Fair Meadows racetrack in Tulsa now has the only Rob Dibble-proof final turn in thoroughbred racing. Last week, officials at Expo Square, a 240-acre facility that includes a minor league ballpark as well as the track, erected a 95-by 150-foot net between the venues.
Previously, the only thing that separated Turns 3 and 4 of Fair Meadows from the first base grandstands at Drillers Stadium, home of the Tulsa Drillers of the Double A Texas League, was a service road. In some places there is only 30 feet between the park and the track. No one cared about that until last summer, when Fair Meadows inaugurated evening racing. Suddenly, a batter's foul ball posed the risk of becoming a bettor's foul play. If horses can be spooked by their own shadows during a race, think how one would react to being hit by a batted ball—or one thrown by a petulant pitcher.
Luckily for the horses and their riders, the Drillers didn't have a chance to live up to their name in 1990. "We had only one conflicting date last year," says Ron Shotts, general manager of Fair Meadows. "So on that night we positioned a guy on top of the press box with a walkie-talkie. When a race was about to begin, he'd talk to a guy in the dugout, who would signal the umpire, who in turn would stall for a little while, brushing off the plate or something. Most of the fans didn't even know what was going on."
This summer, jockeys and players are in stirrups on the same night at Expo Square for nine dates. Hence, the need for the $20,000 net. That may seem like a costly ounce of prevention, but at least fans won't see a horse hide when a batter fouls off a cowhide.