As can be expected with a baseball team in existence since 1901, the Arkansas Travelers hold a fair share of firsts and claims to fan loyalty. On Wednesday, Travelers’ marketing director Lance Restum walked those at those at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies’ Legacies and Lunch talk through the history of one of the oldest still-running minor league baseball teams.
He said the Travelers have an outsized presence compared to other minor league teams because it’s been a constant in a state where other professional sports have come and gone.
“We represent the entire state of Arkansas as the only professional sport. Until the Northwest Arkansas Naturals came in eight years ago the only paid athletes other than Oaklawn jockeys are the Travelers. We give the community someone to cheer for and put their name on,” said Restum.
In 1957, the Arkansas Travelers became the first in all of baseball to have a state rather than a city in its name. Restum says the “Travelers” part of the name is also the second longest running mascot in minor league baseball. He credits the longevity in part to the franchise's ownership structure.
“We are owned by fans. We are a fan-owned whereas many minor league franchises our owned by their parent affiliate like the Cardinals or Yankees,” said Restum.
Former part-owner Ray Winder, who later had the now-demolished historic field named after him, helped lead a public stock drive in the late 1950’s after the team briefly moved to Louisiana. That effort led to the team returning to Little Rock after one season.
Restum said the team came close to a change in ownership structure in the early 2000s when parent organization the St. Louis Cardinals considered buying the team and renaming it the Arkansas Cardinals. Instead, the organization bought a franchise in Springfield, Missouri. The Travelers, still fan-owned, moved its affiliation to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2001 after 35 years with St. Louis.