Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tour 2011: Fifth Third Ballpark

All photos of Fifth Third Ballpark available on Flickr.

We only got about 6 hours of sleep following a very long Saturday, and we were back up and at 'em by 7 AM. After a fabulous free breakfast at the hotel, we hit the road about 8:15 for Grand Rapids, and the drive was a little bit less than 3 hours along I-69 and I-96. We made about an hour stop on the way to the ballpark to visit Erik's aunt and got to the park a few minutes before first pitch. Fifth Third Ballpark is very visible from US-131 and is actually outside the city a bit in Comstock Park, but despite this the team still draws very well, as indicated by the long ticket line on a scorching Sunday afternoon that caused us to miss most of the 1st inning. Fort Wayne and West Michigan were actually #3 and 4 respectively in attendance of the 16-team league at the time of this post (not surprisingly, Beloit is dead last).

We started the afternoon off in the shade of the right field picnic area, where we had full access to a bar and cooled off with a 32-oz beer and souvenir sodas. It was a very good view from out there, but we obviously wanted to see the rest of the park, so we left to find food and take a lap after the 2nd inning. Formerly Old Kent Park, Fifth Third Ballpark has that massive shell and high-pitched seating you see in a lot of early-90s minor league parks. The main entry is of the Tempe Diablo-Modern Woodmen Park variety of which you have to ascend to get onto the concourse, and this dramatically contributes to the feel of the park. We actually had to walk up quite a steep hill along the 3rd base line to get from the picnic area to the concourse. What sets this ballpark apart from other minor league parks is that the suite/press level is actually quite tall and fully enclosed, and it wraps the entire concourse from bullpen to bullpen, whereas generally it only covers portion of the concourse and the press box is more open. The suite level is actually so tall that it in itself serves as shade for the seating bowl instead of a canopy. I didn't necessarily like nor dislike this design decision, but it definitely makes the park seem much bigger and more enclosed than it really is. My only real complaint about the ballpark is that, just as at Fort Wayne, there is sort of an "entrance identity" issue, as the main ticket window is in right field, but what I would consider to be the "front" is more hidden with trees and contains no signage. And of course it would have been nice to be able to walk all the way around the perimeter; but, a lot of ballparks are missing this, as that feature substantially adds to the cost.

Now, let's get down to brass tacks here - most people go to this park because of the food, myself included. Before I saw this ballpark featured on Man v. Food in 2009, I had little interest in visiting this stadium, other than for my own personal gratification of seeing every Midwest League park. But after seeing Adam Richman take down the Fifth Third Burger, I just knew I had to get out there as soon as possible. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the ballpark because I did, but I was much more interested in lunch than watching the game. Honestly, I had built it up so much in my mind that at the time I was a little disappointed with the food variety, but looking back on it objectively, there was actually a pretty fair selection. You have your standard ballpark fare, but there are also things like elephant ears, Texas steak nachos, sundaes served in huge plastic cones, barbecue, and of course the giant burger. Enormous food and beverage items was definitely a theme of the menu. We decided to refrain from the burger, and I'm glad we did - the posted nutritional info stated it is 4,800 calories and contains nearly 2 pounds of meat! As of our visit, Mr. Richman was one of only 157 people to complete the challenge in the allotted 2 1/2 innings. I instead went with a generous helping of helmet sundae and fully-loaded steak nachos, and both made me very happy.

After finally finishing my nachos and walking around for awhile, we watched maybe 5 of the 9 innings from our ticketed seats, about 5 rows from the top behind home plate. West Michigan blew out Cedar Rapids 10-3 on Autism Awareness Day. The Kernels' starter was chased in the 3rd after giving up 7 runs on 9 hits, including a homerun by catcher Rob Brantly in the 1st that landed in the picnic area just as we were sitting down. Beau Brooks then came in and closed the door for a little while, but then the Whitecaps shoved it back open with 3 runs in the final innings off two other relievers. The Caps' starter was pretty good, giving up only 3 hits in 6 with 3 Ks. 7 of the 9 starters for West Michigan had at least 2 hits, whereas only one guy in the Kernels' lineup is currently hitting above .260, not including newly-named all-star Travis Witherspoon who for some reason did not play.

A brief and exhausting trip, yet totally worth it! Cross off Midwest League parks #9 and 10 for me, and so far the Eastern Division looks to be way better than the West as far as stadiums go. Aside from a few random ballparks I'm visiting this summer, our next big trip together will be Marlins Park next spring.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 5
views from park - 2
view to field - 9
surrounding area - 2 (suburb of Grand Rapids)
food variety - 7
nachos - 10 (steak, A-1, queso, peppers & onions, good chip ratio)
beer - 8 (modest variety, but only $7 for a 32-oz beer!)
vendor price - 7 (fyi - Fifth Third Burger is $20)
ticket price - 7 ($9.50 behind home plate)
atmosphere - 7
walk to park - 1
parking proximity - 4 (adjacent lot for $5)
concourses - 5
team shop - 5 (small but some unique items)

best food - Texas Steak nachos
most unique stadium feature - Fifth Third Burger competition area
best jumbotron feature - paste a fan's face in moustached silhouette of a Whitecaps player
best between-inning feature - guys in eyeball costumes run around aimlessly and get tackled by giant chicken

field dimensions - 327/402/317
starters - Baudilio Lopez (CR) v. Patrick Cooper (WM)
opponent - Cedar Rapids Kernels
time of game - 2:55
attendance - 5955
score - 10-3 W
Brewers score that day - 6-5 W

No comments: