- Location: Little Rock, AR
- League: International League 1963; Pacific Coast League 1964-1965; Texas League 1966-2019; Double-A Central 2021; Texas League 2022-
- Affiliation: Philadelphia Phillies 1963-1965; St. Louis Cardinals 1966-2000; Anaheim Angels 2001-2004; Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 2005-2016; Seattle Mariners 2017-present
- Ballpark: Ray Winder Field (Travelers Field until 1966) 1963-2006; Dickey-Stephens Park 2007-present
The Arkansas Travelers, of the Texas League and briefly in Double-A Central, have a brand that goes back to the 1950s and a nickname history that goes even farther as the Little Rock Travelers. The Seattle Mariners farmhands play their home games at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock, AR.
The current Travs actually came to Little Rock from Tulsa, OK, in a rare franchise swap. The 1966 exchange put Double-A baseball back in Little Rock and Triple-A in Tulsa - albeit the latter was briefly. The Travs have been stable ever since, but the Triple-A franchise that went to Oklahoma moved three more times before finally finding success as the Louisville Redbirds - now Bats - in 1982. As for the Travelers, the longtime Los Angeles Angels' affiliate switched to the Mariners in 2017.
"Travelers" is among the longest-running nicknames in sports, dating to at least 1901 on a professional club and as early as 1885 in amateur ranks. Although the phrase "The Arkansas Traveler" dates to the 1840s, the ball club went by "Little Rock Travelers" through 1956. The 1961 Minnesota Twins are often incorrectly cited as the first professional sports team to use a state rather than city name as its geographic identifier. That is correct for MLB and probably all major American professional sports, but the 1957 Travelers were first for all American pro sports.
Organized Baseball was tumultuous in 1950s Arkansas. The decade dawned with four affiliated teams in the state - the Travs in the Southern Association, and the Cotton States League's El Dorado Oilers, Hot Springs Bathers, and Pine Bluff Judges. The figure grew to five in 1951, with the Fort Smith Indians of the Western Association - but that would be the peak. The WA folded after the 1953 season, and the CSL followed at the end of the 1955 campaign. That left only the Rock, whose vulnerability was soon proven three times: In 1956, the team moved to Alabama in mid-July. That didn't work, either; the next season, Montgomery was in the Alabama-Florida League and Little Rock was back in the Association. That was the year, perhaps cognizant of being the last Arkansas team standing, the Travs started going by Arkansas. When 1958 saw only 68,000 fans attend 77 games, though, the club picked up and moved again - this time to Shreveport, LA.
That's when Ray Winder rolled up his sleeves. After joining the team in 1915 as a ticket taker, he had risen through heading business operations and being general manager into partial ownership. He created the Arkansas Travelers Baseball Club, Inc., selling shares for $5 apiece and making it possible to buy and move the New Orleans Pelicans.
Whether or not Winder knew it, though, that was no permanent solution. The Southern Association was dying, largely because it was still fighting integration 13 years after Jackie Robinson first played in the National League.
The circuit's end came after the 1961 season, leaving Travelers Field without a team for the third time in five years. Travs teams had played in the SA from 1901 through 1909, 1915 through the 1956 mid-season, 1957, 1960 and 1961 - winning championships in 1920, 1937, 1942, and 1951.
In 1963, the city was awarded a new franchise in the Triple-A International League as an affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. While that was a promotion, it was into a very expensive world for a market the size of Little Rock - the southwest corner of a footprint that stretched all the way to eastern Canada. Triple-A was working through its own problems at the time, folding the American Association after that very campaign. Fallout included switching the Travs to the Pacific Coast League in 1964 - further increasing travel expenses by putting the team at the southeast corner of a footprint that stretched to the Pacific Northwest and even Hawai'i.
It seems likely Winder knew Triple-A was too much - if not all along, then with the consolidation. Arkansas would have fit well into the central U.S. circuit that had been the American Association, but both the East Coast-heavy IL and the West Coast-based PCL were a league too far. In only two more years, the 1966 franchise swap brought the St. Louis Cardinals to Little Rock as the Travs' parent club; this relationship lasted until 2000, when the Travs first joined the Angels - and the Texas League franchise that came from Oklahoma is still today's Travs. They won TL titles in 1971, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1989, 2001, and 2005.
In 1966, Travelers Field was renamed Ray Winder Field to honor Winder's work and wizardry.
The Travs play Copa de la Diversión Hispanic engagement campaign games as Diamantes de Arkansas (Arkansas Diamonds).