Thursday, April 29, 2010

Community Field

All photos of Burlington and Community Field available on Flickr.

Erik's line of work affords him little time to go to the ballpark. So, in what is seemingly becoming an annual tradition, we took an impromptu roadtrip this past weekend before he starts his next campaign in May. It'll be nice for both of us when the day comes that Erik decides to live in one city permanently and work 8-hour days like a normal person, but for now it gives us a good excuse to go watch ball - as if we needed an excuse.

The main point of the weekend tour was to visit a ballpark we haven't seen yet in Burlington, Iowa, but before I get to that I'll briefly go over the rest of the weekend. We started by meeting at Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport on Friday night to see the River Bandits. This was the 4th year in 5 I've been to Davenport, but we just couldn't pass up Salute to Grilled Cheese Night. This is still my favorite Midwest League park, and I find "MoWood" to have some of the better promotions and team-following in the entire league. Grilled Cheese Night turned out to be a little disappointing though. We found out after the game that the celebration was actually just a 50-cent reduction in price of the grilled cheese they regularly have on the menu for $2.50. They also ran out of bread and served us our grilled cheese on charred brat buns. It was advertised that there would be varieties of grilled cheese, but they also failed at that. However, it was supposed to rain all night and the weather held up, and that's all we really cared about. Add on top of that the fireworks show, a River Bandits win, and a couple good bars after the game, and it turned out to be a fun night. The following day was supposed to be a 90-minute drive down to Burlington to see the Bees, but we found out around 3pm that the game was moved to 2 that day to beat the rain, so we ended up staying an extra night in Davenport and using our free grilled cheese coupons at Hooters from Friday's game.

We finally made our way into Burlington on Sunday morning, this time making sure beforehand to check that the game was still on. Skies were ominous and the wind was cold as we rolled into town, but 3 years later, the luck of the tour is still with us and the Bees and Kernels would play a full 9 at Community Field. We got there early enough that we even beat the visiting team bus, so we walked down the street, past the $175/week motel and local waterpark, to the gas station for some silos of cheap beer and had our second beverage-only tailgate of the weekend.

I think Erik and I both had the same reaction when we walked into the park - it was by far not the nicest minor league park we've ever been to, but the distinct design features were very welcome. At this point in our ballpark-going careers, "nice" to us just means that the park is unique and it has a good beer selection, both of which Community Field possesses. As we later found out from Burlington's general manager Chuck Brockett (who came and talked to us for two innings), the Bees put in about $3 million a few years ago to renovate the ballpark. Part of the renovation was a tall, sweeping metal roof canopy straddling the grandstand and the new ticket window building in the front. Below this canopy is the main concourse, with one side having restrooms and picnic tables under the grandstand, and the other side having concessions and the team store. The rest of the renovation included a small brick out-building in left with a party area, and a new scoreboard. Brockett walked right up to us and told us all these things, because he could just tell we were from out of town and that we loved baseball. We had a great conversation and a great time talking to him about the Midwest League. Burlington understandably will never be able to compete financially with teams like Dayton or Great Lakes, but the Bees put whatever money they can gather back into their park so they can remain a competitive farm club. Brockett is smart and realized early on that the most crucial element in the park was a well-maintained field so the guys can get their work in, and the thing I was most impressed with was how good the grass looked even after 24+ hours of rain. The Bees have been a professional team in some form for over 60 years, including a Brewers affiliate from 1975-81. They are now regionally affiliated with the Royals, which I would guess helps the attendance of such a small-town team.

On this day however, there were only about 300 fans present to watch the Bees fall to the Cedar Rapids Kernels, 7-6. The Kernels got the scoring started with 2 in the first on a Jose Jimenez double, and added another run in the 2nd. The big play for the Bees in the game was a 3-run double by 1B Joey Lewis in the 3rd. The Bees led for most of the way after that and it looked like they were going to pull in out, until the Kernels' DH Casey Haerther rang a towering homerun off the left-field foul pole on reliever Dusty Odenbach's first pitch of the game in the 8th. The stars of the game were the DHs - Haerther, and Ryan Stovall for the Bees who went 3-4 with two doubles.

Erik and I watched a good ballgame in Burlington for very little money, I caught a foul ball in the 1st inning, and I got to talk baseball with the team's general manager. Aside from being in rural Iowa in April, it was just about the perfect day. We only wish we could have had more $2.50 Old Style, but we had to drive the 2 1/2 hours back to Waterloo for the night to conclude the great day by watching Braves-Mets on Sunday Night Baseball. Community Field marks the 8th Midwest League stadium I've been to out of 16, and this now leaves only one remaining professional ballpark I have yet to visit in Iowa - Lewis and Clark Park in Sioux City.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 7 (a nuts-and-bolts park but unique canopy feature/concourse)
views from park - 2 (lovely downtown Burlington from top of bleachers)
view to field - 5 (close but obstructed by nets)
surrounding area - 4 (FunCity and fast food joints)
food variety - 4 (standard)
nachos - 6 (sloppy joe meat & cheese)
beer - 9 (good variety of cans for $2.50)
vendor price - 9
ticket price - 9
atmosphere - 4
walk to park - 2
parking proximity - 8 (adjacent lot for free, but points deducted for "lot" just being a lawn)
concourses - 6
team shop - 7

best food - Bees Rite, the Bees' version of a "maid rite" i.e. Iowa term for sloppy joe
most unique stadium feature - canopy over concourse
best jumbotron feature - player information
best between-inning feature - trivia

field dimensions - 338/403/318
starters - Patrick Corbin (CR) v. Tyler Sample (BUR)
opponent - Cedar Rapids Kernels
time of game - 2:30
attendance - 335
score - 7-6 L
Brewers score that day - 12-2 L

Brewers 9-12, -5.5 (4 @ Padres, 3 @ Dodgers)
Reds 11-11, -4.0 (3 @ Cardinals, 3 v. Mets)
Twins 14-8,
+1.5 (3 @ Indians, 3 v. Tigers)

Erik - 7
Peter - 6

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