BY MATT LaWELL
TULSA, Oklahoma | Like most fathers with a son somewhere in the minor leagues, Duane Espy follows his son online in large thanks to box scores and occasional radio broadcasts. He checks in every night on a sturdy black laptop, leaves team and player pages open for an hour, sometimes more. Makes him smile at the end of long days.
Unlike most fathers with a son somewhere in the minor leagues, though, Espy follows his son, Dean, from deep inside another park. Dean is a young first baseman for the Kane County Cougars, in his first full season. Duane is the manager of the Tulsa Drillers, a baseball lifer with more than four decades in the game. Their home parks are separated by little other than 700 miles and Missouri, but schedules packed every day with batting practice, meetings and games allows for little opportunity for either to watch the other.
"You would like to be there and be watching and be a part of it, but it’s nice to be able to follow it and know what he’s doing and keeping track of how things are going.” — Tulsa manager Duane Espy on his son, Kane County first baseman Dean Espy
“The last time I saw him play in person was toward the end of spring training in March,” Duane says from behind his desk inside ONEOK Field, that black laptop open. “He played a night game and we played a day game, so I drove out to his complex and watched him play. You would like to be there and be watching and be a part of it, but it’s nice to be able to follow it and know what he’s doing and keeping track of how things are going.”
An opportunity might have knocked this season, two or three days together during the Texas League all-star break to talk more than the few minutes they share every night. But the Drillers served as the host for the league all-star game and Duane was called to manage the North Division. That slapped any idea of a road trip right off the table.
Now the only shot they might have to see each other before the end of the season is a promotion. The Drillers are a Colorado Rockies affiliate, part of the Texas League, two steps from the Majors. The Cougars are a Kansas City Royals affiliate, part of the Midwest League, two steps from the Texas League. “I will see him in September unless somehow, someway he gets promoted to the Northwest Arkansas Naturals,” Duane says. “Then we’ll see each other sooner.”
That might also be the only way Duane switches his normal rooting interests. “My favorite team is obviously whatever team I’m with,” he says. “My second-favorite team is whatever team he’s with. And that’s it. That’s it.”
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Time for minor league trivia. Before the Drillers moved north from Shreveport, Louisiana, in time for the first pitch of the 1977 season, minor league teams in Tulsa played under what regional moniker every season for almost six decades? (Keep reading for the answer.)
Lefty Edwar Cabrera allowed a single hit over seven shutout innings, leftfielder Chris Dickerson homered in the second Double-A at-bat of his career and the Drillers rolled to a 6-0 win over the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. The Drillers scored their first run before the Naturals recorded their first out, thanks to back-to-back doubles by second baseman Josh Rutledge and shortstop Angelys Nina and never trailed on their way to their second straight win and a series sweep.
The Texas League All-Star Game returned to Tulsa for the first time since 1999, though without so much of the offense for which the league is famous. Tulsa third baseman Nolan Arenado doubled home Springfield second baseman Kolten Wong, then scored after Springfield centerfielder Oscar Tavares homered to right on the next pitch to provide the North Division with all the offense it needed in a 3-1 win over the South. This was the seventh league all-star game held in Tulsa — after 1999, 1990, 1982, 1981, 1962 and the first in the history of the league back in 1936.
Tucked in a corner of the second floor of ONEOK Field is a larger-than-life Mickey Mantle statue, captured in the middle of his majestic swing, all carved from a single column of wood. Why honor a Yankees legend and Hall of Famer in eastern Oklahoma? Because The Mick was raised in Commerce, less than 100 miles from where the Drillers play today. Both the Drillers and the Oklahoma City RedHawks, who play about 200 miles from Commerce, pay homage to Mantle in and around their parks.
Want the answer? The Oilers called Tulsa home from 1919 until 1942, then again from 1946 until 1976, in the Western League, Texas League, Pacific Coast League and old American Association. For those of you scoring at home, that makes 93 years of oil-related nicknames.
And in random statistical news, the game started five minutes late, the first pitch was a strike, the first batter popped out to first in foul ground and a recording trumpeted the national anthem in 1 minute and 23.6 seconds. We ate deli meat on hamburger buns and a handful of ridiculously large cookie. We went over our allotted calories that night.
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