Friday, July 30, 2010

Tour 2010: Stewart C. Mills Field

All photos of Cloquet, Brainerd, and Mills Field available on Flickr.

I spent my Thursday afternoon exploring Duluth on a beautiful sunny day, while Erik spent his driving 8 hours to meet me in Brainerd. I got up around 9 so that I could go for a run on the Bong Bridge. I didn't quite make it all the way across to Minnesota but I was still energized for the day. After a shower and checking out, I made stops at the Aerial Lift Bridge and the Starkey House. The lift bridge is an iconic piece of infrastructure in downtown Duluth, in which the entire bridge section lifts up on towers like London Bridge, rather than opens like a traditional bridge. I sat by the lake for about a half hour and got to see it open and close. There were a ton of ships and people crowding the harbor that day for the Tall Ships Festival that I did not know about, and all of downtown was very active. I negotiated through traffic to snap a couple photos of the Starkey House on the east end of the city, designed by Marcel Breuer in the 1950s, and then headed to Fitger's Brewhouse for some lunch and a couple beers. Again, I cannot emphasize how impressed I was with Duluth, it was an absolutely gorgeous city and I could have spent several days there. I also have to mention though that Google Maps gave me wrong directions to just about everything I wanted to see, so there may be some sort of conspiracy against me making a return visit.
Erik and I converged at the Rodeway Inn in Baxter, Minnesota at around the same time, 4:30. I would have been there sooner if not for a lot of construction and a stop in Cloquet to fill up at a gas station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. We checked into the hotel and spent some time checking out the latest trade deadline moves on ESPN. At 6:00 we headed over to the park. Stewart C Mills, Sr. Field is located in one of Brainerd's city parks and surrounded by softball and little league diamonds. When we first arrived we expected a large crowd due to the high volume of traffic around the field. Turns out that most of those cars were there for the local softball league, and the crowd was a more modest but respectable 865. There isn't much to Mills Field, just three grandstand sections that wrap behind the plate from dugout to dugout and a party deck down each baseline. The team store is three folding tables of gear set up beneath the grandstand and there is a small concession stand on the first base side. Its layout reminded us a lot of Dutchess County Stadium in New York.
Last night was Dukes of Hazzard Night at the ballpark, featuring an appearance by the actor who played Roscoe P. Coltraine in the original series. I was very excited to get my picture taken with Roscoe but was disappointed to find out that, unlike Potsie from Happy Days and Sgt. Slaughter, whom we've met at Northwoods League stadiums in the past, Roscoe was charging for his autograph and pictures.
After Roscoe finished goofing around with the first pitch, we were treated to an excellent game between the Lunkers and Thunder Bay Border Cats. Both starters held the opposition scoreless and kept the bases clear for the first three innings. The Lunkers put something together in the bottom of the 4th, loading the bases and plating two on a soft ground ball that just eluded the Cats' 2nd baseman by Matt Hillsinger. Thunder Bay tied the game in the top of the 6th on a 2-run HR by Tanner Nivins. The Border Cats took the lead for good in the 8th when Lunkers reliever Aaron Sapp suffered from a lack of control, walking two and giving up a single to load the bases before Tyler Wosleger sent a grounder to 2nd that should have ended the inning. However, Lunkers 2B mishandled the ball and rushing his throw to second, sent the ball into left field, allowing two runs to score. Despite many opportunities and baserunners over the final 3 innings, the Border Cats bullpen kept the Lunkers off the board to secure the win.
After the game, we headed to downtown Brainerd for a few drinks. We spent some time shooting darts and pool at the Blue Ox, a dive bar that was empty on a Thursday night but had very cheap drinks, so we ended up sticking around for a while. This morning, we are off to swim in one of the many lakes that surround Brainerd, then to a brewpub for lunch before heading south to Willmar to take in a Stingers game.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 2
views from park - 5 (Minnesota's Northwoods)
view to field - 5
surrounding area - 3 (downtown located a short drive away)
food variety - 2 (can't even get a cheeseburger in Brainerd)
nachos - 2 (not a lot of cheese)
beer - 4 ($3.50 for 16 oz bottles, but only Miller Lite, MGD, and MGD 64 available)
vendor price - 10 (most expensive sandwichs were $3.50)
ticket price - 9 ($6 GA)
atmosphere - 6
walk to park - 4
parking proximity - 9 (ample adjacent lots and side streets for free)
concourses - 5 (beneath grandstand)
team shop - 4 (Team Store attendant: "We're outta balls." Two innings later balls appear.)

best food - Pulled pork sandwich
most unique stadium feature - concourses beneath grandstand
best jumbotron feature - n/a
best between-inning feature - child catches balls shot from catapult in a fishing net

field dimensions - 324/406/324
starters - Jeff Deblieux (TB) v. Charlie Henderson (BLA)
opponent - Thunder Bay Border Cats
time of game - 2:21
attendance - 865
score - 4-2 L
Brewers score that day - off

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