"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
They call it the Green Moment: That first glimpse you get of a new or unfamiliar ballpark, when you come out of the tunnel or up the ramp or around the corner and all at once your entire field of vision is filled with a great expanse of emerald turf.
For a baseball fan, there’s nothing like it — especially in spring, when the weather’s finally warming up after too many long cold months without a game to watch.
I got lucky: My Green Moment at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock came March 7, a bright, almost hot Wednesday when construction was far enough along that it was easy to imagine it finished — although hardhats were still required — but long before there were any crowds to keep me from wandering the place at my leisure.
There weren’t any bases on the field, and most of the seats still didn’t have their backs attached, but otherwise it looked ready for Opening Day — shiny and new and optimistic.
As much of a rush as that first look was, though, it was nothing compared with seeing the park actually filled with people, a real live game going on, drunken hecklers razzing the other team’s third-base coach, crawling over 15 sets of knees on your way to the beer line or the bathroom.
By now, anyone who cares is familiar with the objective description of Dickey-Stephens Park: The cost overruns that pushed the price tag past $40 million; 5,288 fixed seats; the million-dollar scoreboard; the luxury suites; the four-face clock tower with a single clock, etc. You know the Travs lost their first game there, and that almost 8,000 people showed up to watch.
So with the full disclosure that I love baseball and live in North Little Rock, and am therefore predisposed to like the place, what follows is a more subjective take on the new home of the Arkansas Travelers.
Thumbs up. Even with 7,943 people crammed in on opening night, it never felt claustrophobic. The final game at Ray Winder, with 8,307 fans attending in a park designed to hold 6,600, it was all but impossible to move through the aisles, let alone find the end of the line at the concession stands. At Dickey-Stephens, the concessions are on a wide, open concourse that runs behind the seats, so you don’t have to leave the game to get a hot dog.
Dugouts and bullpens are bigger and nicer as well. There actually are bullpens at Dickey-Stephens, out beyond right field, not just those narrow strips of grass along the baselines they had at Ray Winder.
They’ve made life easier for the press, too — a room above home plate with huge plate-glass windows that swing completely out of the way for game time. No impeded views. And there’s a little space next to the Travs dugout for photographers to set up — unlike at Ray Winder, where they had to either find an empty seat or block a spectator’s view to get their shots.
This may tell you all you need to know: The only bathroom line I saw all night was outside the MEN’S room. And yeah, it was a pretty satisfying sight.