3rd of May | Story

Two stadiums, two teams, one busy front office


MIDLAND, Texas | Monty Hoppel is in the baseball business. He’s also in the soccer business, and the business of showcasing football games, high school games, concerts and any other reason you could think to rent out and pack baseball and football stadiums.

The Midland RockHounds general manager and his staff have the same responsibilities as other minor league front offices. They sell advertising and tickets, they develop promotions and they run Citibank Ballpark from the concessions to the grounds. They also do the same thing next door at Grande Communications Stadium, part of Scharbauer Sports Complex.

The setup is unusual for minor league baseball. But at its core is much of what minor league operations represent: providing community entertainment.

"We’re putting on our community hat, knowing that we’re the best people to do it and we’re the most experienced people to do it." — Monty Hoppel

The RockHounds once played in a nearly 50-year-old stadium that, even after a series of renovations, no longer met certain standards. The team was successful in getting the message to the community that if a new stadium wasn’t built, they could be in danger of losing their affiliated team.

“At the same time, the city of Midland had a rundown football stadium and they like their football here in West Texas,” Hoppel says. “So we did a grassroots effort to build this complex together (with the city). Keeping in mind it helps the band kids, it helps the soccer kids, the football kids, the baseball kids, people who want to do special events. We just rallied the community around, ‘OK, Midland does want affiliated baseball, Midland does want a nice baseball stadium.’ We asked everybody to step up to the plate and make it happen.”

Midland voters passed a bond issue in 1999 to fund the complex. The gates opened at Citibank Ballpark in April 2002. Soon after, the RockHounds front office also gradually started taking control of responsibilities at Grande Communications Stadium — starting with the concessions, then adding marketing and advertising before finally booking events. The RockHounds also run the West Texas Sockers, a USL Premier Development League, which also plays next door.

“We put in a bid that wasn’t going to make us any money in marketing, maybe it comes back to us in concessions a little bit,” Hoppel says. “We’re putting on our community hat, knowing that we’re the best people to do it and we’re the most experienced people to do it.”

The RockHounds have a bigger staff than other Double-A teams in markets their size, which allows them to dedicate the time needed to run both stadiums, Hoppel says. In a calendar year, there are between 12 and 15 days when both stadiums are hosting big events. The ability to run two teams and two stadiums starts with the fact that most of staffers have been with the organization for years, and some have been in Midland for decades.

The veteran staff and the ability to market all of the complex’s amenities has also helped the RockHounds build its attendance. “I think the fact that we’ve done year-round marketing has helped a little bit,” Hoppel says. “I don’t think there are too many teams whose attendance in Year 11 is higher than their honeymoon when they built the new ballpark.”

Time for minor league trivia. Midland has played the last 13 seasons as an Oakland A's affiliate. With what two other Major League organizations has Midland been affiliated during its 41 years in the city and the league? (Keep reading for the answer.)

The RockHounds produced on the mound and behind the plate on their way to a 10-2 win over the Corpus Christi Hooks. Right-hander Daniel Straily allowed one run over seven innings, striking out 11, and third baseman Josh Horton led the team with three RBI. The Hooks also committed four errors, helping the RockHounds to another home win.

Unemployment is still a hot issue in most of the country, but not in Midland. The city, which was founded as the midway point between Fort Worth and El Paso on the Texas and Pacific Railroad, is in the middle of an oil boom. In March, Midland’s unemployment rate was 3.8 percent, compared to Texas’ unemployment rate of 7 percent and the nation’s at 8.2 percent.

Every 30 days, the RockHounds apply for a permit to continue to water their field. Like much of Texas, Midland is experiencing a severe drought. Residents and businesses are only allowed to water outdoors once every week for two hours. While the RockHounds field is green, the grass on its berm and outer areas has turned brown. “Right now, the lakes we get water from, one is empty, one is at 1 percent and one is at 17 percent,” Hoppel says.

Want the answer? Over the last four decades, Midland has also been a Texas League affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels (1985-1998) and the Chicago Cubs (1972-1984). They won one league championship during their Cubs years, none during their Angels years and two already during their years with the A's.

And in random statistical news, the first pitch was a ball, the first batter walked and the “Star-Spangled Banner” was played by a band in an AMLS-record 55.9 seconds. We had a Frito pie, and the grande nachos — nachos, cheese, chicken, lettuce and other crazy goodness that was loaded on top — which were recommended by just about everybody.

Carolyn@AMinorLeagueSeason.com@CarolynLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason


Want to read stories about the other teams on our schedule? Click here and scroll to the calendar.