BY CAROLYN LaWELL
FRISCO, Texas | There are 277 trees on the grounds of Dr Pepper Ballpark. Scott Burchett knows because he had to label every one of them. Back in 2005, he collected leaves, brought them back to his desk and scrolled through images on the Internet in an effort to match the descriptions on the screen with the plants in front of him.
“The joys of life in minor league baseball,” says Burchett, who then worked as a partner services coordinator for the Frisco RoughRiders and is now the team’s vice president of partnerships and communications.
Through his research, Burchett found live oaks, red oaks, Bradford Pears, redbuds and magnolias, among plenty more. The idea was to create a nature trail. Trees flank the gates both inside and outside the ballpark, and a dirt path loops almost all of the stadium. HKS Sports Entertainment — which also designed Cowboys Stadium, Dodger Stadium, Miller Park and Whataburger Field four hours to the south in Corpus Christi to name a few — aimed to make the stadium feel like a park within a park.
The only beverages sold at Dr Pepper Ballpark are, naturally, Dr Pepper Snapple Group products: Dr Pepper, Diet Dr Pepper, 7 Up, Orange Crush, Country Time Lemonade and RC Cola. “That’s why this partnership is valuable to them, because there aren’t a lot of properties out there where Dr Pepper is the sole beverage provider,” Burchett says. The Chicago Bears also recently switched to only Dr Pepper products.
RoughRiders officials say the team was the first in professional baseball to place LED signage on its outfield walls. Instead of plastering company logos across the walls, two LED boards rotate advertising and graphics. “Our philosophy ... is less is more, and more exclusive,” Burchett says. “You can tell a message for 20 seconds and that stays up in the bright lights for the rest of the at bat and then it rotates to the next sponsor after that.”
Few teams are located closer to their Major League affiliate. The Double-A RoughRiders are about 40 miles north of the Texas Rangers, who play in Arlington. That’s just mileage, though. Thanks to Dallas traffic, those 40 miles can sometimes still take hours.
Mandalay Entertainment Group, one of the larger owners of minor league baseball franchises, runs the RoughRiders front office. Among its other teams are the Dayton Dragons, the Oklahoma City Redhawks and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.
“David Schwarz wanted you to feel like you’re stepping into a city park when you come to Dr Pepper Ballpark, with all of the landscaping and the trees,” Burchett says. “The entire park is tree-lined. That’s been pretty fun to see over the past 10 years, all of the trees grow up and the landscaping come in. It’s become a mature ballpark, and I think it’s gotten prettier with age.”
The ballpark was designed after Churchill Downs, adapting a series of building, balconies and signature spires on top of the grandstands. It gives the park a Southern feel and plays off the heritage of the actual RoughRiders that dates to the cavalry regiment during the Spanish-American War. The dirt track that winds through the trees is just another element that ties together the theme.
The RoughRiders opened in Frisco in 2003 after moving from Shreveport, Louisiana, where they were the Swamp Dragons and, before that, the Captains. With a new team and a new park, the idea was to build a park for the growing community.
“You’ll see the bullpens are built right into the stands so our fans can go down on the edge and be five feet from a guy throwing 95 mph,” Burchett says. “There is no direct tunnel access from the dugout to the locker room. It forces the players out in the open — you’re signing autographs and talking with the fans along the way. It’s a very intimate ballpark, as well. There’s only one level of seating so there’s really not a bad seat in the house. When we’re completely packed, we can get a little over 10,200 out here.”
That 10,200 doesn’t include standing room. On a recent Saturday night, the team announced a crowd of 10,862. Attendance has waned in recent years, but even in 2011 — the lowest year for attendance in team history — the RoughRiders averaged 7,276 fans a game, according to The Biz of Baseball.
“We’re a minor league team in a major league market, so we have to do a lot to separate ourselves from the competition,” Burchett says. “It’s a blessing, too, because we live in a metro area with close to 7 million people.”
Just a century ago, only 332 people even lived in Frisco. And in 1960, the U.S. Census counted 1,184. As the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area has exploded, so have the suburbs, in all directions. Over the last decade, Frisco has been one of the faster-growing cities in the country, increasing 247 percent between 2000 and 2010. The 2010 Census has the city at 116,989 people – a far cry from the number of pioneers who lived on the land in 1910.
“We have people moving in every single day,” Burchett says. “People are coming into this area left and right, so hopefully we’re creating new fans every day.”
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