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COVER STORY: Take me back to the ballgame


As the Oklahoma City RedHawks get ready for their season, a look back at Goodtime Baseball in OKC.

Kelley Chambers April 1st, 2014

As a young advertising executive, Patty Cox Hampton Roloff didn’t aspire to one day own a baseball team.

“Heavens no,” she said. “I never even thought about it.”

An interesting series of events, however, led her to working for the Oklahoma City 89ers baseball team in the mid-1970s and eventually to positions in management and then as owner of the team, twice.

People have played baseball — from loosely organized to semiprofessional teams — in Oklahoma City since the Land Run of 1889, which has led to today’s Oklahoma City RedHawks. The team begins its season on April 3.

American spirit
One era that stands out began in 1976 with the introduction of Goodtime Baseball.

Roloff owned Cox Advertising Agency with her future husband, Bing Hampton, when they were hired by 89ers owner Harry Valentine to rebrand the ailing team. On opening night 1976, Goodtime Baseball was born. Roloff said the concept was

simple: offer the hottest hot dogs and the coldest beer in town in an affordable and family-friendly environment. Hampton, a marketing whiz, came up with promotions to get people to the games.

Ron Norick, Oklahoma City mayor from 1987 until 1998, said Roloff and Hampton knew how to run a team and kept it prosperous and the seats filled despite hard economic times here in the 1980s.

“When Patty and Bing had the 89ers, they did a really good job promoting the team,” Norick said.

As the team prospered, Roloff moved up in the ranks. She started in 1975 as advertising manager and became the first female general manager in the history of minor league baseball in 1977. By 1978, she and Hampton had bought the team.

“I had fallen in love with the game and the business, and we were the only game in town,” she said.

Goodtime Baseball prospered into the ’80s. It didn’t win every game, but Roloff made sure fans had fun.

The owners helped the good times along by replacing the team mascot and bringing Major League Baseball teams to the city.

A decade prior, a mascot in a cowboy hat would fire a shotgun from the field.

“Half of the fans thought he was great, and half of the fans didn’t like it; it scared them to death,” Roloff said.

The cowboy was replaced with the affable Abner 89er, a player with a bushy black mustache, a pronounced chin and an oversized head with an 89ers cap perched on top.

The 89ers were the AAA team for the Philadelphia Phillies, which played a popular exhibition game here each year. The tradition continued when the 89ers became the farm club for the Texas Rangers.

Hampton fell ill, and Roloff sold the 89ers in 1990. In the mid-’90s she purchased a piece of the team and was involved in its transition to the RedHawks but sold again a few years later. Looking back at that time, she has nothing but fond memories of bringing Goodtime Baseball to the fans.

“It was wonderful to provide this to those who love baseball and for families,” she said.

A new home
The 89ers’ home, All Sports Stadium, was built at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds in the early 1960s. Thirty years later, it had long outlived its purpose. Norick said the head of AAA baseball at that time informed owners around the country that baseball facilities had to meet certain standards if they hoped to continue.

“Our facility didn’t meet any of that, and it didn’t even meet our own electrical and plumbing codes,” Norick said. “We either had to rebuild and modify it or relocate it even to be able to keep our franchise.”

The answer came in a proposal for a new stadium, which was included in the first Metropolitan Area Project (MAPS) proposal. It called for a new stadium to be built in Bricktown.

“I did not want to lose our only professional sports franchise in the city,” Norick said.

Voters approved MAPS. The $34 million AT&T Bricktown Ballpark, now Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, opened in 1998. The last game played at All Sports Stadium was in August 1997. It was later torn down.

Diamond Girl

No Oklahoma City 89ers game was complete without the Diamond Girls. The peppy group of dancers greeted fans at the gate and even passed out nightly giveaway items.

During games, the girls mingled with fans, posed for photos and performed dance routines at the bottom of the third and seventh innings.

Being a Diamond Girl is still a source of pride for Lisa Liebl. Fresh from Kingfisher in the late ’80s, Liebl saw a newspaper ad for dancer auditions. She had not heard of the 89ers but decided to take a chance. She knew the odds were probably against her.

“I was from a small town and had no formal dance training,” she said.

At a Bethany audition, hundreds of girls vied for a place on the squad. She reluctantly went in, made the cut and then went back for a second round.

Liebl made the squad and, in 1988, suited up as a KXY Diamond Girl with 13 others.

She soon was caught up in the energy and excitement of performing at baseball games.

“The atmosphere of a baseball game is unmatched,” she said.

The girls were paid $25 per game. “The routines were very choreographed and structured,” she said. She auditioned again the following year and made the team. While it was fun, keeping a place on the squad was challenging, and there were rules of conduct.

“You were not allowed to date players,” she said with a laugh. “Obviously, some girls broke that rule.”

After her final stint in uniform in 1990, she moved to a front office job for two more seasons just to be close to the game.

“The people I met there have become long-lasting friends, true friends,” she said.

Capra Connection

Nick Capra is a name familiar to 89ers fans. Capra, originally from Denver, attended the University of Oklahoma and played baseball there until he was drafted by the Texas Rangers in 1979. Since then, his career path has been all about baseball.

Capra started his baseball career with the Tulsa Drillers and ended up in here in 1983. Over the next decade, he spent the majority of his field time in an 89ers uniform. He also played with the Texas Rangers, the Kansas City Royals and minor league teams.

“The nature of this business is to get from one level to the next and, hopefully, to the major league level,” he said. “I was always in it to win a baseball game, whether I was in Little League or the big leagues.”

Capra left the 89ers in 1991 and retired from playing in 1995. Then, he went to work for the Chicago White Sox.

“This is what I chose to do, and if I had the opportunity to stay in the game of baseball, that’s what I wanted to do,” he said.

He is in his third year as director of player development with the White Sox and his 19th year overall. “I’m overseeing player development and the coaching staff and putting people in place where they need to be” at all levels of the game, he said.

Capra lives in Arizona. He has many fond memories of his years with the 89ers and the decade that he called OKC his home.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “There was a lot of coming and going, but you establish a lot of relationships that last forever. That’s the beauty of the game of baseball.”

++


RedHawks

The Oklahoma City RedHawks begin the 2014 season on April 3 in Round Rock, Texas. The first home game is April 11 versus New Orleans. Learn more at milb.com.

APRIL HOME GAMES
April 11-14
versus New Orleans Zephyrs
April 24-27
versus Nashville Sounds
April 28-30 versus Round Rock Express

 
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