Saturday, July 31, 2010

Tour 2010: Bill Taunton Stadium

All photos of Bill Taunton Stadium available on Flickr.

We couldn't leave the Brainerd Lakes Area without taking a dip in one of those lakes. So after enjoying the hotels continental breakfast and reading a recap of the previous night's game in the Brainerd Dispatch, we headed to Lower Whipple Lake. The beach was very nice and the water cool and refreshing, but it was mostly deserted on an overcast and breezy day. We swam for a bit, played some catch on the beach, and then showered and shaved at the park's pavillion before setting out to explore downtown Brainerd. We took some pics with the Paul Bunyan & Babe statue that Brainerd is famous for, and then spent some time looking for a brew pub that we never did locate before settling in at Matty's Bar for lunch. Pete had a steak sandwhich and I enjoyed some Pimps Chicken while we both downed a couple of Grain Belt Premiums. With lunch finished, it was time to set out on the 3 hour drive to Willmar.

Once we got to Willmar, Google Maps lead us astray for the third consecutive day, taking us out of town on a county road and past the ballpark. Eventually we made our way to Bill Taunton stadium and struggled through a few horrible brews in the parking lot that Pete bought at the local liquor store, before heading into the game. Tonight was Hat Night at the Stingers game and after acquiring our giveaways and hitting the team store for our usual purchases of a souvenir ball and helmet, we walked around for a bit and then found our seats.
Taunton Stadium is very nice and reminded me a lot of Community Field in Burlington, IA and Pete of Wildwood Park in Sheboygan. The stadium consists of a covered grandstand with rows of box seats seperated from reserved bleacher seats by a narrow walkway. Down the right field line is a lonely grandstand and three rickety bleacher sections. Down the left field line, above the Stingers dugout is a bar rail with stools where fans can sit, have a beer, and see what's going on in the dugout and bullpen. All the seating, with the exception of the right field berm area, is very close to the field and offers excellent views. Having now been to both of the inaugural franchises in the Northwoods League this season, I'd have to give the nod to Willmar. They seemed much better prepared to be hosting a team this season, with a much newer park that has Northwoods League experience (hosted some Beetles games last year) and a better sense of order and direction than Wisconsin Rapids.
Back to the game, it was clear from the top of the 1st that we would not be in for another pitching duel. Stingers starter Charley Olson gave up 4 runs in the top of the first and didn't fair much better in his second and final inning, including a home run to Huskies' 3B Cody Asche. The bullpen didn't fair any better for the Stingers, surrending another 6 runs over the final 7 innings. Duluth, on the other hand, got an excellent start from Connor Hulse, who went 6 innings, struggling only to retire Stingers leadoff batter Isaac Ballou. Ballou was 1 for 2 on the night with 3 walks. He created trouble all night on the base paths with his speed and accounted for 2 of the Stingers 4 runs. The home team is now sadly 0-2 on this trip, and 0-4 for Pete.
After the game we hopped in our cars for the 2-hour drive to Minneapolis and checked into the Hilton by the Metrodome, which appears to be WAY too classy for us but we'll take it. Today and tomorrow, we will finally check out Target Field, the new home of the Twins.
park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 6
views from park - 5
view to field - 7 (sit in the grandstand, not down the right field line)
surrounding area - 2
food variety - 3
nachos - 5 (bag of chips, lukewarm cheese)
beer - 5 ($3.50 for 16 oz bottles, Miller Lite, MGD, Heiniken, and Corona)
vendor price - 9
ticket price - 9 ($6 GA)
atmosphere - 7 (stadium was packed and fans were into the game)
walk to park - 3
parking proximity - 10 (adjacent lots for free)
concourses - 4 (very crowded between innings)
team shop - 5 (no inaugural season merchandise)

best food - hand-made local hot dog
most unique stadium feature - bar seating above dugout and bullpen
best jumbotron feature - n/a
best between-inning feature - player v. fan bags competition

field dimensions - 326/373/324
starters - Connor Hulse (DUL) v. Charley Olson (WIL)
opponent - Duluth Huskies
time of game - 2:45
attendance - 884
score - 13-4 L
Brewers score that day - 5-0 L

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