Arkansas Travelers Embrace Changes Following Firings

by Todd Traub  on Monday, Sep. 30, 2013 12:00 am  

Meeks discussed the changes with Arkansas Business in December but declined an interview request for this story and directed questions to Allen, in whom he expressed his confidence and support.

Laven, now president of Salvi Sports in the Chicago area, was a protégé of longtime Travelers General Manager and Executive Vice President Bill Valentine, who led the club from 1976 until stepping into his executive role and passing the general manager’s chair to Laven in 2007.

Some longtime fans severed ties, some veteran ballpark employees loyal to Laven did not return, and there were grumblings about the nature of Laven’s dismissal and suspicions voiced over the direction Meeks might be taking the club. But Allen said he didn’t hear any dissatisfaction from those who turned out this year.

“All the fans that were here were very positive,” Allen said, noting the club has persevered through numerous front-office changes over the decades. “Travelers Baseball, 1901. It will be here long after us.”

Meeks has said the Travelers are entering a critical phase and he sought a new direction as the club prepares to host the Texas League All-Star Game next season. Dickey-Stephens Park has lost the novelty of being new, and Meeks said he wanted to consider a number of changes during the just-concluded season he described as an evaluation year.

And there are changes afoot.

The Travelers have always been billed as family entertainment, and Allen said that would be the focus, even as the team sticks with its successful, more blue-collar events like Clunker Car Night and Midget Wrestling. Faith & Family Night can be seen as a step in that direction, Allen said.

New uniforms and logos are planned, and this year ballpark employees all wore nametags, putting a name to a face for fans and making the employees more accountable, Allen said.

Longtime mascot Shelly, the cartoonish horse whose name is derived from former advertising sponsor Shell Oil, announced his “retirement” in a handwritten letter this season. In fact, Shell pulled out of its sponsorship prior to the season, though Allen rebutted rumors that sponsors were deserting en masse and said “99.1 percent” of those rumored to have left had not.

“There’s a natural kind of falling off and a renewal,” said Allen, the club’s former director of group sales. “Every year partners come and go for a number of reasons.”

Allen said that to help boost sales, the Travelers want to build interest and remain relevant through the offseason. The search for a new mascot — interested parties can apply through the Hughes Agency, headquartered in North Little Rock — is part of that strategy. Allen said the story line will be updated on social media throughout the winter and culminate in a mascot unveiling sometime in the spring.

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