Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Return to Warner Park

With the 2010 Northwoods League regular season coming to a close, I finally made it to a Madison Mallards game last weekend. I was very anxious to get there and see what changes Vern and Steve had in store for the Duck Pond this year. Lauren and I arrived about 20 minutes before first pitch, and the parking lot was as full as I'd ever seen it. I did not think this would bode well since I had not purchased tickets before hand, but thankfully I was able to obtain my free Bucks Season Ticket Holder bleacher ticket that I get at all NWL games away from Riverfront Stadium. We barely made it inside the gate and I already noticed many new features at the ballpark. I know I've said this many times - but more than any other team I know, the Mallards reinvest annually in their ballpark, and every year there is something new. Warner Park is still as fun a place to watch a ballgame in 2010 as it was when the team started in 2001, but boy has it changed! This year when you walk in to your left, there is a covered gazebo area paved with masonry units and filled with patio furniture, sponsored by a local company. The 1-millionth Fan statue added last year now resides in this area.
The other big change is past the children's sand pit, where there is a new section called the TDS Triple Play Club, the 4th "party" section now available at the Duck Pond. They tore down a standalone section of GA bleachers to add this section and it is a welcome improvement. The most popular section to sit by far at Warner Park has and will always be the Duck Blind in right, but the problem is that it sells out so quickly and is always jam-packed, and there really aren't good views to the game over there since it is mostly picnic tables. This new section is actually a few rows of seats with a standing-room rail on a platform at the top. The section features its own bar only for people in that section, and you get all-you-can-eat plus 3 beers included in the $23 ticket price, whereas the Duck Blind is $36 for all-you-can-drink beer and food sales end in the 5th. They even use original wooden seats salvaged from a Wrigley Field renovation in this section, which is a nice touch and adds to the piecemeal theme of the park.
Lauren and I really wanted to sit there, and it came highly recommended by Erik, but my free ticket limited us to seats between home and 3rd near the top of the grandstand. It was a warm night, and Warner Park is one of the few parks in the country where the sun sets in the right field corner as opposed to the 3rd base side, so it was right in our faces for a few innings. But beyond that, we had a hell of a time. It was Bacon Appreciation Night so there was an entire food stand devoted to the most delicious food on the planet. I had a "Pigsicle" - chocolate dipped thick-cut bacon on a stick - and the best food in the park, beer-battered fries. Lauren got something from the new Willy Street Co-op stand, as she is still somehow successfully dieting during a Wisconsin summer. A couple of cold Great Dane beers, a slew of runs by the home team, and the always hilarious PA guy capped off a great night at the ballpark.
I couldn't help but brainstorm during the game what would be new for next year. The grandstand seems to be in good shape and there is not much room left to add anything. Major needs of a new team store and a scoreboard have been addressed the last two seasons, and new clubhouses is probably going to be on the docket eventually. The playing field is now 310 and 295 down the lines and is shrinking every year as seats are added - capacity is now up to 7500, hands down the largest stadium in all of college summer league baseball. Bullpens were even added last year and pushed in the fences at the gaps. There were a number of players that sliced lazy pop flies to the warning track in right field, and 2 of the 3 homeruns were banged off of the back wall and would have been doubles two years ago, but this season cleared the inset bullpens for round-trippers. My point is that the field is getting dangerously small and the only logical way to expand is out. I think a nice outfield section is the next logical progression at Warner Park. There was also some talk a few years ago of completing starting from scratch and flipping the field 180 degrees to address the sun angle issue, but I think the eclectic, patchwork character would be too much to sacrifice to achieve that. For now, expect great things in small packages every single year at Warner Park in Madison.

Brewers 53-61, -11.5 (3 @ Rockies, 2 @ Cardinals)
Reds 64-51, -1.0 (3 v. Marlins, 3 @ Diamondbacks)
Twins 64-49,
+1.0 (3 v. Athletics, 3 v. White Sox)

Erik - 20
Peter - 45

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