Monday, July 21, 2008

Philip B. Elfstrom Stadium

All photos of Philip B. Elfstrom Stadium available on Flickr.

A few months ago, Erik and I found out that classic recipe Schlitz was being re-released in a few scattered liquor stores in Chicago. Without hesitation, we felt an impromptu trip centered around beer and ball was necessary, and we chose this weekend to go. But then June rolled around - Classic Schlitz went on sale in Milwaukee, and Erik decided to take a job in New Hampshire. Since I was already really amped up for this trip, I decided to proceed on with it solo, and this afternoon I arrived in suburban Chicago to watch the Kane County Cougars.

I left work around 2, and despite driving down state roads most of the way, I still managed to hit traffic and construction and arrived at my accommodations for the night – a St. Charles Days Inn – almost 3 hours later. I had a few minutes to settle in and take a few laps around the pool (which was much smaller than advertised, but still nice) before heading out to the ballpark.

The ballpark is a part of the Kane County Sports Complex in Geneva, which is about 4 miles from my hotel. Philip B. Elfstrom Stadium is home to the Kane County Cougars, an A-affiliate of the Oakland Athletics. The team was established in 1991 and was formerly the affiliate of the Marlins, and players such as Dontrelle Willis, AJ Burnett, Josh Beckett, and Josh Willingham were all Cougars. I’d been wanting to come to this park for a few years now – I had planned on going a couple of times when I lived in Madison, but weather and work prohibited this. When I finally arrived in the parking lot after going through a ridiculously long driving sequence, it looked like the state fair – rows and rows of cars parked on pervious pavers and grass. I was temporarily upset after dishing out $10 for an A-ball seat, but then once I got inside I realized where all the money went. This was easily one of the top 5 minor league ballparks I’ve ever been to. As with most A and AA ballfields, it’s more of a seating bowl and some out buildings, moreso than an actual structure, but since it’s built into the side of a hill and wedged between trees and homes in a park, it feels very intimate and enclosed (it reminded me of Dodger Stadium, on a much smaller scale). Ridiculously awesome beer and food variety, great views, exciting team, good promotional calendar, 3 team stores, great prices, and 3 huge picnic areas in the outfield. Even though the fireworks were cancelled because the game ran too late, I had a great time. Note to Kane County Cougars: if you get souvenir cups, helmet sundaes, and build some stuff around the park, I will rank you as my favorite minor league ballyard. This was the 6th Midwest League ballpark I've visited, and definitely the best thus far.

The game ran too late because there were 27 runs on 30+ hits, and at least a dozen walks/hit batsmen. I was expecting more of a pitchers duel between the A’s and Dodgers affiliate teams, since these organizations typically grow stud pitchers on trees and aren’t really known for powerful offenses. Obviously every pitcher sucked, and every hitter got like 3 hits, so nobody in the game really stood out too much to me. The Cougars got out to a 5-1 lead in the 45-minute first inning and pulled ahead to a 15-5 lead in the top of the 7th, but the Loons made a game of it in their half of the 7th with a pair of 2-run blasts. In the end, the Cougars won 17-10 at 10:20 pm, which was apparently 5 minutes too late to shoot off the postgame fireworks. A few things of note in the game that you don’t see everyday: (1) Both starting pitchers were out of the game by the 4th inning; (2) a batter for the Loons laced a broken-bat pop-up that landed softly behind the mound…which is already embarassing, and add to that that every infielder on the diamond went after it, allowing the hitter to end up with an infield double; (3) Jemile Weeks, recent 1st round draft pick of the Athletics and younger brother of Rickie Weeks, started at 2nd base for the Cougars. Add the bat waggle and about 30 pounds, and I would have sworn it was Rickie – hitting .140 in the leadoff hole, 1-4 with 2 Ks and 2 HBP, and a botched double play.

The rankings will show that my favorite between-innings feature was “Batboy leads YMCA,” but an honorable mention goes to the cats sitting in front of me. It was a girl with her dad, and along for the ride was her boyfriend, whom she was obviously introducing to Daddy for the first time. When that awkwardness wasn’t entertaining enough in itself, the father used to play minor league ball, and was sharing many stories and in-game strategy tips with this young chap, so hopefully for the girl that was a good sign that he approves of her choice in men. Tomorrow I’m heading into the city to have lunch with a few friends from grad school, and then it’s off to Joliet for game #2 of the trip.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 5
views from park - 5 (park)
view to field - 10
surrounding area - 3 (park)
food variety - 9 (standard grill fair, but 4 separte grilles, two indoor and two outdoor)
nachos - 5 (I did not have any, but they looked pretty standard)
beer - 10 (excellent price and the best ballpark variety ive ever seen)
vendor price - 9
ticket price - 3 (even though it was worth every penny, still WAY too steep for minors)
atmosphere - 8 (one of the best A-ball crowds ive seen)
walk to park - 1 (huge parking lot)
parking proximity - 8 (free adjacent lot, but huge)
concourses - 8 (great views to field from concourse)
team shop - 9 (three small team stores)
best food - elephant ear
most unique stadium feature - three enormous decks in the outfield
best jumbotron feature - "Fish or No Fish" game
best between-inning feature - batboy leads YMCA

field dimensions - 335/400/335
starters - Given Kutz (GL) v. Jamie Richmond (KC)
opponent - Great Lakes Loons
time of game - 3:40
attendance - 6,705
score - 17-10 W

Brewers score that day - 9-1 W

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