Northwest Arkansas Naturals
The Northwest Arkansas Naturals, an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals major league baseball team, are a minor league team based in Springdale (Washington and Benton counties). The team, which is in the Texas League and plays its games in Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, relocated from Wichita, Kansas, where it had been known as the Wichita Wranglers. Beginning as the Northwest Arkansas Naturals in 2008, the team emerged as a twenty-first-century challenger to the long-time primacy of the Arkansas Travelers in the state’s minor league baseball hierarchy.
While there had been a group seeking to bring a minor league team to the Springdale area in the first decade of the twenty-first century, its efforts were almost stymied at the last minute when one of its leaders, prominent minister Ronnie Floyd of the megachurch First Baptist of Springdale, withdrew his support in June 2006 after it was announced that any new team would serve alcohol at the new stadium. This added an additional layer to the public debate while also revealing a cultural divide, one that was made clear when the July 2006 vote to extend a one-cent sale tax to raise the $50 million for a new stadium was passed by a mere fifteen votes. But the win was all the pro-baseball forces needed to satisfy Wranglers owner Bob Rich, who had promised to relocate the team if the stadium could be financed.
The team name “Naturals”—a nod to the state’s “Natural State” nickname—was adopted after it garnered a third of the vote in an online poll, beating out the second-place finisher, the “Thunder Chickens,” a moniker that paid tribute to the Springdale-based Tyson Foods, Inc., the nation’s largest poultry products supplier.
Beginning play in 2008, the Naturals achieved success on the field while also attracting impressive attendance totals. The 2008 Naturals had the Texas League’s best record in the second half of the season, going 42–28 to win the North Division. They were defeated in the first round of the Texas League playoffs, however, losing to the in-state rival Arkansas Travelers. Amid strong attendance figures, the Naturals achieved a league-best 44–26 record at home, at one point winning twenty-one of twenty-three games at the newly christened Arvest Stadium.
The Naturals also made the playoffs in 2009, as well as 2010, when, after sweeping both the first and second half-titles, they defeated the Midland RockHounds to win the Texas League crown. In advance of the 2021 season, Major League Baseball engineered a massive reorganization of minor league baseball, ending the MLB affiliations of just over forty teams and shifting many leagues; the Texas League was temporarily renamed the Double-A Central League for the 2021 season but became the Texas League again beginning with the 2022 season.
Benefitting from the talent of top prospect Bobby Witt Jr., who would be moved up to Triple A for the second half of the 2021 season, the Naturals finished second in the Northern Division over the course of the regular season. Then, in a playoff that matched the teams with the two best regular season records, the Naturals defeated the Wichita Wind Surge 3–2 in the best of five series to claim the Double-A Central title. The 2022 Naturals had fifty-eight wins and seventy-nine losses for the season.
Northwest Arkansas Naturals team members who went on to play for the major leagues include Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, and Whit Merrifield.
For additional information:
Bahn, Chris. “AA Team Goes with a Natural.” NWAnews.com, March 15, 2007. https://archive.ph/20080109143847/http://www.nwanews.com/adg/Sports/184574 (accessed February 8, 2023).
Northwest Naturals. https://www.milb.com/northwest-arkansas (accessed February 8, 2023).
“Springdale, Arkansas.” Baseball-Reference.com. https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/team.cgi?city=Springdale&state=AR&country=US&empty=0/ (accessed February 8, 2023).
William H. Pruden III
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