Saturday, July 2, 2016

Day 3: Texas AirHogs: Flying Pigs, Rolling Elvises, and Testing Coasters

Hello folks! Pat here. I rejoined the Journeymen late on Friday night after no fewer than three hours on the tarmac at LaGuardia (during which we were re-routed, had to go back to the gate to get more fuel for the longer route, then were re-routed back to out original, shorter route) and one surprisingly expensive and GPS-challenged taxi ride. Nonetheless, I arrived and we once again had enough members to field a jazz trio, were any of us capable of playing the instruments involved.

With a full day ahead of us in Dallas, we briefly contemplated the sweet release of death, but decided to ride some roller coasters instead, and headed for Six Flags Over Texas. Despite the ungodly heat and substantial crowds (both to be expected on a summer Saturday in Texas), we had a pretty good time. Highlights included the ludicrously fast magnetically-accelerated Mr. Freeze, the bobsled-esque La Vibora, and Pandemonium, where each car rotated independently from the track on a sort of lazy Susan. Lowlights included some very questionable line management, and the decision to basically alpha test a “VR coaster” called Revolutions. For this ride, each rider was given their own VR headset, programmed to sync up with the real, physical coaster (aka The Shockwave) they were riding. Conceptually this is kind of a neat idea, but in practice it took an extra ten minutes for every train to set up the headsets, make sure all the riders had them securely strapped on, swap out the malfunctioning ones, etc. We wisely elected to ride the Shockwave (meaning the same ride, but no headsets) and were able to board relatively quickly, but we ended up waiting a while for the VR train ahead of us to clear the platform. So I took some pictures. Eventually we decided we’d had enough of the midday Texas heat and headed back to the hotel to regroup, at which point we realized that the AirHogs game had been rescheduled as a short double-header — two games of seven innings each — starting two hours earlier.

Stuck on the Shockwave.
Briefly refreshed and recharged, we took a short trip through the massive highway interchange that is north Dallas, we arrived at QuikTrip Park in Grand Prairie, home (sometimes) of the Texas AirHogs. Last year the Grand Prairie AirHogs and Amarillo ThunderHeads merged, becoming the Texas AirHogs. The team now plays half of their home games in each town. While this was attributed to scheduling issues, we did see some signs that perhaps the team has seen better days. 

As for the games, well, we must admit we left after the first half of the doubleheader, but rest assured we got our money’s worth of baseball. Early on it looked like a slugfest, with the AirHogs scoring three runs early and the visiting Joplin Blasters matching them as the AirHogs starter at one point threw 14 consecutive balls and walked in a run. But the score held at 3-3 from the 4th all the way to the bottom of the 13th. The AirHogs’ DH managed to get a walk and pinch-runner Will DuPont scored the winning run on a wild pitch. Good stuff. By the time the first game finished we’d been at the park for more than four hours and needed a break from the outdoors, so we made our way home. The second game, as it happens, finished 9-2 in favor of the AirHogs in a clean seven innings, so congrats to the AirHogs on sweeping the double-header. 

Highlights & Lowlights

  • The stadium itself is quite nice, at least on par with most high-minors parks, with lots of seating, suites, and wide open concourses. Out front of the park, there are some statues of airmen and a little bit of historical information about the region’s role in aviation manufacturing. Some friendly locals explained to us that an “Air Hog” is a model of Bell helicopter, formerly produced nearby. The much younger fellow at the box office gave us another explanation, “An AirHog is a flying pig.”
  • On that note, one nice touch were the “AirHog” sculptures hanging around the park, including this one outside the men’s room.
    To the best of our knowledge, this is what an AirHog looks like.
  • Park amenities included a fully enclosed “Sports Bar & Grill” in left field, which unfortunately was closed for a private event, although we were misled by the large letters reading “OPEN” in the windows. Maybe work on that signage, guys.
  • There was also a decently-sized pool in right field, along with a private pool deck, also occupied by a private party, probably a Little League team. We didn’t bring swimsuits and the Little Leaguers probably would have objected to our crashing their party, but anyway, pretty swanky.
  • For parents who aren’t able to rent out the pool deck, the park also features a kids’ zone with a pair of inflatable amusements, as well as a full playground, complete with a miniature baseball field. Signs at the playground indicate “NO ADULT SUPERVISION PROVIDED” — the AirHogs don’t specifically say you have to watch your kids, just that they aren’t going to do it for you. We appreciate this hands-off approach to parenting.
  • We discovered that elsewhere along the outfield, to the side of the batter’s eye, it was possible to watch the game through the fence from outside the park, and indeed there was a gentleman doing so. If for whatever reason you don’t have the $8 for a ticket, the AirHogs have got you covered.
  • One disappointment was that while QuikTrip Park appears to have a fully functional manual scoreboard, no one was operating it. The score was overlayed on the Jumbotron, while a smaller digital scoreboard recorded the count. 
  • They did pull some fun tricks with the Jumbotron. A Joplin player who was lacking a photo was displayed as one of Jabba the Hutt’s pig-faced Gamorrean guards from Star Wars, and gradually all the Joplin players’ faces were replaced with Nerf blasters or other guns.
  • Less amusing, but more impressive, the AirHogs also had legit video replay for big moments in the game, which is rare at this level. 
  • The crowd was extremely sparse for a Saturday night, especially in a relatively large park. Part of that is probably the adjusted start time, though we didn’t see too much of the crowd fill in later, either. It was also competing with a home game for the Rangers that night,  not more than ten minutes away.
  • However, the crowd that was there was quite animated, cheering, shouting, following the action. That’s always nice to see. Someone even brought an airhorn.
  • Thanks to the light crowd, we found ourselves seated directly behind home plate. That’s good!
  • The net behind home plate was alarmingly worn and fairly loose. That’s bad! Zach was concerned about the integrity of the net, although it did a fine job as far as we saw. Had any of us leaned too far forward, though, there’s some chance the slack in the net could have done us in. Through good luck and our diligence as baseball fans, none of us were injured.
  • Out seats were out of the sun all game. That's good! Especially in Texas in the summer.
  • TRUCK NUTS — not at the game, but on the way to Six Flags, we encountered a rather fetching pair of GOLD TRUCK NUTS. That is all.
  • Possibly because it was a rescheduled game, the AirHogs had no inter-inning promotions or contests. It wasn’t quite Nothing Night, but at least it did keep things moving along quickly.
  • They did, however, have one truly spectacular promotion: a gang of, um, motorcycle Elvises, which is to say, a diverse assortment of Elvis impersonators, at least twelve of them, all riding mo-peds around the concourses, making a tremendous racket. They came out around the 2nd inning and were still circling the entrance when we left after the 13th. Bravo, gentlemen.
    An Elvis!
  • Concessions were fairly typical with a heavy dose of Tex-Mex: fajitas, nachos, burritos, etc. We acquired a souvenir helmet full of nachos topped with cheese and “taco meat.” We still have the helmet; it has not been washed. On the sweet side, the AirHogs offer a fairly impressive array of floats, malts, and shakes, as well as helmets full of candy.
  • Continuing a theme, the stadium appeared to have a concession stand dedicated to a local barbecue joint, but it was closed and unmanned.
  • The PA informed us that the AirHogs’ mascot, Scout, had been “written into the Presidential race for years,” which is either a testament to his popularity or some kind of local in-joke, we’re not totally sure. A little research reveals that the AirHogs former mascot was “Ace Bacon,” which is clearly a better name.
  • Inter-pitch music. We’ve seen this before, and the AirHogs most emphatically embraced it, to out mild distress. But I guess if you’ve got a playlist of 250 ten-second samples of well-known songs burning a hole in your pocket, it’s the thing to do. It was at least done well here, with no repeats and no instances of music playing over the game action.
  • If an AirHogs pitcher records a 1-2-3 inning, or an AirHogs batter hits a home run, the team passes a bucket around the crowd for tips. This was a new one for me, and I’m not sure how to take it. It really highlights just how slim the financial rewards of indy ball are. It does have a certain charm, although after the fourth 1-2-3 inning we felt they needed to set a higher bar for pitchers.
  • One of the groups that received an official welcome on the scoreboard was the “Sexy Summit Seniors.” We refuse to research this further.
  • “Sweet Caroline” is impossible to escape no matter how far we get from Boston, but at least here no one cared to sing along with it.
  • After a particularly nice foul ball catch in the stands, the PA demanded the team “Sign that fan!” 
  • An adult fan scrambled for a foul ball and kept it for himself. Good for him. Kids need to learn to stop asking for handouts.


  1. Men's Room: Nine pearly white urinals. 1/10
  2. Price of Beer: $5 for 16oz of domestic, a solid 5/10. However, due to the double-header, there was no alcohol cut-off during the first game, allowing yours truly to keep drinking steadily for 13 entire innings. That's worth some bonus points.
  3. Most Caloric Concession: We thought the "family size" helmet nachos could have been bigger, but we suppose most families don't include three adult men who enjoy food challenges. Call it 5/10.
  4. Crowd & Personalities: As discussed, tiny but enthusiastic, and there was definitely a Little League team in attendance. 5/10
  5. Free Seats for Bloggers: Being able to watch from the parking lot doesn't count. Moving on...
  6. Promotions: I'm willing to give the motorcycle Elvii (Elvises? Elvodes?) 6 points even without much backup. 6/10
  7. Best Name: BURT REYNOLDS! It was a star-studded lineup, as AirHogs outfielder and presumed star of Gator Burt Reynolds was backed up by Blasters infielder and film auteur Sergio Leon. We also got an reasonable amount of amusement from AirHogs outfielder Michael Hur — her? Thanks, Arrested Development. One final shoutout to AirHogs pitcher Roman Madrid, whose name describes an archaeological site in central Spain. Anyway, BURT REYNOLDS. 9/10
  8. Tailgating: There were tailgaters! At least, as we were heading around the outfield, we saw some folks in the parking lot who looked to be enjoying some drinks before heading in. Not much, but good enough for 4/10.
  9. Subtotal: 35 base metric points.
  10. Bonus Points: +1 for name explanation, +1 for bar & grill, -1 for signage, +1 for pool, +1 for separated playground, +1 for AirHog sculptures, +1 for general park amenities, +1 for free viewing, -1 for unused manual scoreboard, -1 for unused barbecue booth, +2 for player photo hijinx, +1 for replay, +3 for dangerous netting, -2 for dangerous netting near our seats (we are hypocrites), +1 for keeping us out of the sun, +1 for mascot running for President, +2 for the player tip jar, +1 for ignoring Sweet Caroline, +1 for acrobatic foul ball catches & banter, +2 for walk-off wild pitch, +1 for serving me beer all game.
All told, 52 points on our totally arbitrary scale. Assuming they can get their home stadium situation sorted out, the AirHogs have a great park for the price and for the level of competition, and they have some fun and quirky traditions. We would have liked to see that park used more fully (unused scoreboard, missing vendors) but we still had an enjoyable time. If you've got some time to kill in the Dallas area you could do a lot worse than taking in a game (or two). 7/10

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