Monday, June 6, 2011

Tour 2011: Parkview Field

All photos of Fort Wayne and Parkview Field available on Flickr.

Neither Erik nor I have a lot of money or free time, but we weren't going to let anything stop us from going on at least one ball trip together this year. After Erik backed out of the Spring Training trip, we started tossing around ideas for a simple weekend driving excursion we could do together, and very quickly gravitated toward going to Grand Rapids, Michigan and Fort Wayne, Indiana. The draw to these teams was completely different in nature: the Whitecaps mainly because of the food selection made famous by the show "Man v. Food," and the TinCaps to see their heralded new ballpark (and possibly wear pots on our heads). However, we would be pleasantly surprised to discover both the ballpark and the food was great in both cities. Erik and I also had welcome company on our trip, as my girlfriend Lauren was convinced she could best Adam Richman's time on eating the Fifth Third Burger in Grand Rapids. So for the first time, she got to see what a real E & P baseball roadtrip was all about - and how easy it is to stink up a car and fill it with junk in only 36 hours.

We picked up Erik around 9:30 on Saturday and got on the road about 10 AM from Madison to our first stop, Fort Wayne. We hit an awesome hot dog stand in Merrillville, IN for lunch and arrived at the Hampton Inn about 5pm, giving us a little bit of time to unwind from the 6-hour drive and take a few laps in the hotel pool before heading the additional 15 minutes to the park. Parkview Field is located across the street from the Grand Wayne Center downtown and is in its 3rd season of operation. This ballpark replaced the atrocious Memorial Stadium built on the same site in 1993, and in celebration the team left behind its old name "Wizards" for the more locally appropriate "TinCaps," in honor of Johnny Appleseed who is buried in Fort Wayne. The mascot is now also a lovable, pot-wearing, plush rendition of this local legend, of course called "Johnny." To take this concept even further, everything from signage to food stands is apple-themed. The team store is called "The Orchard" and is one of the better ones I've seen. There is even a vendor that sells all apple products: apple sauce, apple wontons, apple crisp, etc. The crisp is what drew me to this stand, as it is served in a souvenir helmet. Aside from maybe Schaumburg, I can't think of any other ballpark I've been to that takes branding to the level that the TinCaps do. Why the TinCaps sell apples and the Cedar Rapids Kernels do NOT sell the state's #1 product of corn, I'll never know. And it wasn't just cheesy marketing either - all of the park logos, signage, and color schemes were done elegantly, and most of the food items were delicious. Being at the ballpark for over 5 hours due to a rain delay, it was hard not to try everything on the menu; there literally was a 6-page menu provided in the program.

Beyond the branding, Parkview Field is beautifully assembled and should have no problem lasting many more than the 16 years Memorial Stadium did. I'll start off with the only two things I did not like about the park. The first thing is the parking to entry sequence. I love that the parking garage was incorporated into the park, and I do understand that there are parking limitations at an urban ballpark and it probably won't end up being free. But the walk could have been a little more inviting to the front entry. There is an access point right next to the garage but it is used only as an exit, so if you park in the garage you have to walk all the way around along a brick wall. I would have liked to have been able to see into the park at a few points, or at least some interesting artwork. I think sometimes it's ok to sort of "reveal" the view in a grand way, but that would only work in this case if everyone was parking in the lot behind home plate. The second thing I think that all three of us noticed that was odd was the ratio of picnic seating to fixed seating. There are huge picnic areas along both the 1st and 3rd base lines, and it seems like there should have been more fixed seats in at least one direction. I think it's great that Parkview Field provides a plethora of seating options, but the picnic areas should always be a special section, not the norm. Visually, the picnic areas just looked weird proportionally when juxtaposed against the seating bowl.

Beyond these small complaints and the outfield grass being splotchy, the park was amazing and I can safely say it has supplanted Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport as my favorite Midwest League park so far. The main entry was done beautifully in brick and cast stone but was not overpowering as masonry can be. The stone was brought to the inside in the form of an information counter, ticket window, and a full bar behind home plate. The team store is also in this area and the concourse is very wide as you enter, which makes all the sense in the world. The concourses pinch in either direction down the lines as you are introduced to the multitude of concession stands and carts. The built-in concession stands just offer the standard fare of sausage, popcorn, nachos, etc. But in the outfield and at some of the loose carts, you can find things like corn on the cob, various apple desserts and snacks, grilled-to-order chicken and pork sandwiches, a decent variety of beers, and a superb rib joint. Parkview Field allows you to continuously circumnavigate the field, a feature that every ballpark should have. The outfield concourse is very spacious and has a nice plaza and fountain area in dead center. The team and city are committed to having Parkview Field be a year-round destination, but so far this is only evident in the abundance of picnic seating for businessmen eating lunch, and an enclosed event venue in right field that overlooks the field. Eventually there is supposed to be a Harrison Square project in left field that features retail on the ground floor and condos above, but three years into a recession and the hopes of that getting built are slimmer by the week. Completing the loop around the ballpark, there is a bank of bleachers anchored to the adjacent parking garage, behind the outfield concourse and above the venue building. Just past these bleachers is one of coolest during-game distractions you'll ever see - a full batting cage. From the food, to various points of aspect, and plenty of entertainment, Parkview Field has thought of just about everything. The cherry on top is that the TinCaps won the Midwest League title in the ballpark's inaugural season.

The TinCaps are terrible compared to that 2009 championship team, and they lost a marathon of a game on this night. If it wasn't enough that it was 96° at first pitch, there was a 2-hour thunderstorm delay, AND the game went to extra racks. We finally had to tap out and call it a day after the 10th because we were exhausted and had to get up at 7 to head to Grand Rapids. The TinCaps ended up losing in 11 to Kane County, 6-4, in what totalled 5 hours and 13 minutes including the delay. The TinCaps had this guy named Luis Domoromo, and he had 2 hits and an RBI besides having a fun name to say. Jake Blackwood chipped in another 3 hits including 2 run-producing doubles, and he was definitely the offensive star of the day. It was looking good for Fort Wayne, leading by 1 with 1 out in the 9th, when the closer gave up a booming homerun down the left field line to another guy with an awesome name, Cheslor Cuthbert. I'm not sure how the Cougars won since we left an inning early, but from the box score it looks like the same guy who gave up the homerun to Cuthbert pitched another 1 1/3 and got charged for the go-ahead runs and picked up his 3rd loss of the season.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 8
views from park - 5 (nice opportunity for view, but Fort Wayne isn't much of one)
view to field - 9
surrounding area - 4 (downtown Fort Wayne)
food variety - 9
nachos - 5
beer - 6 (about 10-12 kinds and fair price)
vendor price - 7 (specialty items are more reasonable)
ticket price - 8 ($9 five rows behind dugout)
atmosphere - 7 (remaining crowd after rain delay was still higher than average Kernels attendance)
walk to park - 4
parking proximity - 3 (adjacent garage for $4, lots of traffic)
concourses - 8
team shop - 9

best food - BBQ pulled pork sandwich
most unique stadium feature - Wrigley-style bleachers anchored to parking garage
best jumbotron feature - despite the fact that I hate cats, "DJ TinCat" was pretty hilarious
best between-inning feature - The Amazing Christopher

field dimensions - 336/400/318
starters - Leondy Perez (KC) v. Andrew Werner (FW)
opponent - Kane County Cougars
time of game - 3:13 (1:56 delay)
attendance - 7075
score - 6-4 L
Brewers score that day - 3-2 W

Brewers 34-26, -1.5 (3 v. Mets, 3 v. Cardinals)
Reds 31-30, -5.0 (3 v. Cubs, 4 @ Giants)
Twins 22-37, -11.5 (3 @ Indians, 4 v. Rangers)

Erik - 6
Peter - 18

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