The Best-Named City in the Entire World
As much as I love college softball, I was getting a little burned out after watching 15 games during the previous five days. I figured tonight’s game would be my last, even if Auburn beat Oklahoma and took it to a third and deciding game tomorrow (Wednesday) night.
Above: I spent today visiting Oklahoma City. First I headed south to Del City (what a great name, huh?), then I drove into downtown OKC and visited Bricktown and the Oklahoma National Memorial. Late in the afternoon, I headed over to the stadium to watch Game #2 of the National Championship Series.
This whole Oklahoma City WCWS experience had been great and I was having fun, but two teams were now playing in Series Championship, Oklahoma and Auburn, that I cared nothing about. I love watching sports, but to watch any sporting event I have to be able to root for someone, no matter how ridiculous the criteria (A cool mascot? OK, I’ll root for them). Otherwise, to me the game is boring.
I’d been in Oklahoma City for nearly a week and hadn’t really seen it yet, so figuring today would be my last full day in OKC, as it’s affectionately called, I thought I’d check it out. Of the 50 state capitol cities in the U.S., I’ve been to 42 (and now 43), so I checked that one off my list, but there were some places I definitely wanted to see here.
High on my list was a place called Del City, a few miles east of OKC. When I was about seven years old, I was thrilled to discover this place called Del City on a map because my name, Del, is pretty rare and I hardly ever saw it in print. I made a vow to myself then, at that tender age, that if I ever got to Oklahoma City, I’d visit Del City because I thought it was the greatest name for a city in the world.
So after leaving my motel room around noon, I drove a few miles east and parked at the Del City Chamber of Commerce office and walked in. After a few moments, a woman came out of her office to greet me and said, with a heavy Oklahoma accent, “Can I help you?” “Yes,” I said, “I’m from Oregon and I’ve been wanting to visit Del City ever since I was a little kid, and do you know why?” She was a bit flustered and thought I was joking, then said, “No, why?” “Because my name’s Del!” I said proudly, and she smiled.
“Do you get lots of Dels stopping by here?” I asked her. “Well, no. Actually you’re the first one.”
This nice woman, named Kay, explained that Del City was created shortly after World War II and was named for the city founder's daughter, a girl named Delaphene (Delaphene? Is that really a name?) We chatted for 10 minutes and then as I was leaving, I asked Kay where I could get a good picture of a “Welcome to Del City” sign and she gave me directions to a site about a mile to the south. I got back in my truck and headed south and, sure enough, found the sign just as she’d described it and took a picture of myself proudly standing next to my namesake city's sign. That was almost worth a trip to Oklahoma, alone.
After leaving this wonderfully-named city, I headed west on the freeway and drove into downtown Oklahoma City. Now, I have to admit that the term “downtown Oklahoma City” didn’t inspire any thoughts in my mind – and I’m a geographer who studies places for a living. On the other hand, the term “Downtown San Francisco” conjures up certain thoughts (mostly cool), while the term “Downtown Detroit” conjures up other thoughts (mostly scary). But “Downtown Oklahoma City”? Nope. Absolutely nothing. And that was exactly why I wanted to see it.
During my previous week in Oklahoma City, I’d heard about a place in downtown OKC called “Bricktown,” and I quickly found it, parked the truck, and walked around to check it out. As I discovered during the next 40 minutes, Bricktown is the Old Town part of OKC, similar to the Pearl District in Portland or the Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego. Scores of old brick buildings here have been preserved and, to some extent, restored, giving the area a lot of charm. There’s also a canal with boat rides, like a slimmed-down version of the Riverwalk in San Antonio. And the American Banjo Museum was located here – how cool is that? – so I found the whole place pretty charming. It’s definitely a place to check out if you ever visit OKC.
Something else I wanted to check out in Oklahoma City was a parking meter. Huh? When I was a little kid – about the time I developed my infatuation with nearby Del City, I believe – I read that the parking meter was invented right here in Oklahoma City back in 1935, and it proved to be a smashing success. So I was determined to park at one.
Bricktown is probably the #1 tourist destination in OKC and I can understand why (parking meters are probably way down the list somewhere). But during my abbreviated tour of downtown, I also wanted to see what’s probably the #2 tourist destination and that’s the Oklahoma City National Memorial.
Back in April 1995, I was taking one of my massive road trips around the U.S. and camped in Utah for several days, totally out of touch with everyone and everything, including newspapers and the radio. When I finally turned on the radio a few days later, I heard everyone talking about something terrible that had just happened in Oklahoma City and it took me a while to piece it together. But I finally realized that there’d been a massive bombing in downtown OKC that had taken over a hundred lives.
As the story developed over the coming weeks and months, it was clear that a wacko terrorist, Timothy McVeigh, had parked a Ryder truck full of explosives in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and, when it went off at about 9 a.m. on April 19, it demolished the entire side of the building, taking 168 lives including many children. It was a terrible day in American history. Some Americans associate the term “terrorism” with certain countries and cultures (namely the Middle East and Arabs) but this terrible act was a sobering reminder that Americans can be just as deranged, and I wanted to see this site where so many innocent Americans suddenly died.
I parked my truck about a mile from Bricktown (yes, at a parking meter) and walked a few blocks to the Oklahoma City National Memorial. I saw a museum that, I’m sure, had informative displays, but I wanted to see the site and walk the grounds. The National Park Service, and later the local community, has done a marvelous job here on this site of such a tragedy, describing the events and paying homage to those who perished. A long reflecting pool sits on the former site of the Federal Building, with massive metal walls at either end, one inscribed with “9:01” and the other inscribed with “9:03,” representing one minute before and one minute after the explosion. Next to the pool, a field of 168 empty chairs sits in a grassy meadow, each inscribed with a victim’s name, with smaller chairs representing the children.
I spent an hour here walking the grounds and reflecting on the terrible events of that day, and on the human condition. It was a sobering visit.
Checking Out Oklahoma City
The National Championship Series, Game #2
Around 5 p.m., I got back to the truck (and the parking meter) then headed over to the ASA Stadium for Game #2 between Oklahoma and Auburn. Oklahoma was leading the series 1-0, so if they won tonight, they’d win the National Championship. I’d already decided that six days of softball was enough for me and was planning to leave OKC on Wednesday morning, even if Auburn won tonight and extended the series to a Game 3 on Wednesday night. Although I didn’t care at all who won, I decided to root for Auburn, since extending the series another night meant I could sell both my tickets for Wednesday night and make a little money. So go Tigers!
Above: Here's a scene from the the Oklahoma - Auburn game, Game 2 of the National Championship Series. (1:10)
I took the shuttle over the stadium, waited in a long line at the gate, then entered the stadium. After I got in, I headed straight for the same place I had stood last night, under the concrete light pole on the third base side. Yes, it would mean standing for three hours, but the view here was so much better than my seat out in the left field bleachers.
But darn, someone beat me to it! I was one of the first persons in the stadium but a guy in his mid-30's was standing there in “my” spot. “That’s a good place to watch the game,” I said with a grin as I walked up to him. “Yeah,” he said with a smile, “I saw you standing here last night and thought I’d get here first and grab it,” and I laughed. His name was Mike, he was from Dallas, and he and his teenage daughter, who played softball, had driven up a few days earlier to watch the end of the tournament. He was a nice guy and we talked for the next hour during player warmups, standing next to each other (though he had the better spot).
The game itself was a thrill. Oklahoma got out to a 7-0 lead in the second inning and it looked like they would romp and win the National Championship. But then Auburn mounted a huge rally, tied the game at 7-7 in the fourth inning and it went into extra innings. In the eighth inning, Auburn loaded the bases and then hit a grand slam home run, winning the game 11-7 and forcing a Game 3 on Wednesday night.
I immediately headed for the gates and said a quick goodbye to the WCWS. For eight years I’d wanted to come to Oklahoma City and watch the NCAA softball tournament, and now I had. Would I ever come back to OKC and watch it again? Yes, quite possibly. It was a lot of fun and I was glad I came, but after watching 16 softball games in six days, I wanted to give it a rest. “It” meaning my backside.
Auburn 11, Oklahoma 7.
Oklahoma and Auburn are tied in the National Championship Series, 1-1.
The final game would be played on Wednesday night.
The 2016 Women's College World Series (WCWS): Day #6 (Tuesday)