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Old seats gone but not forgotten

May 19, 2011

It takes a monumental event to wake me up early on a Saturday morning.
If there’s no hunting season on and you see me roaming around before the sun’s above the horizon, run for the hills because the apocalypse might be at hand.
So when I heard the old wooden seats at Ray Winder Field were being given away, I did the unthinkable: set my alarm.
And I wasn’t alone. Last Saturday hundreds of us descended upon the old home of the Arkansas Travelers, eager for an opportunity to take home a piece of team history.
Like everyone there, my friends and I grew up watching the Travs take on the Texas League, and hearing I might have a chance to get my hands on a some seats from the ‘30s was just too good to pass on.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get up early enough, and by the time I got down to the ol’ ball park there were hundreds — what seemed like as much as 1,000 — people ahead of me. And while it was great to see such a phalanx of baseball fans, considering only two seats per household would be given away, it was also heatbreaking because I knew my chances had just driven off with the fat lady in one of the hot rods cruising around.
(Get a large crowd together and someone will show up with a sweet car — never fails.)
It had been reported that only 500 pairs of seats were available, but for some reason I stayed in line, which wrapped around the parking lot and was made up of some pretty salty characters, most of whom looked like they didn’t usually get up early on Saturdays either. (Some looked like they hadn’t even gone to bed from Friday night.)
As we stood for hours in a line that moved slower than a snail’s pace, everyone chit-chatted over brought coffee and some shared stories about their first game. One of my favorites came from a guy who said his and his wife’s first date was at a Travs game. Opposites must attract, because she wasn’t “crazy enough” to stand in line all morning for two old rickety seats. 
When the topic switched over to what everyone planned to do with their nuggets of capital city nostalgia, one lady said she was going to park the pair right in front of her TV in the family den, to which everyone nodded together, agreeing that it was the most practical use of a historical artifact. 
Some fans came from far out of town to claim their seats. After all, it’s only natural that some Travelers fans eventually move away. One man said he made the drive from Jonesboro, which turned a few heads after realizing what time he had to leave. 
Of course, the real die-hard fans had arrived way before me. Word was that some of the lucky few in front had been there since the night before. A buddy of mine, who came out of Ray Winder with seats in hand at 9 a.m., said he arrived around 5 that morning. He was No. 62 in line ... and it took him four hours.
This made me sick to my stomach because, after doing some quick calculating, I came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be leaving the ballpark until mid-week. Others started coming up with the same sad truth, resulting in a trickle of dropping flies.
Still, I fought the urge. That is, until former general manager Bill Valentine came out with a couple of handfuls of seat slats and basically laughed at the size of the line, signaling there was virtually no chance for us lazy dogs who slept in just a little too long.
I gave up, but I had fought the good fight and stuck it out for awhile. I said goodbye to my section of the line, which made the people right behind me extremely giddy, and wished everyone luck.
Their dedication remained after reading the writing on the wall, and it was impressive. 
I wouldn’t be getting my seats, which I planned to put on the back deck of my hunting cabin, overlooking a pond. They would’ve been perfect for drinking coffee at dawn — if I ever decided to foolishly wake up that early again. But, oh well. You win some, you lose some.
And as I walked back to my car, passing the Little Rock Zoo, I couldn’t help but wonder if the kids going in would one day be standing in line outside Dickey-Stephens Park for the chance of taking home a little piece of their history.
If so, I hope they’re a little more of an early bird than me.
• • • •
Charlie Gocio is the Co-Sports Editor for the Saline Courier. He can be reached at sports@bentoncourier.com or 315-8228 ext. 257.

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