On Sunday and Monday nights, many of the 2021 Tulsa Drillers got their first look at ONEOK Field as the team held its first workouts since leaving spring training in Arizona.
Just as has been the case since the start of the pandemic, the Drillers players were on the field while the stands were empty.
That will change Tuesday night when the Drillers play in a game that counts as they open the Double-A Central season against the Amarillo Sod Poodles at 7:05 p.m. at ONEOK Field. Due to COVID protocols, attendance capacity will be limited to approximately 5,000 fans.
“We’ve been waiting almost a year-and-a-half for this moment,” Drillers second baseman Michael Busch said. “I think everybody is even more excited than ever.”
Busch, one of the parent Los Angeles Dodgers’ top prospects, described his reaction to when he arrived Saturday for the first time at ONEOK Field as “it was like that feeling of a little kid going to a big league game, honestly. I couldn’t be more excited to get inside the field and get inside the locker room.”
Drillers manager Scott Hennessey, who led Tulsa to three consecutive division titles and a pennant before the 2020 season was canceled, sees that playing in front of fans under the lights will be a bit of a transition initially for his players.
“Tomorrow night this place is going to be electric,” Hennessey said Monday. “The adrenaline and the rush they’re going to have, maybe a time or two through the order and first inning on the mound, it’s going to be a different feeling for them.”
The Dodgers-affiliated Drillers haven’t played since losing the 2019 Texas League Championship Series finale to Amarillo at ONEOK Field.
“It feels like it’s been five years since we’ve been here,” Hennessey said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been on that field.”
Drillers right-hander Andre Jackson, who is on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster, is scheduled to start the second game of the six-game series Wednesday.
“I’m excited to be in front of fans, that’s huge, it adds to the game,” Jackson said.
Busch and Jackson are among the eight Drillers who are on Baseball America’s list of the Dodgers’ top-30 prospects. The Drillers’ roster that includes 28 active players and four others was announced Monday.
In the top 30 are Busch (3), third baseman Kody Hoese (4), pitchers Ryan Pepiot (8), Michael Grove (24), Gerardo Carrillo (27) and Jackson (28), shortstop Jacob Amaya (12) and infielder Devin Mann (21). Carrillo will be the starting pitcher Tuesday.
“It’s an exciting team,” Hennessey said. “Top to bottom, we’re really going to be able to pitch it. We’ve got a lot of power arms. We’re definitely going to be a different team offensively. I don’t think we’ll hit as many home runs, but I think we’ll have a lot of guys hit between 10 and 15, guys with a lot of quality at-bats, less strikeouts, a lot of doubles.
“We definitely run better, we stole a lot of bases in spring training and we’ll be able to play defense. Every guy we run out there is a quality defender. It’s going to be a different Tulsa Driller team, maybe not play for the three-run homer like we have the last three years, but definitely more quality ABs and a bunch of doubles.“
The active roster includes only three who played for the Drillers in 2019 — outfielders Donovan Casey and Carlos Rincon, and catcher Stevie Berman. The injured list includes three pitchers with previous Drillers experience — Yadier Alvarez, Michael Boyle and Nolan Long.
“Basically we’re a brand-new team,” Hennessey said. “Our guys are ready to go.”