Concerns Over Future of Arkansas Travelers Prompt Controversial Shakeup

by Todd Traub  on Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 12:00 am  

Arkansas Travelers President Russ Meeks: “There are a lot of people that have difficulty with change.” (Photo by Michael Pirnique)

Like it or not, change is the name of the game with the Arkansas Travelers.

Not everyone likes it.

In a surprise move, team President Russ Meeks, with the unanimous support of the Travelers’ six-man executive committee, fired popular General Manager Pete Laven and Assistant General Manager David Kay on Nov. 12.

While longtime fans, former employees, team shareholders and even board members are up in arms over the moves, Meeks is continuing to rethink the way the club does business.

“Change is tough and there are a lot of people that have difficulty with change,” Meeks said last week.

In his first on-the-record interview since the ouster of Laven and Kay, Meeks explained his thinking behind the firings and the team’s focus as it enters what is considered a critical time for many minor league franchises.

Arkansas, of the Class AA Texas League, just completed its sixth season in Dickey-Stephens Park and is at a point, Meeks said, when a new ballpark begins to lose its shine and a team must deal with issues ranging from repairs to attendance drop-offs.

“It becomes harder to sell things. It becomes harder to get people there,” Meeks said. “The newness has worn off. It happens to every organization in minor league baseball at every level: A, Double-A and Triple-A.”

Meeks, 63, a lawyer and a member of the Travelers organization since the late 1970s, spoke at length in his office at the Little Rock law firm of Smith Williams & Meeks.

Also present was Frank Thomas, the Travelers’ treasurer and spokesman for the Stephens Inc. investment bank. It was Stephens Inc. CEO Warren Stephens who donated the land for the ballpark and named it for his uncle and father, Witt and Jack Stephens, and for Arkansas baseball greats Bill and Skeeter Dickey.

From concessions to branding to on-field promotions, Meeks said the team will openly explore any and all changes if they are viewed as beneficial to the Travelers’ long-term fortunes.

Chief among Meeks’ concerns is the Texas League All-Star Game slated for Dickey-Stephens Park in 2014. It is a chance for the club and the state to put its best foot forward, he said.



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