Thursday, April 15, 2010

Duane Banks Field

All photos of Duane Banks Field available on Flickr.

Happy Jackie Robinson Day everybody! Following the excitement of opening week, I came to the grim realization that I wouldn't be back in Milwaukee - and thus unable to attend a Brewers game - for over two months, which would be by far my longest in-season drought since high school. This means I will have to explore other opportunities to watch live ball, and God forbid, I may have to go a week or two without going to the ballpark! I began preparing for this scenario last month by researching all of the local universites I could find. Iowa State does not have a team...the Upper Iowa University Peacocks only play day games...UNI's baseball team folded after the 2009 season...University of Iowa, jackpot! Ever though the Kernels were home this week, I decided on Tuesday to drive the extra 15 minutes to Iowa City because the Hawkeyes were playing my alma mater, UW-Milwaukee.

Exiting off of I-80, I immediately noticed how much nicer the drive was to the ballpark than when I went to Kinnick Stadium in November. Hwy 6 through Coralville is lined on one side with hundreds of shops and eateries to satisfy the student population, and a beautiful pasture on the other. Duane Banks Field itself is situated in a very quiet area of the campus and offers free parking in a side lot just outside of the left field foul pole. The path to the front gate is in a park-like setting, lined with pear trees on the right, and with a clear view into the concourse on the left hand side. The pear trees were in full spring blossom with white flowers just in time for baseball season, and gave the approach a simple beauty you'd be hard-pressed to find even at a professional ballpark. Even more beautiful then the path was that at the end of it, I only had to pay $3 for a ticket - nevermind that the ticket stubs are torn off a roll and say "Iowa Gymnastics" on them.

The concourse is of the Mayo Field/Knology Park variety. On the field side, you can see the underside of the seating bowl, and aside from one vending stand and some bathrooms, there are no rooms or walls built up underneath the grandstand. The other side of the concourse just has a chain-link fence that looks out onto campus buildings along 1st, and the entry path along 3rd. The coolest part of the ballpark for me was the plaque in the concourse behind home plate that honored former Brewer pitcher and Hawkeye alum Cal Eldred for donating the money for Duane Banks Field to install lights. After reading this plaque, I ascended into the stands via ramp, and was greeted by two sections of metal bleachers along the lines, and one section of actual plastic folding seats behind home plate, topped by a concrete-block media booth. I took my seat behind the UWM dugout along 3rd, about 5 rows from the top and next to two UWM coaches. The crowd was in the low-hundreds as I expected, and the park looked to hold about 3-4,000. This was only the 3rd collegiate ballpark I have been to, but I thought it was pretty nice. Normally if I go to a minor league game that has free surface-lot parking and 300 people in the stands, I would make some sort of snide comment, but at an NCAA game I didn't seem to mind the small crowd. That's not to say that there wasn't any life there - the fans and announcer got into it and cheered for the home team, and there were surprisingly even some minor-league staples like between-innings entertainment and t-shirt tosses. Overall it was a very relaxing night at the ballpark.

The fast pace of collegiate baseball and the constant changing of pitchers kept my attention for the entire game. The game looked bleak for the Panthers at first, as I arrived a little late and it was 3-0 before I even sat down. Both teams put up zeros through the next 4 frames before UWM tied it with 3 of their own in the 6th. The pace of the game slowed considerably towards the end of the game, as UWM gave up an additional 6 runs with 5 different pitchers in the latter innings, and ended up falling 9-3 to the Hawkeyes. Phil Keppler and Zach McCool - two players I saw a lot of as members of the 2009 Waterloo Bucks - were the stars of the game for Iowa with a combined 4 hits and 4 RBI. McCool had the at-bat of the game in the 7th when he managed to work a full count and foul off a bunch of tough pitches before stroking a 3-run double to right-center field. Second basemen Paul Hoenecke had 2 hits for UWM.

A lot of things surprised me in this game. There were quite a few guys who knew how to work the count, and the infield defense was much better than I expected given the aluminum thundersticks that NCAA baseball uses. I was also very surprised to see that nearly all of UWM's relief core throw sidearm or has some sort of unorthodox delivery, even the guys that just warmed up in the pen and didn't get into the game. To me this is a smart move by whoever the pitching coach is, because it says that if you want to have a chance to make it to the bigs from a small school like UW-Milwaukee, you have to show the scouts something unique. I was also surprised to find out that Wisconsin is the only Big Ten team without a baseball program. Baseball is usually one of the first programs to go when there's a finance or Title 9 issue, and I was happy to see that the other 10 schools in the conference still had a team. Lastly, I was also very pleasantly surprised that there was a team store at the park and that they gave away magnet schedules! I immediately placed said magnet schedule in its rightful place on my fridge when I got home, and quickly noted a return trip to Iowa City in early May when the Kernels are on the road.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 3
views from park - 3
view to field - 9 (obstructed by fence behind home plate)
surrounding area - 7 (University of Iowa campus)
food variety - 2
nachos - 5 (standard)
beer - n/a
vendor price - 5 ($3.50 for 20oz bottle of soda, rest of prices are fair)
ticket price - 9
atmosphere - 6
walk to park - 8 (tree-lined path or through campus)
parking proximity - 10 (adjacent lot for free)
concourses - 3 (not a lot of activity)
team shop - 3 (more of a shed, but decent selection for its size)

best food - brat
most unique stadium feature - pear trees outside concourse
best jumbotron feature - n/a
best between-inning feature - Paper-Rock-Scissors contest

field dimensions - 330/400/330
starters - Jayme Sukowaty (UWM) v. Zach Robertson (IA)
opponent - University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers
time of game - 2:42
attendance - 315
score - 9-3 W
Brewers score that day - off

Brewers 4-5, -2.0 (3 @ Nationals, 3 @ Pirates)
Reds 5-5, -1.5 (3 @ Pirates, 3 v. Dodgers)
Twins 7-3,
+0.5 (3 v. Royals, 3 v. Indians)

Erik - 3
Peter - 3

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