- Sean MacDonald
HODGETOWN – Amarillo Sod Poodles
Photos by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.29
HODGETOWN 701 South Buchanan Street Amarillo, TX 79101
Year Opened: 2019
A Sodding Good Time
The city of Amarillo lost its minor league baseball team back in 1982, when the Gold Sox moved to Beaumont, Texas. That franchise later became the Wichita Wranglers and are now the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, but in the meantime, Amarillo had to make do with independent and college wood bat teams. Until 2019 that is, when the San Antonio Missions moved here as part of a rearrangement orchestrated by the Elmore Sports group. San Antonio now has a AAA team; Colorado Springs has a club in the Rookie Pioneer League, while the poor fans of Helena, MT no longer have minor league baseball.
The new team had to have a new name, and they did a great job in finding something appealing and unique, choosing Sod Poodles, after the prairie dogs that can be found around the area. The marketing has been perfectly handled and Sod Poodles merchandise was flying off the shelves before the team even took the field.
But what matters to us is the stadium experience. The Sod Poodles built a new venue in downtown Amarillo and named it HODGETOWN, after Jerry Hodge, the 26th mayor of the city, who was instrumental in bringing the team to the city. According to the team’s website, “’TOWN’, defined in the Prairie Dog culture as ‘multiple colonies forming one large community,’ reflects the concept of the ballpark being a gathering place for everyone in the Panhandle to enjoy professional baseball and other events as one large community.” It is a unique moniker in the minor leagues, lacking any sort of Field, Ballpark, or Stadium in the name, and also missing any corporate affiliation, which is always appreciated.
So how does attending the game rate? For a ballpark nearing the end of its first season, very well indeed.
Food & Beverage 4
There are four main concession stands, each with a different name (Feed & Seed, Panhandle Pizza, and the Route 66 Grill, with Barnyard being closed on the day I attended). Each had the same main menu, with hot dogs at $4.25, a jumbo dog for $6, and nachos for $6. A Frito Pie is the local specialty and costs $5.50, while snacks such as pretzel ($3.75), peanuts ($4.50) and Cracker Jack ($4.50) are available.
Panhandle Pizza offers regular and pepperoni pizza ($9), chicken wings ($10), chicken tenders and fries ($9.50), and funnel cake fries ($6.50). Route 66 Grill serves black Angus bacon cheeseburgers ($12), German bratwursts ($6), chicken Philly cheesesteaks ($10.50), and Texas foot long coney dogs ($6). The Barnyard offers two special items: Super Soddies Nachos is a mound of tortilla chips with toppings ($9) and the Piggly Wiggly covered with pulled pork and cheese ($9). Feed & Seed has more regional treats: corn in a cup ($7) and pulled pork sliders ($10).
Each also has a few specialty items, for example at Feed & Seed, you could get a massive Dessert Mound for $9.50. The Sugar Cone with Rocky Road is well satisfying for $3.75.
There is a great variety of beer available, with a small draft going for $6.50, a large for $9, and a premium for $10. Pepsi products are the choice for those not imbibing, with a small soda at $4.50 and a large at $6.
Overall, there is good variety, but it can be hard to find as each concession has the same basic menu up front. As well, prices are quite high for AA ball.
Start with the incredible façade at the main entrance, which could have been designed back in the 1920s. This is really a highlight of the venue and all visitors will doubtless start here with a few pictures. Take the time to walk down Buchanan Street to fully appreciate all the Midwest Art Deco touches, such as the ticket signs at the main box office.
The ticket office incorporates the classic Midwest Art Deco look of the neighborhood, Photo Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey
Inside, a single seating bowl contains grey plastic seats that are quite a bit lighter than the usual Kelly green seats that decorate most ballparks. There are drink rails behind some sections, including one right behind home plate that is ideal if you like a bit of space, or to have somewhere to rest your scorebook. The entire concourse is open so you can watch the game while standing in line for food or drinks.
As you make your way around the spacious concourse, you will notice several different areas that cater to groups. Picnic areas in both corners are most obvious, but there is a suite level as well, with a lounge right behind home plate. Only those with suite tickets can get into the lounge, and those are generally not available to the public as they are held by season ticket holders, but if you ask nicely, you might get a chance to take a picture. Other group areas are generally reserved, but there are table areas behind the left field fence that are first come, first serve.
There is also a full service bar behind the left field fence dubbed Bar 352, as that it how many feet it is from home plate. The large scoreboard is next to the bar and is quite nice, with a line score, batting lineup, and player stats, as well as replays.
The berm is behind the right field fence and is limited to those with lawn tickets. In other words, a SRO ticket does not allow access to the lawn, though I can’t imagine they can police this very efficiently, nor do I imagine that fans without a lawn ticket would prefer to sit there than in their seat.
A large kids area is located well away from the concourse, which should make it safe from stray foul balls. The third base side is shaded during afternoon games, which can make a big difference when the temperature is nearing triple digits.
There is no doubt that all new ballparks have the advantage of picking the best elements of their predecessors, and the folks who built HODGETOWN did their research and put together a park that has something for everyone.
The stadium is located right downtown, but there isn’t a lot in the immediate vicinity. The Amarillo Civic Center Complex is directly north, the Embassy Suites with its 1887 Social House is across the street from this, and a Performing Arts Center is just north of this. There is a nightlife area a few blocks west, but as I attended on a Sunday afternoon, nothing here was open so I did not get a chance to explore.
If you are looking to tour, the Cadillac Ranch (an art installation with 10 Cadillacs buried in the sand) is a few miles west of downtown; remember to bring your spray paint to add your personal decorations. As well, the second largest canyon in the country, Palo Duro, is south of the city and worth a trip if you are staying more than a day.
If you are looking for a challenge, the Big Texan Steak Ranch east of the city offers a 72-oz steak (plus a salad, roll, shrimp cocktail, and baked potato) that is free if eaten within an hour. If not, you will be out $72.
The locals have taken to their new team with abandon and the game I attended was the 23rd consecutive sellout. It was good to hear fans talk knowledgeably about players acquired in recent trades, and about the state of the Padres farm system in general. Fans were polite and well behaved throughout the stadium and everyone had a great time from what I could tell.
Located on Buchanan Street just north of I-40, you should have no problem getting there or finding a free parking spot on the street within a few blocks, at least for night and weekend games, when street parking is free. There are team-operated lots for $5 but if you arrive early, you shouldn’t have to bother with them. There is no problem moving around the concourse, and there doesn’t appear to be long lines at the concession stands or restrooms during the game.
HODGETOWN Entrance, Photo by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets range from $18 for the best seats down to $6 for SRO or lawn seats. It can be tough to find more than a pair of seats on game day as season ticket holders have bought up most of the supply, but you might get lucky. For me, though, a SRO ticket and a spot on the drink rail are good enough to start, and eventually you can find a seat down the lines once things settle down. Parking is free, but food can be a bit pricey here, and that is why this section loses a point.
For a new ballpark, there is a lot here that is worth checking out. The design of the ballpark alone stands out among other minor league facilities. It blends in well with the existing buildings in town and features a main entrance that is well designed and will soon be an iconic symbol of Amarillo.
RUCKUS is possibly the most energetic mascot I have ever seen in the minors, particularly impressive given the heat and the heavy costume. There was a stadium replica giveaway for the game I attended, one of many Sunday afternoon freebies during the season, which merits an extra point.
Another point for the brilliant marketing campaign that took place before the team had thrown a pitch. The Sod Poodles name was ridiculed by many when it was first announced, but that did not stop the team from selling merchandise to every state in the country, and from making their team a destination in the Texas Panhandle.
HODGETOWN is a great new ballpark that seems to have something for everyone. The main entrance is one of the most alluring in all of the minors and the unique stadium name shows creativity and a desire to be different. Of course, there is no history or “Road to the Show” display yet, but I am sure that will be added as the seasons pass. I think the Sod Poodles will be a mainstay in the area for years to come and all minor league aficionados should schedule a visit at their earliest convenience.