder Field was the home of the Travs.
The last of the Cardinals five championships in Arkansas was in 1989. The manager was Gaylen Pitts, now a special minor league instructor in the Cardinals organization. The Travs’ skipper in their last Texas League playoff season under the Cardinals flag in 1998 was none other than current Memphis manager Chris Maloney. Washington Nationals manager Jim Riggleman led the 1985 Travs into the playoffs.
Countless future Cardinals players donned the Travelers uniform over the years. Then-pitcher Rick Ankiel, a Trav for part of the 1999 season, was the last to still be active in the system. Among the first Cardinals-supplied Travelers in 1966 were future major league pitchers Mike Torrez, Wayne Grainger and Dick Hughes.
After the Cardinals departed for New Haven, CT, then Tennessee and in 2005, Springfield, MO, the Travelers affiliated with the Angels and a new stadium was built in North Little Rock. Dickey-Stephens Park opened in 2007, ending the effective life of Ray Winder Field. Ironically, the Springfield Cardinals participated in the last-ever series at Ray Winder to close the 2006 Texas League season.
After five years of disuse and no viable preservation plan presented, the City of Little Rock decided to sell the old park to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, reports the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. All the structures are to be torn down and the land cleared initially for a parking lot and potential future expansion.
Earlier sales were held for baseball fans to purchase artifacts. Last Saturday, the park was opened for what may be its final time. The city offered to give away the remaining wooden and iron seats, dating from 1920 and 1932, to 500 people on a first-come, first-served basis.
Fans lined up outside the park hours in advance for the chance to take home a souvenir, reported the Arkansas Times. The long-time and former general manager of the Travs, Bill Valentine, also an ex-American League umpire, was on hand to autograph the seats. Oddly, a decision was made to destroy one seat for every one given away, a decision that left a number of people disappointed and without their piece of memorabilia.
A gentleman named Brian Chilson captured the proceedings, then posted the video on YouTube.
While progress must be made, a part of me wishes this significant part of Cardinals minor league history could somehow have been preserved.
(For more details on the Cardinals’ history in Double-A, refer to “Cardinals in Double-A – 1966 to 2008”.)
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