Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lewis & Clark Park

All photos of Lewis & Clark Park available on Flickr.

After a long day of college baseball at The Blatt, I decided to spend a few hours seeing the rest of Omaha, rather than get to Sioux City any earlier than I had to. Omaha is actually a pretty nice city, once you get past the ungodly summer heat, which I have coined as "Oma-hot." I took streets to downtown from my hotel instead of I-80, and I drove past the University of Nebraska-Omaha campus and the Gene Leahy Mall. It is not uncommon for a metropolitan area to have a scenic riverwalk, a tree-lined historic district with cobbled streets, or an urban commuter rail system, but it is pretty rare to have all three as Omaha does. I walked part of the Papillion Creek riverwalk and into the historic part of downtown, where my walking tour of Omaha abruptly ended when I located the Upstream Brewing Company and stopped in for some beer and grub in refuge of the Oma-hot. After sampling a few housemade brews and some tasty mac & cheese, my stay in Omaha concluded with a drive through northern downtown (NoDo) to see the new TD Ameritrade Park, slated to open in 2011 as the new home of the College World Series. It looks nice and NoDo seems like a cool area, but I will still miss Rosenblatt and was glad I got to go to a couple games in its final season.

From there, it was on to I-29 for the 90-minute drive north to Sioux City, coming in as Iowa's 4th largest city with a population of over 80,000. All I really got to see in Sioux City was the Motel 6, a dinky airport, a bunch of big-box and fast food stores, and the ballpark. The downtown may very well be amazing - the park is south of the city center - but obviously I was not at all impressed with my time there. On top of my lack of enthusiasm towards the town, I had to pay $2 to park and $10 general admission for an independent league park in the middle of nowhere. Factored in with the ridiculous prices and being so far from civilization, there was a threat of storms in the area, all of which contributed to a low attendance on what turned out to be a good home team performance on a comfortable night for baseball.

Lewis & Clark Park and the Explorers are both named for Merriweather Lewis and William Clark, who helped settle the area and whose famous expedition claimed its only life, Sgt. Charles Floyd, in what is today Sioux City. Lewis & Clark Park opened for business in 1993 and has hosted the Explorers every season since. It's a ballpark in that crossroads between new and old, in a situation where it is certainly not showing any signs of aging, but yet is not going to have the customary amenities and luxuries afforded by parks of the 21st century. For now, this 3600-seat stadium serves the fans and the team adequately enough. Not much is happening as you enter the park, with the lone concession stand directly in front of you, and a small team store just off to the side. The walk down both lines is very disconcerting, as the grandstand towers overhead and the patron is presented with just a tall blank wall with only a couple doors for staff and team access, making one feel as if they're trespassing when in certain areas of the stadium. Looking out from the grandstand, you can see US-20 beyond left field and acres of rolling hills and empty land past right field. The outfield wall stands alone with only the scoreboard behind it, and a grass buffer to the freeway and outlying bosque of trees, no seating or equipment whatsoever. The entire park just feels very isolated, as if baseball just "appeared" at this site - kind of like the Field of Dreams, but not in a good way. Also, prices did not get much better once I got inside; the most reasonable deal of any food worth getting was a Grande Nacho at $6.

All of my previous American Association experiences involved the Saints, and the Saints were again the opponent this night in a 10-0 defeat to the X's. Sioux City played very well in all facets of the game, and St. Paul just looked god awful. They played some of the worst infield defense I've ever seen, most notably the first baseman Ole Sheldon who could barely bend or move in any direction. Leading the league in homeruns won't get you on a minor league roster if you miss four plays a game on defense. The guy I was hoping to see at first base for the Saints was veteran Major Leaguer Kevin Millar, who started his pro career with the Saints and signed a contract with them in the offseason after getting cut by the Cubs. Unfortunately, he is on the DL, so Erik and I will have to hope he's ok by July when we head up there. Anyways, the X's all but put the game away in the 8-run 4th, during which they sent 12 men to the plate. Catcher Ray Serrano went 2-2 in that inning and 4-5 on the night with a HR, 2 RBI, and 3 runs scored. He also made a couple nice plays at the plate and called a really nice game for Jae Jung, who hurled 7 scoreless. There is probably not a big market for 29-year old overweight catchers, but he's now hitting nearly .400 on the season and just made it look way too easy at the plate all night. He was recently playing AAA ball for the Braves, so let's see if Serrano can't fight his way back to affliated ball. Another player of note who was recently cut by a pro team was DH Chris Errecart. I had never heard of him, but apparently he played for the Helena Brewers last year, and he went 3-5 with a 2-run HR in his first game of the season for the X's.

My brief trip concluded with a rough 8 AM wakeup call followed by a 3 1/2 hour drive, all so I could make the 1:05 first pitch at Riverfront Stadium in Waterloo. Hey, nobody said the life of a season ticket holder was easy! The next new ballpark(s) I'll be attending is with Erik on our July trip to Minnesota.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 2
views from park - 6 (set in hillside, US-20 and fields)
view to field - 8
surrounding area - 2 (Walmart, fast food, empty lots, etc)
food variety - 3
nachos - 8 (large portion, full array of taco toppings)
beer - 3 (low variety, $6 for large)
vendor price - 3
ticket price - 1 ($10 GA in independent league is ridiculous)
atmosphere - 4
walk to park - 2
parking proximity - 4 (adjacent lot, but parking should have been free)
concourses - 1
team shop - 4 (small but good variety, pts deducted for being a booth and not walk-in shop)

best food - Grande Nachos
most unique stadium feature - unobstructed view to US-20 not more than 30ft from OF wall
best jumbotron feature - "Ring 'em Up" strikeout animation
best between-inning feature - all kids cha-cha on field with mascot Slider for a Pepsi

field dimensions - 330/400/330
starters - Todd Mathison (StP) v. Jae Jung (SC)
opponent - St. Paul Saints
time of game - 2:08
attendance - 788
score - 10-0 W
Brewers score that day - 7-5 W

Brewers 30-40, -9.0 (3 v. Mariners, 3 v. Astros)
Reds 40-33, -0.5 (3 v. Indians, 3 v. Phillies)
Twins 40-30,
+1.5 (3 @ Mets, 3 v. Tigers)

Erik - 14
Peter - 23

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