Proposed Hot Springs Sports Complex Vs. Burns Park

PROPOSED BASEBALL SITE
Steve Arrison, CEO of Visit Hot Springs, left, Danny Herring, field supervisor for UMETCO, and David Longinotti, Hot Springs Advertising & Promotion Commission chairman, visit with media, at a closed mine to view a proposed sports complex site off of U.S. Highway 270 about a mile east of Hot Springs on March 27, 2013. Courtesy: WEHCO, Inc.

There has been a recent wellspring of news pieces extolling the benefits of a proposed regional sports complex east of Hot Springs.

The basic idea, espoused by the city’s advertising and promotion commission, is to buy at least 175 acres previously owned by a vanadium mining company (UMETCO) and turn the area off U.S. 270 into a gleaming citadel of youth sports.

How gleaming? Talk is it would be one of the finest sports complexes in the South.

Tentative plans, according to Hot Springs Sentinel Record, include “a signature youth baseball field with ‘spectacular views’ at the top of the site; two multipurpose fields that would accommodate four regulation fields; a ‘fourplex’ youth baseball area that would be the central focus of the complex, with four youth baseball fields; a group gathering area next to a heavily wooded area that could contain soft trails and accommodate mountain biking, interpretive stations, wildlife blinds, day camp activities, small pavilions and picnicking; and a high-point lookout.”

I agree: this sounds awesome. And – wait – it gets even more awesome/new fangle-y.

According to THV 11, this complex would include fields for flag football and lacrosse. Lacrosse? That sport which struggles to attract more than 31 Twitter followers in the state’s largest city? Expect any lacrosse fields to be used much more by lacrosse-saavy Tennesseans and Texans than Arkansans.

The complex would cater to visitors from out of state, after all. It would serve a conduit or these potential tourists to be funneled to nearby activities and sites such as the Hot Springs Historic Baseball Trail, a collection of historic markers commemorating the city’s early role in spring training for professional baseball.

Let’s assume the Garland County powers that be get what they want and this regional sports mecca gets underway.

A major question looms: what does it portend for North Little Rock’s Burns Park?

The 1,700-acre park  already includes a few sports complexes which host regional events.

Not to mention a 36-hole golf course, 36-hole disc golf course, soccer complex, tennis, trails, seasonal amusement park, archery range and a dog park.

The Burns Park baseball complex, just completed in 2012,  includes nine fields. Its soccer complex includes 17  irrigated fields, 1,500 parking spaces, tournament lighting on one quadrant, pavilions, 135 acres of preserved wetland, a three-mile hike/bike trail and is home to the UALR women’s soccer team.

It has hosted the nation’s biggest events in youth soccer: the 2006 & 2002 US Youth Soccer Southern Regional Championships as well as the 2008  US Youth Soccer National Championships.

And let’s not forget about the softball complex, which throws some serious heat with:

  • 5-fields
  • 20/30 regular play lighting
  • 30/50 tournament play lighting
  • Three window concession stand
  • Five scorekeeper rooms
  • Sports medicine room
  • Over 1,000 lighted parking spaces with concrete walkways.

If the Hot Springs sports complex is built, will that town’s leaders start locking horns with their NLR counterparts in attempts to attract top regional youth sports tournaments?

Consider that  in 2005 alone, more than 182,000 participants and spectators came to the Burns Park soccer complex. That’s a lot of tourist dollars – money that may soon go to Hot Springs instead of Little Rock and North Little Rock.

First Arkansan to Play in a Major Pro Basketball League?

I never took a historiology course in college.

But, from my time studying the past as it relates to Arkansas sports, I’ve come to realize that history – what truly, really happened – is like an ever-shifting shadow.

One moment, you feel you have the answers. And the next, you realize once again there is a vast ocean before you that on the best of days can only be illuminated a few feet down.

Case in point: Try answering the question “Who is the first Arkansan to play in an established major pro basketball league?”

Off the top of your head, you may think back to someone like Wayne Yates or Eddie Miles from the early 1960s. If you’re really good, you’ll recall Mel McGaha, who played for the New York Knicks in 1948.

If you’re among the best of the best, you’ll think about El Dorado’s Goose Tatum, the astoundingly entertaining and athletic baseball player who was so funny on the diamond he attracted the attention of Abe Saperstein, the owner of the Harlem Globetrotters. Tatum started playing for the renowned traveling basketball squad in 1941.

But the Globetrotters did not play within the confines of a structured league. They were free agents, playing who they could to make the most money.

Back to our original question: There is a possibility that a Mena native named Don Harvey, who played for the Sheboygan Red Skins in the National Basketball League (a precursor to the NBA), was technically the first Arkansan basketball “big-leaguer.”

And I do mean “technically.”

According to basketball-reference, Harvey appeared in all of one game in the 1945-46 season and accumulated no other stats.

I’d love to find out more about this guy, because it looks like close to nothing exists about him online. Indeed, the only way I know about him at all is by stumbling across his background on this Web site for basketball historians.

Harvey’s extreme obscurity highlights how tenuous any claims at “first” can be when writing about history.

There simply is no way to confirm him as the pioneer.  I can only hope someone proves that he isn’t, which helps us all edge closer to  a truth we can never actually reach…

JUNE 7 UPDATE: Well, it looks like Caleb Hardwick has stepped up to the researchers’ place and may just be the guy who pushes us closer to the truth. The resourceful Hardwick, who runs the outstanding Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia, dug into Harvey’s background and found it’s unlikely he ever lived in Alma before playing in the NBL. According to this obituary, Harvey was a Missouri man – born in Jefferson City, played for Mizzou. There’s no mention of an Arkansas connection in his obit, or in a Sheboygan newspaper account of his debut with the team.

So, for now, it looks like Mel McGaha remains the man. 

You almost made believers out of us, Don Harvey...
You almost made believers out of us, Don Harvey…

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Michael Jordan

I love this video. It’s amazing to think that Mount Mutombo would actually try to trash talk MJ like this, but apparently the man really thought he could keep from being posterized. Still, I’m sure Mutombo enjoyed some success denying MJ on other dunk attempts – I’d love to see a blocked dunks/completed dunk ratio of MJ vs. all the big men of the 90s – Shaq, Ewing, Mourning, Robinson, Mutombo, Olajuwon, etc.

Michael Dyer In His Year Out of Football

A time for healing
A time for healing

For many Arkansas football fans, Michael Dyer is one of the most polarizing sports figures around. As a senior at Little Rock Christian High School, he was the top ranked running back in the nation. Dyer, of course, chose Auburn and it didn’t appear as if the Razorbacks finished a close second.

For a while, it appeared as if Dyer had made the correct decision. Two straight 1,000 yard seasons and a BCS National Championship Game MVP award will make it seem that way. But things weren’t going nearly as smoothly off the field. Dyer was smoking synthetic marijuana, and apparently running with the wrong crowd. The wheels started coming off in spring 2011 when his gun was used during an armed robbery, the vehicle started smoking in winter 2012 after he was indefinitely suspended from Auburn and then released from his scholarship and the whole thing went up in flames last summer when he was released from Arkansas State after more bad news involving marijuana and a gun.

Given these events, it’s little wonder Dyer has lately stayed out of the public eye.

Since fall 2012, he’s attended Arkansas Baptist College, the oldest historically black college west of the Mississippi River, and is on track to earn his associate’s degree this summer in general studies, college president Fitz Hill told me.

Dyer has only given two interviews with mainstream media this year. In one this spring, with THV’s Mark Edwards, he says he would like an opportunity to walk on at the University of Arkansas. “I was asked to sit out [of football for] a year,” Dyer said on the broadcast. “I was asked to do a lot of changing and maturing to become a better person and a better football player. I spent this whole year doing exactly what I was asked to so that I could reach some of the goals that I knew later that I wanted to do.”

Perhaps Dyer figures out a way to overcome his apparent reliance on marijuana — there are, of course, inpatient treatment options for marijuana addicts — and ends up at a major college football program next season, looking to swing for the fences instead of suffering a third strike. Maybe he finds no major college is willing to take the risk. Either way, that college’s decision doesn’t ultimately matter nearly as much as whether Dyer has truly sought to become a better person this past year or not.

We talk about Dyer because of what he has done on the football field, in front of a thousand cameras and million eyes. But it’s the small decisions he’s made over the last year, the temptations he’s said “yes” or “no” when hardly anybody was around, that will more determine whether he thrives as a person or not.

Society may see Dyer’s “success” as football-based, but I hope Dyer has matured enough to know that the sport is of greatest benefit to him as a tool. If he is better now, if he has truly come around like he says he has, he will also be mature enough to be able to let go off football one day (possibly soon) and find success in whatever field he turns his mind to.

Because, as polarizing as Dyer has been for many football fans in this state who don’t know him, there are still a lot of people who do love him.

If you want proof, look at these pictures below. These pictures were taken last fall at a youth crime prevention program called the OK Program. Dyer was invited to share his story – the good, the bad and the ugly – with the teenagers who made up the audience.

He did, and he did a great job of it:

Dyer 3

Dyer 4

Dyer 10

These kids aren’t praying for Dyer because he ran for three touchdowns for their favorite football team. They probably wouldn’t care which college program he played for. All they know is that he was once so high, and in some ways has come so low. But with their prayers he can be lifted again.

And, if his words hit their hearts right, so can they.

If Dyer wants to succeed in life – on the field and off, he would do well to nourish his roots and remember to seek strength from those who choose to love him despite the helmet he wears.

A family comes in all forms.

How the Memphis Grizzlies Have Recently Owned the Miami Heat

grizzlies cover

This season’s Memphis squad has achieved plenty of franchise firsts – first to win 50 games, first to place three players on the all-defensive team and first to make a Sports Illustrated cover.

With one more win against Oklahoma City, the franchise also plays in the NBA’s Western Conference Finals for the first time.

Either possible opponent there – whether somewhat decrepit San Antonio or callow Golden State – looks very beatable. Which means it isn’t totally presumptuous for Memphis fans to fantasize about the Grizzlies’ first berth in the NBA Finals.

Its opponent there will likely be the juggernaut Miami Heat. These Heat, of course, use the all-around genius and physicality of LeBron James along with dead-eye three-point shooting to snap into most of their foes like they were mere Slim Jims.

The Grizzlies are anything but slim.

Indeed, you probably already know this Memphis team presents the most daunting obstacle to a Miami two-peat. The Griz are strongest – in the middle and on the boards – where Miami is weakest. And they play a grind-it-out style the Heat abhor.

Are there numbers to support this premise?

Hell yeah, there are.

The Grizzlies have played the Heat three times in the last two regular seasons. Memphis won two of the three contests. But in all three games Memphis gave Miami severe problems on offense and defense, in multiple areas.

Here’s a season-by-season breakdown:

2011-12

Source: NBA.com
Source: NBA.com

2012-13

Source: NBA.com
Source: NBA.com

Granted, the team personnel in each of these games was slightly different. There was a Rudy Gay still playing for Memphis here, a Dwayne Wade recovering from injury there.

But these graphs still give you a big picture idea of how  Memphis could easilylebron-james add another furrow or 40 to LeBron’s brow. In an increasingly data-driven industry like the NBA, the numbers speak for themselves.

Ranking SEC Athletic Programs By Revenue, Expenses & (Gasp!) Subsidies

Lots of goodies in USA Today’s recently released study of athletic revenue among all D1 sports programs. I thought it good to narrow the lens onto the SEC programs and see where Arkansas ranks among its conference brethren* in terms of pure, hard cash. So I wrote this piece for Sporting Life Arkansas looking at how well each school has performed in terms of total revenue and in football performance since 1992, when Arkansas joined the SEC.

Turns out, Arkansas is pretty middling in all the rankings, including win percentage (8th highest among the 14 current SEC members).

It stands out in one category, though: the degree to which it’s self sufficient. That is, how much money its athletic program nets when subsidies – money transferred from other parts of the university, student fees or state funds – aren’t considered.

In this category (labeled “Difference” below)  Arkansas ranks #2 for the 2011-12 year, only behind Texas A&M.

Category: 2012 Generated Revenue

What is Means: All the money the athletic program brings in, minus the amount given to the program in the form of
subsidies.

Alabama

$119,438,745

Florida

$116,415,649

LSU

$114,787,786

Texas A&M

$114,502,222

Tennessee

$101,884,286

Auburn

$101,734,643

Arkansas

$97,808,302

Georgia

$88,426,801

Kentucky

$87,546,280

South Carolina

$85,270,084

Mississippi State

$65,828,880

Mississippi

$49,692,777

Missouri

$48,783,721

Category: 2012 Total Expenses

What is means: Everything it takes to keep all sports within an athletic program running, from the salaries of swimming coaches  to the Wendy’s receipts on those football recruiting trips through Houston.

Alabama

$108,204,867

Florida

$105,102,198

LSU

$101,989,116

Tennessee

$101,292,015

Auburn

$96,315,831

Georgia

$88,923,561

South Carolina

$84,963,037

Kentucky

$84,929,819

Arkansas

$82,470,473

Texas A&M

$81,792,118

Mississippi State

$67,926,160

Missouri

$66,980,889

Mississippi

$51,708,064

Category: 2012 Difference

What it means: The difference between a program’s generated revenue and total expenses. This is a strong signal of whether a program is self-sufficient or not. Put another way, in the chart below, Ayn Rand would be proud of those programs in the black and would frown on those in the red.

Texas A&M $32,710,104
Arkansas $15,337,829
LSU $12,798,670
Florida $11,313,451
Alabama $11,233,878
Auburn $5,418,812
Kentucky $2,616,461
Tennessee $592,271
South Carolina 307,047
Georgia ($496,760)
Mississippi ($2,015,287)
Mississippi State ($2,097,280)
Missouri ($18,197,168)

Continue reading Ranking SEC Athletic Programs By Revenue, Expenses & (Gasp!) Subsidies

Best Out-of-Staters to Play For an Arkansas Baseball Team

Arkansas has been home to quite a few all-world caliber baseball players who swoop into the state for a year or two before jumping off to far bigger stages – and achievements – in the major leagues.

Without a doubt, Mike Trout is the  poster boy for this kind of star in the 21st century. Big boy starred with the Arkansas Travelers in 2011 before breaking out as an All-Star rookie outfielder with the Los Angeles Angels last season.

A hundred years before Trout, the 5’7″, 150-pound pitcher Dickey Kerr was tearing it up in Paragould in the ol’ Northeast Arkansas League. His ascent into major league stardom wasn’t as fast as Trout’s, but at one point in the 1919 World Series Kerr was the most celebrated athlete in the United States. His unstained hands during the biggest scandal in baseball history would make him an even more revered figure.

Who, though, were the best non-Arkies* to play with an Arkansas team besides Kerr and Trout?

After conferring with sportswriters Jim Harris and Jeff Reed, as well as the Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia‘s Caleb Hardwick, here are some top candidates, in no particular order:

*Although Bill Dickey was born in Louisiana, I consider him an Arkie.

Ferguson Jenkins stamp
Ferg Nation

1. Ferguson Jenkins – pitcher

Played in Arkansas 1963, 64, 65 before heading to Philadelphia, Chicago, Texas and Boston. A three-time All-Star and the 1971 Cy Young Award winner. In 1991, Jenkins became the first Canadian to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

2. Ray Lankford – centerfielder

Played in Arkansas in 1989 before heading to St. Louis for a 14-year career with the Cardinals. A one-time All-Star, Lankford posted five seasons of 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases with the Cardinals (1992, 1995-1998) – the only player in franchise history to accomplish the feat more than once, according to Wikipedia.

dickie allen
Allen smoked some comp, too.

3. Richie Allen – third baseman

Played in Arkansas in 1963 before absolutely blowing the ceiling off what rookies were thought to be able to accomplish in Philadelphia. Led the league  in runs (125), triples (13), extra base hits (80) and total bases (352); he finished in the top five in batting average (.318), slugging average (.557), hits (201), and doubles (38), says Wikipedia.  A seven-time All-Star, winner of the 1972 AL MVP.

4. Tris Speaker

Played in Arkansas in 1908 a year after making his major league debut for the Red Sox.

“Compiled a career batting average of .345 (sixth all-time), and still holds the record of 792 career doubles. Defensively, his career records for assists, double plays, and unassisted double plays by an outfielder still stand,” says Wikipedia. Was a three-time World Series champion with Boston (as a player) and Cleveland (as a manager). 

Continue reading Best Out-of-Staters to Play For an Arkansas Baseball Team

Another “Joe Johnson Is Very Big In China: A Love Story” Epilogue

You BET there's a story behind this.
You BET there’s a story behind this.

Over the last three years, I’ve had the pleasure of communicating with China’s No. 1 Joe Johnson fan, Yonsan Johnson. We’ve long discussed how his life and his Joe Johnson Fan Club would make a good subject for an article. Today, that story published here.

Below are some of his most recent e-mails to me. In them, you’ll see despair over the fact that Joe hasn’t replied to Tweets in a couple of years, but later you’ll also see hope – hope that Joe will help lift the Nets past the Bulls in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.

Tonight is Game 6. Brooklyn’s in Chicago, down 3-2. If Joe finally turns it on and helps the Nets topple the Bulls, expect the Chinese Joe Johnson Fan Club’s numbers to swell.

Feb 11
Hi, Evin.
how u doing?
I’m now at home with my family for the Chinese new year.

today i am writing to you just wanna talk about my recent feeling about “be a fan of Joe Johnson”.

how time flies, since that gift(Great progress on it) sent to Johnson… lost, dissappointment…
on may 18th, 2011… I found his twitter, gave him some tweets… he replyed…
after that, I would like to tweet to him… supports, greetings, just liked a friend… an ordinary friend…
I showed him the video mix links as well…
I aslo sent him some tweets on SPRING FESTIVAL’S EVE and today…. but, he never gave me the reply…
I don’t know what I was doing wrong, or why he ignored me…

at least… how can you treat your fans like that?

everytime I told myself:”Just do your best, he will know that one day…”
but… everytime you got dissappointment… even… the despair…

I’m now thinking about to give up… maybe… I’ve been doing the useless things…

OK, I can’t say to much now, it is to late…

Evin…
If one day you got the chance to meet Joe Johnson, please tell him…
he used to have a big supporter in China… really loyalty supporter…

Continue reading Another “Joe Johnson Is Very Big In China: A Love Story” Epilogue