It's a baseball park, it's an art gallery, it's SUPERstadium!
"We're absolutely a community center, not just a sports venue," El Paso Chihuahuas general manager Brad Taylor told visiting journalists May 27 during a tour of the stadium that opened April 29.
Southwest University Park's (SUP) walls are adorned with more than $1 million of artworks, some commissioned by the city's public art program, and some purchased. Highlights include works by:
- Quintessential Chicano Texan artist Gaspar Enríquez, born in El Paso's Segundo Barrio.
(Click here for a gallery of his art.) Nine of his gigantic hand-painted works on porcelain enamel panels, represent El Paso historical figures and memories of baseball in the city. The El Paso Museum of Art, one of many museums across the country that own his works, just closed a major six-month exhibit, "Gaspar Enríquez: Metaphors of El Barrio".
- Creative Kids, an El Paso nonprofit empowering children through the arts.
Creative Kids' most striking of many delightful works is their "Chihuahua Wall". It has 40 different interpretations of the team's mascot Chico. It's absolutely Warhol-worthy.
"This is some beautiful art, not like some kids just got their crayons out," Taylor commented.
Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have (separate) sleepover nights in centerfield. A movie is shown, like "The Sand Lot" or "Frozen", and a challenge is offered so scouts can earn a badge.
- FREE FOOD FOR SENIORS AND CHILDREN at various games throughout the season.
- BARK AT THE PARK
Dogs are an integral part of any community, especially one honoring Chihuahuas. More than 300 pooches attended the SUP's first "Bark at the Park" event May 18. The first 2,000 fans were given free dog bowls. Pooch cooling off pools were free also. But the "paw wash" cost $12 or $15, depending on the canine's size.
The Chihuahuas' name, voted on by El Paso citizens, had sparked many growls and howls at first, recalled general manager Taylor.
"This town is passionate -- whether they're for you or against you, they're passionate," he commented.
Indeed, the passion changed soon and popularity "exploded, exploded".
After all, "Chihuahuas are feisty like people in this region, loyal like the people in this region -- and not the biggest dog in the state," the general manager noted.
Within six months, merchandise had been ordered not just throughout the city and Texas, but also in all 50 states and nine countries, he said.
"We wanted a brand that embodied fun." And boy howdy, how they have fun with puns:
- "barking lot" instead of parking lot.
- "wooftop" for rooftop.
- "The Paw Print" is the title of its programs or playbills...
The ballpark, on the former City Hall site, was built in only 370 days, Taylor said.
It was funded by the City of El Paso through an allocation of hotel occupancy tax and stadium-generated revenues. The hotel tax was increased by 2 percent, and will be allocated to the ballpark.
It has 7,400 seats, including those in 23 luxury, upper-level box suites. And it has 30 percent more women's rooms -- graced with fresh flower arrangements -- than in most stadiums.
The general manager echoed officials including Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas--16th District/El Paso), when the baseballer told journalists, "This city's come alive with possibilities."
Taylor said "opportunity" drew him to El Paso, where he's flourishing in his 20th baseball season with key teams. The Fairfax, Virginia native had been interviewed by the Washington Nationals for a major job.
"But I didn't want to be in charge of one thing, I wanted to be in charge of the big picture," he told me as his gestured encompassed the brand new stadium. "The minor league can affect everything in this community."
His fave compliment is "'Your people are so nice.' If our team happens to win, that's the cherry on the sundae."
For more info: Southwest University Park, 1 Ballpark Plaza, El Paso, Texas, 915-242-2000. El Paso Chihuahuas team, www.epchihuahuas.com, affiliate of the San Diego Padres. Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas--16th District/El Paso), http://orourke.house.gov/. Gaspar Enríquez, www.gasparenriquez.com. Creative Kids, www.creativekidsart.org.