Matt Campbell

Obviously, if we are ranking the relative fame of groups that use/used some version of the nickname “Rough Riders,” the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry during the Spanish-American War takes the top spot. And, if you are over the age of 35, there is a decent chance that hip-hop record label Ruff Ryders (or at least the DMX song “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem”) comes in number two.

But third on that list? Well, that is almost certainly the Frisco RoughRiders of the Texas League. Even they recognize their comparative lack of notoriety, using the most famous Rough Rider of them all as their primary logo. Just look at ol’ Teddy Roosevelt, swinging from the heels and giving opposing pitchers the same nightmares he gave John D. Rockefeller!

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Bustin’ trusts, crushin’ sliders

Unfortunately for Frisco, having The Bull Moose as your mascot only helps so much. You still have to walk frequently and carry a big stick. Otherwise, you might roll into Dickey-Stephens Park with a 7-2 record only to see the Arkansas Travelers win four out of six, as the RoughRiders just found out.

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Series recap:

Tuesday (4/16) brought the first of two 11:05 a.m. “School Day” games, as 7,102 folks enjoyed sunny skies and mid-70s temps while the Travelers downed Frisco 4-3. CF Jared Oliva had his best game for Arkansas, going 2-3 with a stolen base, three runs batted in, and his first homer of the season. Oliva’s seventh-inning blast proved to be the game winner when Frisco was able to cut the Travs’ two-run lead in half in the top of the ninth. On the mound, southpaw Raúl Alcantara gave a solid starting performance, going five innings and allowing only two runs (one earned).

On Wednesday, the Travelers took on a new personality for the evening as the Malmö Oat Milkers as part of a promotion between Minor League Baseball and Oatly Oat Milk. Righthander (and one of this column’s favorites on the young season) Logan Evans was in top form, hurling six innings and allowing only a single run. 1B Tyler Locklear broke a 1-1 tie with a solo home run in the fifth inning, his second big fly of the season, and the Travs added four runs in the bottom of the eighth to give themselves some breathing room. RHP Luis Curvelo continued his excellent season with two scoreless innings in relief of Evans, and RHP Travis Kuhn tossed a scoreless ninth to seal the 6-1 Arkansas win.

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If Wednesday’s 6-1 win saved most of the Travs’ scoring until the late innings, Thursday’s 6-1 win did the opposite. Locklear launched his third homer of the year (and second in two days) in the bottom of the first, driving in three runs, then he drew a bases-loaded walk in the second inning, scoring SS Morgan McCullough. Frisco C Cooper Johnson got one run back with a solo home run in the third inning, but Arkansas answered back with two in the fifth thanks to a bases loaded single by CF Kaden Polcovich. Travs starter lefty Reid VanScoter carried the similarities between Wednesday and Thursday’s games to the mound, matching Evans’ six innings pitched and single earned run.

Frisco hopped back into the win column on Friday, 4-0. As for the Travs’ performance?

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Saturday saw the Travelers come thiiiis close to bouncing back, only to have their efforts crumble late. Arkansas trailed 4-1 after five innings in Juan Mercedes’ third start of the year. The big righty pitched into the sixth inning, allowing two RBI singles in the second, sacrificing an absolute piss missile of a homer in the fifth to switch-hitting 2B Frainyer Chavez, and giving up two consecutive hits before being pulled in the sixth for Curvelo. One of those runners scored on a throwing error by C Jake Anchia, but Curvelo was lights out for two innings. Arkansas clawed their way back with a run from DH Harry Ford in the fourth and three runs in the sixth thanks to a two-run double from 2B Hogan Windish and a sacrifice fly by 3B Ben Ramirez. Unfortunately, the comeback was for naught, as Kuhn imploded in extra innings, allowing four in the top of the 10th, and Arkansas lost 8-4.

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Sunday, though? Sunday was as fun as Saturday was demoralizing. Every Travs starter other than Locklear had at least one hit (and Locklear added a walk and a run, so every Traveler reached base). Ford, who has been heating up since a brutal first five games, had two doubles and an RBI. RF Grant Witherspoon drove in two runs, and LF Spencer Packard went 2-4 with two runs and one RBI. Righty Blas Castano got the start and threw 3.2 innings, allowing only one run. Alcantara, working out of the bullpen, got the win with four solid innings and only two runs allowed.

Travelers current record:

9-6. Second place in the Texas League North behind 12-3 Springfield. Arkansas starts a six-game series in Springfield on Tuesday evening.

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#ByrdWatch:

1B/DH Robbie “Byrd” Tenerowicz needs to be hit by a pitch only 12 more times to tie the Travs’ career record of 36, which is currently held by Mike Collins, who played for Arkansas in 2007-2008.

Byrd was drilled once in the series against Frisco.

Three things to be optimistic about:

  1. Kaden Polcovich. Are we seeing a return of the player who was a Top 10 prospect in the Mariners’ organization in 2021? It’s too early to say for sure, but Polcovich batted .333 over the last week with a gaudy .500 on-base percentage. And while his outfield play is not going to make anyone forget about Julio Rodriguez or Jonatan Clase and time soon, his ability to play CF is a huge plus right now as Oliva struggles to hit (.114/.184/.114) and RF Alberto Rodriguez tries to shake off a nagging injury that has bothered him pretty much all season.
  2. The infield. Ford, Locklear, Windish, SS Cole Young, and Ramirez are the heart of this team’s offense, accounting for 56 of the Travs’ 118 hits, five of their 10 homers, 25 of 59 RBIs, and 11 of 17 stolen bases. They also have an average age of 22.6 years old.
  3. Luis Curvelo. 9.1 innings pitched this season across six games. Only three hits allowed, along with zero runs and 13 strikeouts. Opponents are batting an anemic .097 against him. Dude is an absolute weapon out of the bullpen right now.

Current area(s) of concern:

  1. Outfield defense. Still not great. The outfield at Dickey-Stephens is big, and it plays even bigger. Left-center might as well be 600 feet deep, because almost no one in the Texas League has the power to hit a ball over the Buddy’s America Vodka sign. Even with strong scouting and good defensive positioning, the outfield defense seems to lack the speed to consistently cover foul-line-to-foul-line.
  2. Back end of the rotation. Evans, VanScoter, and Mercedes give the Travs three strong starters, but the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation are yet to be settled. Lefty Danny Wirchansky is nominally the fourth starter as of now, and he has improved since a rough four-inning outing against Springfield on Apr. 7, but his inability (so far) to go much past the fourth inning is less than ideal when the unsettled fifth-starter position means the bullpen needs to be fresh the day after a Wirchansky start. Castano has started two games, but he has been shaky at times and is never going to give you a ton of innings (despite starting twice and appearing in four games overall, he has only seven innings this year). Alcantara looked good in his start Tuesday and again out of the pen for four innings on Sunday, so maybe he can become the fifth starter?

Arkansas Times Player of the Week:

1B Tyler Locklear. The big righty gave fans a clinic last week on why batting average is overrated as a statistic. Locklear’s .176 average versus Frisco belied a .391 on-base percentage and .529 slugging percentage. He crushed two homers (in a series where no other Travelers player had any) and drove in five runs, while adding six walks and a stolen base.

Up next:

Arkansas travels to the birthplace of cashew chicken and Route 66 this week to take on the hated Springfield Cardinals. Righty Logan Evans (1-1, 2.51) takes the hill tonight for the Travelers opposite the Cards’ ace, Tink Hence (2-0, 1.17). The two hurlers last met on opening day, with the Pine Bluff native and Watson Chapel alum getting the better of Evans in a 6-1 Springfield win.

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All games are available on 106.7 Buz2 in Central Arkansas.