Road trip! Noodlers & rain delay theater in Tulsa

noodler1
Fans of the Tulsa Noodlers were treated to a live noodling demonstration before last weekend’s game

The boys and I hit the road just after noon last Friday, Tulsa bound. We were on a mission.

About a month ago, the Tulsa Drillers announced that they would play this past weekend’s games as the “Tulsa Noodlers” in honor of Oklahoma’s reputation as a haven for catching catfish by hand. Under water. In dark and dingy water.

Some people call it “hillbilly handfishing,” and I can’t argue with that.

Anyway, my friend Ed Godfrey is the outdoors editor of The Oklahoman. The idea of a team putting on completely new uniforms and playing under an assumed name appealed to him.

Ed ordered a Tulsa Noodler’s cap the day that they went on sale. We decided that we would make the trip to Tulsa and take Ed’s 16-year-old son, Cade, with us to watch the city’s minor league, AA-level team.

So, off we went, but not before a stop at the Butcher Stand in Wellston to fuel up with some barbeque. It was awesome, although I’m not as all-in as Ed, who said it may be the best in Oklahoma.

Here’s how the rest of the weekend unfolded:

We arrived at our hotel just after 3 pm, checked in and immediately headed to the pool, as per Cade’s request. While Ed and Cade swam for most of an hour, I sat on the sidelines and started getting text alerts about nearby lightning strikes

I hadn’t noticed any clouds as we pulled into town, but this IS Oklahoma after all.

By 5 pm, a torrential rainstorm hit the downtown area. Our hotel was maybe half a block from the ballpark, so you know the turf was soaked.

The rain relented somewhat about 6, so we roamed a bit to explore a nearby bookstore. We decided to head to the ballpark just before 7.

The Noodlers were set to face off with Wichita at 7:05.

tarp
We knew game was on when tarp crew began removing it.

Naturally, the tarp was still on the field when we arrived. But the good news was that a mobile catfish tank had been pulled up right inside the rightfield gate.

So, we watched a noodling exhibition with a veteran noodler who brought a large catfish to the surface for photo opps.

I took plenty of pictures of the unusual ballpark sight.

The tarp was removed from the infield about 8 pm, so we knew there would be baseball. Bad news, the game wouldn’t start until 9:05.

But, we hung tough, hitting the team souvenir store for Noodlers merchandise, feasting on catfish po-boys — notice a theme? — and doing some people watching.

I owe a special thanks to my friend Mark Lauinger in Tulsa for providing the tickets in a prime location.

The Noodlers announced the game would start at 9:05, but it would be played as a 7-inning game to keep it from running into the early morning hours. Fireworks were scheduled at the conclusion.

I won’t give a play-by-play of the game except to say that neither team scored for the first seven innings. So it went into “extra innings” where a player was placed on second base to start each extra inning at bat.

game winner
Tulsa Noodlers Ryan Noda greeted with Gatorade shower after hitting game winner.

“Free baseball!” Ed yelled, his theme whenever a game goes into extra innings. We won’t debate the merits of the free base runner in extras.

The Noodlers’ Ryan Noda won it in the bottom of the eighth when he crushed a 3-run home run over the center field fence with two outs. The home team celebrated with a Gatorade shower for its hero of the moment.

Our reward was the late-night fireworks show, although it was 11:50 pm before they actually lit the fuse. I’m sure the booming fireworks woke every sleeping person in downtown hotels and apartments.

On Saturday morning, we made a couple of stops on the way out of town. We stopped at the Woody Guthrie museum so Ed could pick up a T-shirt. He ended up with a “This Machine Kills Fascists” sticker instead.

Then we stopped at Tulsa’s Gathering Place and were impressed by the awesome park. I told Ed it reminded me of a zoo without the animals. He pointed out that there seemed to be a playground around every curve of the walking trail.

We topped off a spectacular Road Trip 2021 with a final stop at the Wellston Butcher Stand on the way back to OKC.  As you can tell, we walked a gastronomic tightrope on this trip without a bib or the cardiac unit standing by.

Let’s do it again next year.

Maybe the Drillers could change their names to the Harvesters for a weekend and we all hit the park in John Deere green.

I’m down with that.

I’m officially on the Tulsa Noodlers bandwagon

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I’m loading up on cold, juicy watermelon at the Rush Springs Watermelon Festival back in 2016

Five years ago this summer, my daughter and I took a short road trip down to Southwest Oklahoma to experience the famous Rush Springs Watermelon Festival.

We had a blast. The crowd was huge, the watermelon cold and delicious. We saw humongous melons that were entered in a beauty contest. We wandered through dozens of flea-market style booths and witnessed a seed spitting contest that was open to all comers.

A few days later, I attended an Oklahoma City Dodgers baseball game with my friend, Ed Godfrey, and told him all about the wonders of the Watermelon Festival.

As we watched one of the fan contests the Dodgers roll out nightly for its between innings entertainment — as do most minor league teams — Ed suddenly had an idea.

Why don’t the Dodgers incorporate the Watermelon Festival into the team’s between innings entertainment, he asked.

Before long, Ed was envisioning a marketing tie-in that included a seed-spitting contest for Dodgers fans while promoting Rush Springs and the Festival.

Ed was right on the mark. The Dodgers are missing a huge opportunity by not teaming up with a Rush Springs Watermelon Festival or any of the dozens of festivals around the state that celebrate everything from peaches to cowchips to Woody Guthrie.

Turns out, Ed’s opining has turned into prophesy.

We learned this afternoon that the Tulsa Drillers are celebrating Oklahoma’s reputation as a “noodling” paradise for a weekend series August 12-15.

The Drillers are the Double A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers and will actually take the field as the Tulsa Noodlers during their Noodling Weekend, complete with special-for-the occasion uniforms.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, Noodling is the fine art of fishing for catfish with your hands. As the Outdoors Editor of The Oklahoman, Ed recently featured an Oklahoma family that makes its living as noodling guides.

Noodlers.Naturally, the Drillers are selling custom Noodlers caps and T-Shirts to mark the occasion.

Ed was among the first in line for the merchandise.

“My Tulsa Noodlers cap has been ordered,” he told me this afternoon.

We’re even planning a road trip to see the Tulsa Noodlers in action next month.

Calling all fans of hillbilly handfishing. There’s still plenty of room on the Noodlers bandwagon.