The Handle S2E1: “That’s Right, They’re Called the Sod Poodles”

– [Narrator] This
week on The Handle. Get an inside look at
the home run success of Amarillo’s new
Double-A baseball team. And hear an exclusive
version of the Soddies theme song. All of this right
now on Panhandle PBS. As we tell the stories
of the Texas Panhandle. (upbeat music) – Baseball is America’s sport. It is that way because
it was invented here but also because we’ve
all partaken in it. Whether it’s girls
softball, whether it’s little league baseball, whether
it’s high school sports. Even throwing in the
backyard with our parents. I’m Tony Ensor, President
& General Manager of your Amarillo Sod Poodles
baseball club. Basically I was a college
athlete, I was playing baseball and injuries took the
baseball, the physical side of things away from me. A buddy of mine, his dad
was a general manager of the Chattanooga
Lookouts and they had an opening for a job
on the grounds crew. So that was mid-80s. I went out there, my first
day on the grounds crew, been working all day,
off a sudden they open the gates, you smell the
hotdogs, the popcorn, the people piling in and I
fell in love with the sport and I’ve been doing
it ever since. – I grew up a big
Mets fan in New York. I would go to Shea
Stadium as a kid and I would go in
high school alone. I bet I was the only
kid in my high school going to Shea Stadium
on the train alone and watching games,
I had an ear bud in listening to Howie
Rose and Gary Cohen. That’s where my love for
the game really started. I’m Sam Levitt, I’m the
director of broadcasting for the Director of Sod
Poodles, also known as the voice of the Sod Poodles. You know what, I say
my number one team is the Sod Poodles
and my number two team is the Padres,
because we have to pay a lot of attention to them. But I always keep an eye on the
Mets and what they’re doing. I think it’s OK to keep
your eye on different teams. – My love for baseball
definitely started
at a young age. It was the sport I always
loved playing the most and certainly found
the most promise in. My name is Travis Radke,
I’m a left hand pitcher in the San Diego Padres
Organization, I’m currently stationed here at the
Double-A affiliate at the Amarillo Sod Poodles. I got started about 6
months earlier that normal when I was 4 and a half
years old playing a little winter ball with my dad. He brought me up
and helped me out through a lot of it,
and basically told me go after it as hard as you can, follow your dreams and don’t
let anyone tell you you can’t. – Affiliate baseball is amazing which is obviously what
the Sod Poodles are because you get to
see that growth. You get to see that kid
sign out of high school or his first year out of college and you get to see
him grow and mature and we nurture that talent
in order to get those guys to the big league level. That’s why it’s called
a farm system because they are sent down on
the farm and they grow within the system
to finally get up to the big leagues where all
that talent is harvested. – The game of baseball
it’s always about getting to the next
level and there’s always gonna be challenges and
adversity and people saying, you can’t do
this or you can’t do that or you’re good
here but not here. That never changes no
matter how high you get up so you’ve gotta be able
to fight through that. I was fortunate enough to
be drafted by the Padres in 2014 out of the
University of Portland, been playing with
them ever since. – So when a kid signs out
of high school or college he goes to short season
in the Padres system. If he does well there,
he’ll go up to rookie level. If he does well there,
he’ll go up to the High-A. If he does well there,
he’ll go up to Double-A, Triple-A and onto
the major league. By the time a player
gets to Amarillo he’s been a professional
athlete some of them 2, 3, 4 years. – I think the really
cool thing about the Sod Poodles on top
of the new stadium, in a new minor league city
and all the excitement is that you’re seeing the
future stars of tomorrow here today. You’re seeing future big
leaguers, future all stars maybe even a future
hall of famer. When those big league guys
come down whether it’s at home or on the road, it’s special. – I had to get
surgery back in 2016, it pretty much took
me out of that year and I’ve been
grinding my way back to move up as high as
possible throughout the minor league system. I was fortunate enough to
have a really good season last year and the year
before and this year ended up breaking with
our high affiliate in Lake Elsinore,
California, and after about four games there made
my chance to get up here in Double-A and
I’ve been enjoying my experience ever since. – What happens at the
major league level, if a player gets injured,
it could be an injury, it could be he just needs time
down in the minor leagues, you can’t just have an
injury and do your rehab and all of a sudden
step into a major league ballpark and perform well. By and large most of them
need that extra time. They need to see 95
to 100 miles an hour on a three, four, five
game basis just to get that baseball rhythm back. A lot of times you’ll
find a hitter for instance may have a hole in his swing. Rather than work on
that hole in his swing if it’s a slider on the
outside part of the plate, they’ll send him
down here to work on that specific detail. Or it may be fielding
or it may be pitching, whatever the detail is,
they will send that player down to the minors
because it’s a lot easier for him to do it
under the microscope of Minor League baseball
than to do it under the microscope of
Major League baseball. – The science of
the baseball field of all the construction
that has gone on all the rebar, all the
concrete, all the technology side of things, one
of the more intricate things in a ballpark
is that field, because that’s the
player’s office. The clubhouse is their
home away from home. They have a clubhouse
manager who is basically their mom and their dad
who takes care of them when they’re here. But when they come
out of that tunnel they’re going to work.
They need to be perfect, they need to be working. The height of the grass,
we try to keep the grass at 5/8 of an inch,
different growing periods and weather affect all that. You’re keeping moisture
in the infield, that’s not done very
easily depending on the heat of the day and the
wind that’s out there. When I say things are
constantly changing, they’re literally constantly
changing by the hour. To everything from
the pitcher’s mound the slope, it has to be perfect. As a matter of fact,
Major League Baseball has facility standards that
we have to meet on that. So the bases have to be
this far apart exactly. The mound has to
be sloped exactly. That was done really to
hold everybody accountable, to make sure that when
these guys are going from city to city, they’re
playing on the same basic structure. We have a tremendous
grounds crew, they do an amazing job
of making that field the best workplace environment these guys can possibly have. Because if there’s
a bad hop out there, if there’s one
stone in the infield that baseball will find it
and it will take a bad hop. It could injure a player,
it certainly could affect the game by causing
an error that wouldn’t allow it to run its course. This is one of the
most modern high-tech ballparks in the country
— it is, by far. I think it’s one of the
top ones in the country. We have 142 televisions
in the ballpark. There are 108 beer
taps in the ballpark. The architect is Populus
and our builder is Western Hunt, did an
amazing job along with our partners with the city, to
create a social environment. The patio on the suites,
that’s not done in any other ballpark. There’s a couple ballparks
that have one or two patios, but most of them
are that tiered structure where you have 10 seats
out in the balcony and only about five guys my
size can actually fit out there. We have great hospitality
areas, down in the field where you are
literally in the field. The other homestand
about a week ago I saw a player going
into the patio area. So literally he could
grab a bite of hot dog and catch a ball
at the same time you’re that close to the field. We have Coterie suites
up on the concourse, you have four of those,
six dugouts suites right behind home plate. The dugout suites are
unique for the fact that the entire area behind
home plate is for our fans. Again, there’s a couple
ballparks that have a couple dugout suites,
but no one in the country has dugout-to-dugout
suite accessibility. When I say that you’re down
there close to the field, you’re 30 feet from
the net to home plate. Again you can hear the ball
whistle through the air. You see the speed of it,
you see the break of it. The one thing I really
love most about this ballpark is the
360-walking track. You may have seats
over here but the view is from everywhere
in the ballpark. You can capture every
single one of them. I have a lot of season
ticket holders that have great seats over here
but I see them out by Bar 352 or out in center
field and right field catching the cityscape. The unique thing about
Bar 352 and where the name came from was
from the tip of home plate is 352 feet to the Coors
Light tap at Bar 352. So yes, there are many
balls that are hit 352, some are hit more. We’ve had many fly over the bar. We’ve had some fly
over the scoreboard. They’re told to pay
attention to the game. That’s right down
the left field line. You’re gonna have a lot
of home runs down there. – If I had to duck, you
know we’ve had a couple of foul balls come pretty close. None in my radio booth. I think we had one go to
the suites at the right of the writers’ area,
and then we had one hit the top of the window in
the visiting radio booth. But I haven’t — I thought we
would have more close calls because the angle
the press box is at you’re on the first base side. But so far we have not
had any one come close. I’m ready, I don’t
have a glove up here but if it comes up here
I’m ready to make a play and hopefully
they’ll sign me and get me at short stop. – When you look at the
ballpark you have to think of it almost like
a restaurant experience. We’re averaging
6,000 people a game. I don’t know of too
many restaurants in town that are feeding 6,000 people
within a three-hour period. We have a three-pound
hamburger so you can actually slice that thing up and have it for
a family of five. We have all the brats
and the hots and the popcorn and the nachos. Speaking of nachos, we
have a nacho in a helmet. It’s a massive, it’s a
full-size adult helmet that is full of nachos,
cheese, all your different vegetables and
things that you need, different meats and
everything else. We ordered 3,000 of those
helmets to begin the season thinking that it
would get us through most of the season. We ran out of those helmets
in the first seven days. – My dad actually
got to visit me only a couple of weeks ago
so it was a really cool experience to have him here. He couldn’t believe
the fans and the town. Whether we were
going out to dinner we were at the hotel, we
were with an Uber driver everybody could not stop
talking about the Sod Poodles and how excited they are and
how many games they go to. Also I had the chance
to have my wife out here as well and she said
they same thing. They had the privilege of
getting to come watch me play a lot and see a lot of
different ballparks and they were really
impressed with everything that they have done here. – When we were
putting this together I remember traveling to
Kansas City to Populous where our architects
are located. I said, I’ve been
to a lot of parks, I have many parks that I’ve run. The best park I’ve
ever seen from a sound system standpoint is
not a baseball park it’s Disney World. So I said, within
our budget, now, within our budget, can
we create that theme of a Disney World park
where you go every step you take you’re being picked
up by the sound everywhere. Henderson was actually
our architect on the sound system portion of
things and they did a great job. You don’t miss anything
in this ballpark, you’re constantly engaged. One thing that
people don’t like, when they have to
be into the ballpark and wait in line. If you’re in line, you’re
missing part of the game. We do have closed-circuit
TV at every concession stand, so you’re
not gonna miss the game, but you’re gonna
miss that live feel. We’ve worked really
hard to create enough points of sale
within the ballpark where people don’t
have to wait in line. – My job is to paint a
picture of what’s going on. So that’s the players,
the atmosphere, the smell of the hot
dogs, the crack of the bat the way the grass looks,
the way the skyline looks here in the Panhandle. You want to bring
people into the game so when they’re
listening on the radio, when they’re watching on TV, they feel like they’re there and they are a part of it. I think part of my
job is to create this special connection
especially here at the inaugural season of this team. It’s a hard but also
exciting and challenging journey all in one. I bounce around a lot. I’ve lived in St. Louis,
I’ve lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, I’ve lived here. On the off seasons I
live somewhere else. There’s a lot of uncertainty
that comes with it, really, season by season. As you try to move up, as you
try to continue to develop and figure things out. It’s like any business
you’re trying to move up. The difference is in
sport broadcasting it can take you
literally anywhere. – It’s a very unique experience. Minor league baseball is
exciting, fun and torturous all at the same time, but
that’s why you’re here, that’s why you love it. It’s a very unique job
description where you can basically be fired at
any time for any reason. And you can be promoted
or demoted for any reason. Suddenly you have
a whole new town, and a whole new family, and
a whole new group of friends. You’ve gotta learn
to acclimate quickly. But the game never changes,
no matter where you’re at. – A lot of people
think it’s the glamour and glitz of being in
professional sports. But there are long hour days. Our days and hours are
dictated by the schedule in a lot of ways. – With the travel,
with the crazy hours, I mean, I got here
at 7 am this morning, I will probably not
leave til after midnight. Sure it’s tough sometimes,
but it’s so exciting and there are still
moments where this job gives me goosebumps. A big moment, a big call
— the stadium is rocking. That’s priceless. That’s an amazing
feeling and I don’t think there are many jobs you
can find that give you the type of feeling,
that type of emotion. – We bus literally
from after the game, the game starts at 7,
generally over by 10:30. If it’s a road trip
day then we’re on a bus about 12:30 traveling overnight. We have a sleeper bus
and we have a regular 54 passenger bus so our
guys travel as best you possibly can on the road. – Every league is a
bus league until you get up to Triple-A and
when you count the way they do their flights up there, they’re almost even longer. We manage to do pretty
well through it. Kincade and the Sod
Poodles have done an amazing job at putting us
up, getting us a sleeper bus where we can have
almost 18 or 20 cots mixed in there for
the long trips, like the 10-12 hour
trip to Corpus Christi. But, bus league is just a
part of Minor League baseball. You might have to
ride for 10 hours and get in at 8 am and be at
the field within three hours and find a way to be competitive
and successful there. Just have to remind
yourself that everybody else is having to do it
at the same time. – When we’re at home and
when we’re on the road are usually two
different things. I’ll tell you when
we’re at home. I usually get here
sometime in the morning. Every day is a
little bit different. Start getting ready for
the game that night. That entails getting
my score book ready, getting our interviews ready. Cutting the audio and the
video the night before that I need to
cut and get ready, the content we post. There’s a lot of
different things, because I consider myself
more than a play-by-play broadcaster and more
than just doing our games on radio and on TV. – We had so many people
that wanted to be our radio broadcaster. So we literally had hundreds
of resumes and tapes and video to go over. It had to be someone who
was strong in social media. It had to be someone
who was strong in video. It had to be someone who
was a student of the game, really studied and
got all the stats and knew how to work
the inside stories. Really had a culture,
and understanding of the culture of the
game but had all this technical side along
with it as well. We had our finalists
of those 100 people were five people and
they all would have been extremely
successful at being the inaugural broadcaster
for the Sod Poodles but there was
something about Sam and the way he delivers a game. – It’s getting here early
and getting stuff done, the video side, the audio side. As far as interviews and
social media content. I’m really active
on social media. Then as the day goes on,
the players get here, go down to the clubhouse,
get the lineup, talk to the players,
go on the field for batting practice,
talk to the guys, find out what’s going on. 6:00 rolls around
6:25 rolls around, I go down to the field
to have my pregame show down there, come
up here and have my radio pregame show. The beautiful thing
about baseball is it’s everyday and at 7:05,
here comes the pitch and the game is
underway and away we go until the final pitch
of the night is thrown and my radio postgame
show is over, I go. I know it was a couple
of hundred applicants, these Minor League
Baseball broadcasting jobs, believe it or not, are coveted. They’re really special,
a lot people want them. I was super lucky to get
hired here in Amarillo and here I am. Out of all my options for
2019 and the next step I was trying to take
on my baseball career and in broadcasting in general it became really
clear that Amarillo was the best place for me
and they offered me the job. – We were with the San
Antonio Missions and we weren’t quite sure where
we were gonna go at first. We had two other
possible options. With Chattanooga and
Pensacola and obviously Amarillo was bringing
up a new affiliate but it could have been
between a couple different affiliated teams that
could end up here. When I found out
we were coming here I was really excited
about because whenever something is new, there’s
a lot of excitement a lot of buzz. It really makes it a more
exciting experience to play in. – To come to Amarillo and
create something from new that was what brought me here. Having that opportunity
to build a new ballpark from the ground
up, build a staff from the ground up. – Ballpark is great,
the field staff does a great job of
keeping it all together considering what they
had to do in the amount of time they had, this
place looks incredible. It’s a lot of fun,
obviously the biggest thing I learned before coming here
that I didn’t know about is that this is a hitters’
ballpark, plain and simple. Doesn’t matter who’s
hitting the ball, you can see the ball flying
an extra 30 or 75 feet depending on the day. The wind blows out to center
and sometimes left field as well, we’ve got
325-foot short porches down the lines and
with that, coupled with 3,000-something foot elevation, this is a place, if you
like seeing home runs, this is a good place to be. For me, not so
much, but I’ve been grinding along and
staying unscathed so far. – What’s your best pitch? – Whichever one gets
the guy out that time. Me personally as a
pitcher I don’t have a 98 mile per hour fast
ball and I don’t have a wipe-out slider. I’m a pitcher not a thrower so I pretty much figure
out whatever I can do to have just a little
bit of an edge that day and find success. It’s a lot more stressful
a lot more difficult but it’s that much
more rewarding. – I tell my owners all the time, it’s like nothing
I’ve ever seen. We’re doing things in Amarillo, with a market size
of about 210-220,000. and you go out to the
metro you may get up to 350,000. We’re averaging right
around 6,000 people a game. Against markets in
the Texas League that have over a
million people — some well over 5 million
people in their markets — and we’re going toe
to toe with them. I think that’s
because this community has embraced this team. – This stadium gets
loud and these fans are really into it. So a big moment, a
walk-off home run, we’ve had a couple of those, a big play, a big strikeout,
you get that feeling. You get that emotion and
those goosebumps come back. (upbeat music) – Right now it’s time
for the Sod Poodles everybody stand up and
put your hands together. Isaac is gonna help us
with those two magic words. Isaac, ready one two, three. – Play ball. – Here we go. – So the song came about
when they released the names and everybody got
real upset about us you know potentially being
stuck with goofy names. I took a liking to
the name Sod Poodles because I thought
it was hilarious and the kids would
probably like it. I play music with
a group of cowboys the first Friday of each
month and one of them, the steel player,
Stacey Scheller, he knows I like to write
goofy topical songs. He was like, “Man, you gotta
write the Sod Poodles song.” And so, he kinda put me up to it and that Saturday I wrote
the first half of it. I actually sent it to him, he told me to add
the stuff at the end. Had it cranked out on
Sunday, put it out on YouTube with the vision of getting
people to vote for the name. I thought it was kind
of a cool, clever tune so I thought it would work. I didn’t know they were
gonna pick the name. Once they did I thought,
man we gotta get this thing played in the ballpark. I kinda wanted to make it the
“Go Cubs, Go” of Amarillo. The goal was to make it work. I didn’t really expect
it to, but it did. So when they chose the
name, my song had kinda a footing online, had
an online presence. The team knew about
it and I went to the big name reveal and
talked to Tony Ensor and he told me, “Hey
man, I’d like to incorporate that
song into the games.” And so I took it
upon myself to do the professional recording
and pitched it to him. They play it for 7,000
people every 7th inning which is awesome. I have been encouraged
by a lot of people to do more music. Thinking more seriously about
trying to give a go at it, but I got a lot of other stuff going around in town too. It gets stuck in my head. My 19-month-old son,
he’ll come up to me with the Bluetooth speaker
and say “Poodles, Poodles” because he likes it so much. Which is basically
the goal of all music to bring joy to the kids. I’ve got other goofy
ones that would get stuck in your head if I had
a platform to play them. All right this one’s called “The Sod Poodle Anthem.” ♪ Ain’t you just like
a little yippin’ dog ♪ ♪ A little bit smaller
than a big groundhog ♪ ♪ They run real wild and
they smile all the time. ♪ ♪ They used to be
called prairie dogs ♪ ♪ But that won’t work
for Double-A ball ♪ ♪ When it’s the
bottom of the 9th ♪ ♪ And the game is on the line. ♪ They are the Sod
Poodles, Sod Poodles ♪ ♪ That’s right they’re
called the Sod Poodles. ♪ ♪ When you come to our
rough and rugged town. ♪ ♪ You might laugh
and point and say ♪ ♪ Oh Lordy man their
name’s insane but you ♪ ♪ Won’t be laughing
when you get beat down ♪ ♪ By the Sod Poodles, Sod
Poodles that’s right ♪ ♪ They’re called
the Sod Poodles. ♪ ♪ You won’t be laughing
when you get beat down. ♪ ♪ By the Sod Poodles, Sod
Poodles, yes that’s right ♪ ♪ They’re called the Sod
Poodles. Cheer them on ♪ ♪ So they don’t
stay underground. ♪ ♪ Let’s grab a beer
a couple hot dogs, ♪ ♪ Keep your legs back and
maybe catch a foul ball. ♪ ♪ Cheer on them pups and
man they sure are good. ♪ ♪ And when the 7th comes,
stand up and stretch, ♪ ♪ Eat a big old pretzel
without regrets ♪ ♪ And them Pups will win just
like we knew they would. ♪ ♪ They are the Sod
Poodles Sod Poodles ♪ ♪ That’s right they’re
called the Sod Poodles. ♪ ♪ You better be careful
when you’re driving ♪ ♪ Into the wind. ♪ Because our ace will go
for 15 Ks, a couple homers ♪ ♪ From our big DH, them
Sod Pups, man, they ♪ ♪ Sure know how to win. ♪ They are the Sod
Poodles, Sod Poodles, ♪ ♪ That’s right they’re
called the Sod Poodles. ♪ ♪ The Sod Pups, man, they
sure know how to win. ♪ ♪ They are the Sod
Poodles, Sod Poodles ♪ ♪ That’s right they’re
called the Sod Poodles. ♪ ♪ Them Sod Pups they
sure know how to win. ♪ ♪ So when those Rough
Riders ride into ♪ ♪ Hodgetown, they
better watch out ♪ ♪ For them holes
in the ground. ♪ ♪ Them Sod Poodles homes will
break their legs in two. ♪ ♪ Little arms, long
teeth, laughing at you. ♪ ♪ And them oilfield drillers
of that Oklahoma town ♪ ♪ They’ll go cross-eyed
and crazy chasing ♪ ♪ Them pups round and round ♪ When the 9th inning
comes it’s 11 to 3. ♪ ♪ And the Poodles
put the Drillers ♪ ♪ Out of their misery. ♪ So if you’re
rooting for a team ♪ ♪ In that Texas League,
it’s gotta be the one ♪ ♪ Up in Yellow City. ♪ You might lose your ball cap
in the Southwestern wind. ♪ ♪ But man, them Sod
Poodles, man, they sure ♪ ♪ Know how to win. ♪ They are the Sod
Poodles, Sod Poodles, ♪ ♪ That’s right they’re
called the Sod Poodles. ♪ ♪ Them Sod Poodles yeah
they sure know how to win. ♪ ♪ They are the Sod
Poodles, Sod Poodles ♪ ♪ That’s right they’re
called the Sod Poodles ♪ ♪ Them Sod Poodles yeah
they sure know how to win. ♪ ♪ They are the Sod
Poodles, Sod Poodles ♪ ♪ That’s right they’re
called the Sod Poodles ♪ ♪ Them Sod Poodles, they
sure know how to win. ♪ How bout them Sod Poodles?

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