Season 2 of El Paso Chihuahuas baseball season starts Thursday with the first of 72 home games.
If you waited more than an hour to buy tickets when they went on sale back in February, you waited too long.
For Chihuahuas general manager Brad Taylor, everyone at MountainStar Sports Group, El Paso baseball fans and maybe even die-hard doubters, that’s a pretty good sign. The buzz is still there.
“I’m blown away at the response from this town,” Taylor said. “We’re up on season ticket sales too, which again is very unusual for a second-year team.”
Last year, the Chihuahuas sold more than a half-million tickets despite getting off to a late start in their brand new stadium, Southwest University Park, and playing only 62 home games, 10 less than usual.
They sold out 43 games, including the last five, and were the wonder of Minor League Baseball.
Things are pointing to a bigger, better season and to games that will move along faster thanks to new regulations – a real change for a game that never changes.
Although Triple-A games tend to run about three hours, Taylor said the new rules aren’t meant to shorten games but to shave the slow-downs that drive some people wild.
Taylor’s been in Minor League Baseball for 21 years. He and his wife have two boys, ages 10 and 7. Both play for Little League teams in East and West El Paso.
Moving with their dad’s career, they’ve already lived in three baseball markets. Their last stop was Kentucky, where he was president and general manager of the Bowling Green Hot Rods, a Class-A Midwest League affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.
“Hopefully, this will be the last one because we love it here in El Paso,” Taylor said.
When he wasn’t slipping out of the ballpark to catch bits of one or both boys’ games last season, he liked to see what was going on outside the park.
“I think on a game night, this place has an electricity,” he said. “I made it a point on certain Friday nights just to leave in the second inning and walk down to San Antonio and back up Santa Fe just to see what was happening.
“It’s a great Downtown environment.”
In the mad rush before opening day, Taylor found the time to talk about the coming season, the new pace of game regulations and the new hot dogs coming to the ballpark this year.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.
Q: Opening day is Thursday against the Tacoma Rainers. Any tickets left?
We’re down to standing room only. It’s amazing in our second season. I think everybody expects that most teams in their second year kind of find their level and they continue to hopefully stay steady.
We’re still growing quite a bit, and for us to sell out all of the seats for our second season opening day game in an hour to me is a very healthy sign that things are still very good, and they’re going to be as long as we nurture this and take care of it. We remind our staff about that all of the time.
Q: Are ticket prices the same as last year?
They are. We have so many different places and points of sales because we want something for everyone here. We still have the grass berm seats that start at just $5. We have the upper-level reserves that start just at $9. Those seats are right on top of the action, and there’s not a bad seat in this place.
I know it sounds cliché, but everywhere you go you’re right on top of the action. Imagine taking a Major League Baseball park and having the best 8,000 seats available. That’s what this park is.
Q: Bark in the Park was pretty successful last year. It’s coming back, right?
The Minor League Promotion of the Year! It was very successful, and we are very proud of it so, yes, we are doing it again. Last year, we did a couple and this year we are doing three. We’re the Chihuahuas; we have to do Bark in the Park days.
Q: Were there any unpleasant surprises that came out of it?
No, the Bark at the Park days are actually the calmest games of the year. I’m not kidding you. Everyone is chilled out. They’ve got their pets and they’re relaxed.
We’re very clear. We reserve the right to ask any dog owner to remove a dog if the dog can’t behave and play nice with others. Frankly, people who are connected with their pets can now have one more thing to enjoy with them. I love it.
Q: Then there was the whole Chihuahuas jersey thing.
Well, I think we’ve got some friends this year that we may have not had last year. I think it’s fantastic that Keith Olbermann found his way to the Chihuahuas because of a silly jersey, and it has since impassioned him to weekly tweets about fostering and adopting dogs here in El Paso and Canutillo.
He still talks about that every week on his Twitter feed because we wore a silly, fun jersey that got his attention, and he knew of one of our players, Cody Decker.
To me, there’s a bigger story there. It’s not about the silly jersey; it’s about how the silly jersey affected people’s lives and impassioned them to help donate to a good cause and how people have adopted dogs, and how a nurse adopted a dog that didn’t have hind legs and used that to help a soldier who didn’t have legs to have hope again.
That’s a great story. And it came out of that with us just having fun with a silly jersey. We’re going to continue it. It’s the promotion of the year.
Q: Santa Fe Plaza is a new feature at the ballpark, but it was part of the original plans. What exactly is it and how did it come about?
It’s a beautiful new footprint that gives us so much more room for ingress and egress on what is the busiest side of our ballpark. If you look at the area where the Mills Building parking is and where the convention center parking is, a lot of the parking is on that side. A lot of people can walk from other points from Downtown across the street and come right in that gate.
Now instead of two stairways we have five, so getting in and out is going to be easier. There’s just a larger footprint now that they’ve built a plaza over the top of the railroad track that now connects us to Destination El Paso. I think it’s going to really add to the flavor of the ballpark and the experience when you first hit the gates coming in. Our vision for that is to put some bands out there on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays as people come into the game.
Q: A big new thing for Minor League Baseball are the Pace of Game Regulations aimed at speeding up the game by giving the pitcher 20 seconds to start his wind-up and setting time limits on other aspects of the game. Fans will probably love it. Has there been any push back from players?
I haven’t really heard of any. You have to realize this was a test program that was done in the Arizona Fall League and then carried out through spring training this year. So it’s going to be new for everybody at the Double-A and Triple-A level.
I think our radio guy, Tim Hagerty, said it the best, “It’s not intended to speed up the time of the game, but rather what you see in the game.”
These rules were put in place with the intention that the batter is not going to step out after every pitch and readjust his glove twice, tie his shoes, tap his helmet, tap his cleats, readjust his bat and a whole bunch of that. The by-product of all of that could, in fact, be faster game times.
I think what it’s designed to do is get the game to flow a little quicker. But it shouldn’t affect the between innings entertainment. We’ll still have as much time as we’ve always had.
Q: Is Major League Baseball planning to introduce the new rules next year?
I think they want to see how this goes at this level and find out. My opinion is I think we’re going to learn a whole lot of stuff in a short amount of time, including things we’ve not encountered or thought about yet.
Q: Have these kinds of measures been discussed in prior years?
Maybe for only the last couple of years, but then it came very quick when it came. All of a sudden, it was going to be used in the Fall League, and then literally, I don’t think all of us heard of this until the end of January. We were told Major League Baseball will be in your park to install these clocks and here are the rules. It just became public.
Q: How long is the average Triple-A ballgame compared to a Major League game?
Major League games are probably a hair longer because there’s obviously the consideration for TV timeouts and breaks for commercials. At the Triple-A level, our average game time here in El Paso last year is probably around three hours. Double A and Single A tend to get a little shorter.
As a guy who has been doing this for 21 years, my view is that the hitters are better at Triple A. They learn to foul off more pitches, and their at-bats are longer. They can stay at bat longer because they’ve gotten a little better. Triple-A pitchers know they can work the corners and they’re not afraid to waste a pitch four inches off the plate to try to get a guy to fish and swing at it. If a guy doesn’t swing at it, then it’s a ball and you got to throw another pitch. I think that’s one of the reasons why games at the higher level take a little longer. It’s a little more of a chess match.
Q: What’s new on the ballpark menu?
We’re adding a couple of things with hotdogs. One of them is going to be a quesadilla-wrapped hotdog. Some teams do a grilled cheese wrapped hotdog. But we’re El Paso, and we’ve got to do a quesadilla-wrapped hotdog.
We are also looking at one different burger option that frankly was selfish on my part. I had it at a ballpark in Albuquerque and insisted we have it here. It’s a green chili cheeseburger, but it’s finished in a grilled tortilla. You get the entire flavor of the burger, the chili and the cheese without the entire flavor of the bun. I’m excited about that.
We came out of the gate with so many food options last year, it wasn’t like we had to go out of the way to add a lot of stuff because people really appreciated the variety.
Q: There’s something about visiting hotdogs.
When we have teams from different cities, they will have the flavor of the visiting team. For example, when Memphis is here, we will probably have a barbeque hotdog. So yeah, every time there’s a visiting team from another town, you can go find this one particular stand that will have a description of why that hotdog is on the menu for the four games this team is in town. It’s kind of a fun way to play with our menu.
Q: For people who can’t make it to a game, where can they catch it on radio or live streaming on the Internet?
KROD-AM 600 is our radio partner. They are phenomenal. You can catch it there. It’s also available on their Townsquare Media radioPup app. If you go to the app store and look up radioPup, you can stream it right through there. You just pop it in and you can listen to it anywhere. You can also go to our website and stream it through there at MiLB.com. The new TuneIn Radio Android app will also have it, so you can listen to the Chihuahuas worldwide.
Q: Did a lot of people listen on radio last year?
A lot of people listened. I even think they like listening when they’re here. There are people who have their headphones on at the game to listen to the radio. Now that’s a throwback. That’s the old-school baseball fan, which is pretty cool.
Q: Did last year’s revenues meet the expectations of the team and owners?
I can say that we are all very pleased with where we were, and I think we exceeded expectations for all of us.
Q: Are you projecting more income this year?
I’m blown away that the response from this town continues to be at a high level just like they’ve always shown us. We’re up on season ticket sales, which again is very unusual for a second-year team.
Q: What kind of interactions will the team and players have with youth leagues and, say, high school ball in El Paso this year?
We’re doing the Fred Loya High School baseball series here. We have 14 different high schools playing seven games at the ballpark, which is amazing to be able to do.
I’m stunned after two games at the number of people who have come to watch a high school game. Typically, you go to a high school baseball game and you’re lucky if there are 100 to 200 people here. We had a game here between Montwood and Americas the other night, and we think there were 1,200 to 1,500 people here.
It’s a big deal, having it in a pro ballpark. It’s the memory of a lifetime. I watched one of the kids the other night hit a double. That guy’s going to tell that story for the rest of his life.
Q: Has there been an increase in the interest in youth baseball in El Paso because of the Chihuahuas and all the baseball talk in town?
I think we’ve heard signs of that, just pointing at the Southwest Baseball League my own kids are in. Last year, they said their enrollment was higher than they’ve ever seen it. That was the first time we were here.
Could it be a coincidence? It could be. It could be also possible that the attention drawn to baseball brought some more kids to it.