Went Hubbard's legacy leaves bright future for Drillers
BY BARRY LEWIS World Sports Writer
Sunday, September 16, 2012
9/16/12 at 6:09 AM
Related story: Drillers have their most successful season in years.
Big changes aren't expected for the Tulsa Drillers after the recent death of owner Went Hubbard.
Hubbard died at age 83 on Sept. 8 in a hospital in Keene, N.H., after an extended illness. A memorial service was held Tuesday in Walpole, N.H.
Hubbard, who was elected to the Texas League's Hall of Fame in 2006, purchased the Drillers from the Texas Rangers in December 1986 and controlled the team until selling majority ownership to Chuck Lamson in 2006. He remained as a minority owner until controlling interest was purchased back from Lamson late in 2010. Hubbard's sons, Dale and Jeff, have since operated the Drillers as co-chairmen while Went Hubbard was not actively involved in the past two seasons.
"Dale and Jeff are excited to get back to work," Drillers general manager Mike Melega said. "We're already talking about next season, exchanging thoughts and ideas. We're full steam ahead."
Despite his death, Went Hubbard continues to have a strong impact on the Drillers.
"He's still the most driving influence on how we operate," Melega said. "Every day we think of Went and how we would do things. Most of us (in the front office) learned from him. His influence will live on."
The highest three seasons of attendance in Tulsa's pro baseball history, which dates to 1905, have been the first three seasons at ONEOK Field, which opened in 2010. This year's regular-season total of 372,624 ranks second behind the 408,183 drawn in 2010. The 2011 total was 366,291. Before ONEOK Field was built, the record was 351,929 in 1999.
"If it wasn't for Went, we would never have been in a position to build the new ballpark," Lamson said. "He made it possible because of the good image the Drillers have in the community. Before he left, he thought the idea of a downtown ballpark was crucial to Tulsa baseball's long-term success. His handprint is still all over the Drillers.
"He was a smart businessman who loved baseball. He was a generous man who grew to love this community. The old ballpark (Drillers Stadium) cost only $1.8 million originally. He invested in Tulsa with $6 million in improvements to that ballpark."
Lamson sees a bright future for the Drillers.
"Dale and Jeff are doing good things," Lamson said. "One of their driving forces is to honor their father by continuing his legacy."
Although the front office is still developing plans for 2013, Melega said it is likely the Drillers will increase the number of fireworks shows.
Not only did the Drillers have a strong 2012 at the gate, but their 75-64 record matched 2006 as the team's best since their last pennant in 1998. Tulsa's two playoff wins doubled its total from the previous nine years as the Colorado Rockies' Double-A affiliate. Tulsa won the North Division first-half title and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
"It was the most successful and fun year we've had with the Rockies," Melega said. "It was a wonderful season, and hosting the All-Star Game ranks with the Rockies exhibition (in 2011) ranks as our biggest events at ONEOK Field."
The only disappointment for the Drillers in 2012 was losing the North Division finals to Springfield in a series that went the full five games.
"We knew it would be a tough, close series and it was," Drillers manager Duane Espy said. "We should've won that first night when we had the 6-0 lead, but the funny thing is there wasn't anything in the key moments that I look back on and think I would do it differently. It just didn't work out."
The playoffs were a continuation of a great season series with Springfield as the teams split 36 games.
Shortstop Josh Rutledge was the Drillers' top player and was called up by the Rockies in mid-July. Third baseman Nolan Arenado, who was expected to be with Tulsa for only a month or two before going to the majors, spent the entire season with the Drillers. He struggled at times but was the TL's player of the month for August. Arenado finished at .285 with 12 homers and 56 RBIs. He was tied for fourth in the TL in hits (147), tied for second in doubles (36) and led in sacrifice flies (10).
"It can be tough being in the spotlight like he was, and I was glad to see him the season on a positive note," Espy said. "He showed a lot of character and class."
Catcher Lars Davis was the only Tulsa position player on the end-of-the-season all-star team, After two years as a backup, he batted .287 with nine homers and 43 RBIs.
"He had a solid year offensively and defensively," Espy said. "He was consistent and a great competitor."
Outfielder Corey Dickerson, a mid-season callup from Single-A Modesto, and second baseman Angelys Nina, also were success stories for the Drillers. Dickerson batted .274 with 13 homers in 67 games and Nina batted .269 with 52 RBIs. Nina had a hot finish after batting only .205 in the first two months.
Tulsa's pitching staff led the TL with a 3.36 ERA, well ahead of runner-up Arkansas at 3.81. The Drillers had three starters among the top 10 in ERA - Dan Houston (3.74), Bishop Kelley graduate Parker Frazier (3.88) and Joe Gardner (3.97). Two others - end-of-season all-star Edwar Cabrera (2.94) and Nick Schmidt (3.28) - were in the top 10 when they were promoted. Gardner was third in the TL in WHIP (1.21) and fifth in lowest batting average allowed (.246). Josh Sullivan (17) and Coty Woods (16) were among the top five in saves. Woods had a 0.76 ERA. It was a contrast from 2011 when a shaky bullpen kept the team from a playoff berth.
"What I'll remember most about this team is the strength of their character and how resilient they were," Espy said. "This was probably the most enjoyable season that I've had in a long time."
Espy would look forward to a third season as the Drillers' manager.
"I'd love to come back," Espy said. "We'll wait and see what the Rockies have planned. Tulsa is an enjoyable place for me to work and live."
Original Print Headline: Hubbard's legacy leaves bright future for Drillers
Barry Lewis 918-581-8393
Brothers Jeff and Dale Hubbard hope to honor their father by continuing his legacy. Drillers owner Went Hubbard died recently after an extended illness. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World file