Monday, July 21, 2008

Silver Cross Field

All photos of Joliet and Silver Cross Field available on Flickr.

I awoke refreshed and ready to start the day following a great night's sleep in my king-sized bed, in a room that actually had curtains, unlike my bedroom at my house. After being denied access to the pool post-checkout, I started the drive into the city to have lunch with my friend John from grad school, since I had no interest in arriving in Joliet 8 hours before gametime. John put Erik and I up on the first two nights of the tour in his apartment in Wrigleyville, and apparently 4 blocks was still too far away from the ballpark, as his new pad is even closer to Wrigley Field. We caught up over some beers and a couple delicious Aussie burgers at Harry Caray's. As jealous as he was of Erik and my adventure(s), I was a little envious myself that he is going to a Red Sox-Yankees game in New York for his bachelor party. As the rain started to fall, I headed southwest for Joliet, and arrived a little after 4 PM, where I found a parking spot right across the street from the ballpark.

On the way in, I'll admit that I had a pre-conceived picture in my head of what Joliet would look like, and was already thinking of anecdotes to write on the blog (no doubt another Cudahy comparison would have been involved). After all, Joliet is really only known for two things - a casino, and as the place where Jake Blues from the Blues Brothers spent some time in the slammer. I'll have to say though...I think "impressed" is too strong of a word, but it was better than I thought it would be. Somewhere in between a town and a city (a "tity"?), it kind of reminded me of Davenport, maybe Omaha. Streets everywhere were laden with banners that read "If its fun, it's in downtown Joliet," "Joliet Reads!" and "No Parking on Gameday." I did a fair amount of exploring, walking past some cool churches and the Route 66 team store (apparently the old 66 corridor runs through Joliet). Seeing most of downtown still only took about a half hour, so in true Houses Erik & Peter Built fashion, I stopped in a local bar to watch FOX Saturday baseball and throw back some Old Style until first pitch.

I arrived at the gate just before it opened at 6, picked up my $5 GA seat, and went inside. It was decent; I mean, after seeing as many ballparks as I have, I've come to realize that everything's been done before in some variation, and it takes a lot to impress me at this point. Combine the entry of John O' Donnell Stadium, in which you have to walk up steps to get onto the main concourse, the architecture of the Rockford Riverhawks' stadium, and the interior of Haymarket Park, and you get Silver Cross Field. Instead of being sponsored by a financial institution or communications company as most ballparks are, Silver Cross Field went the route of the local hospital, and the entire staff wears nurse scrubs to play along. The site is wedged between the METRA line to Chicago, a little league diamond, and an old warehouse, and amenities include "viewing alcoves" to the street and train tracks, a kids' zone, a group hot tub/picnic area in right, and a rooftop seating area in left where you can watch the game on top of a concession stand so you can feel like you're at Wrigley. Pretty standard concessions and team store, but they did have a nice spot called "Guinness Pub" that featured jumbo imported beers and a small seating area.

The Joliet Jackhammers play in the Northern League, a collection of six teams from disbanded and restructured independent leagues, with clubs that range from Winnipeg to the Chicago area. The Jackhammers are coached by former major leaguer Wally Backman, and his team his basically comprised of relatives of major leaguers, a whole bunch of guys he coached on the South Georgia Peanuts, and his sons. As far as independent leagues go, I think Erik and I can agree that in terms of talent and entertainment, the American Association and the Golden League are pretty outstanding, the Frontier League is average, and the CanAm League is horrible. I would give the Northern League maybe a 'B.' Some shotty defense, but respectable pitching, and there were probably more home runs in this game (6) than I've seen in all the other independent league games I've been to combined. Two of those homeruns were by Jay Ricci of Gary, who also hit a double off the wall and a long flyout to center, and the only reason I could think of for why he's not on a minor league team is maybe "Pedro Cerrano" issues. Gary also featured Mike Rohde on the roster, which was a treat for me as he was one of my favorite Madison Mallards and I saw him get inducted into the Mallards HOF last year. The Railcats defeated the Jackhammers, despite a solid pitching performance by Nick Sevier, who went 7 and struck out 7. The Railcats' lead was slim heading into the 8th, but Gary reliever Kasiko Misawa shut the door on the Hammers by striking out 4 in 1 2/3 to pick up the save (0.40 ERA on the season). The most interesting play of the game occurred in the 7th, when Joliet bunted into a double play and everyone on the field, including the umpires, thought that was the 3rd out. The next inning started, and after a couple pitches to the first batter, the umpires suddenly huddled up with the managers, declared that there were actually only two outs in the previous inning, and then the teams changed sides to record that final out, in which the Jackhammer batter ended up striking out on four pitches.

After the game was a fireworks display NOT cancelled due to lateness. It was short but decent. I checked my car for any foulball damage and then hit the road back to Milwaukee. It was a great weekend, and I wish I didn't have to work the next day so I could have caught a White Sox game on Sunday afternoon. And PS - the luck of the tour continues - storms predicted both days and both games were played!

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 8 (skyboxes were beautiful)
views from park - 3 (METRA)
view to field - 9
surrounding area - 6 (downtown is a couple blocks away)
food variety - 4
nachos - 9 (huge plate, chili & sour cream, good chips)
beer - 7 (bonus points for jumbo bottles)
vendor price - 8
ticket price - 8 ($5 GA)
atmosphere - 2 (pretty quiet for most of the game)
walk to park - 5
parking proximity - 10 (I was really early; across the street for free)
concourses - 7
team shop - 6

best food - nachos
most unique stadium feature - hot tub/picnic area
best jumbotron feature - Lou Pinella/Ozzie Guillen Chevy rap commercial
best between-inning feature - anything featuring Jammer the mascot (best during-game entertinament: Champ the Wonder Dog retrieves broken bats from field)

field dimensions - 327/400/330
starters - David Dickinson (GRY) v. Nick Sevier (JOL)
opponent - Gary Southshore Railcats
time of game - 3:08
attendance - 4,914
score - 6-5 L
Brewers score that day - 8-5 W
Brewers 55-43, -3.0 (4 @ Cardinals, 3 v. Astros)
Reds 48-52, -11.0 (3 v. Padres, 3 v. Rockies)
Twins 55-43, -0.5 (3 @ Yankees, 3 @ Indians)

Erik - 20
Peter - 36

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