Monday, June 25, 2012

Kapco Park

All photos of Kapco Park available on Flickr.

On Friday, we finally made it out to see the newest installment of the Northwoods League - the Lakeshore Chinooks - in their brand new stadium on Lake Michigan.  We left Madison at about 4:15 and arrived in Mequon, Wisconsin about 2 hours later.  The Chinooks are the first Northwoods team to exist in the Milwaukee metro area and are famously co-owned by Brewer legends Bob Uecker and Robin Yount, both of whom along with the team's proximity to Milwaukee should help them draw very well.  The ballpark is located on the Concordia University campus and the Chinooks share the field with the CU Falcons.  The campus is very pretty and laid back and is about what you'd expect from a parochial liberal arts college.  Parking was free but for some reason we were directed to a lot about a 1/2 mile walk from the stadium even though there were several other open lots directly adjacent.  We walked past the field house and the soccer field before arriving at the gate early enough to collect the blankets the Chinooks gave away to the first 500 fans.  These blankets would come in handy as we were not at all prepared for the stiff, cold winds coming off of the lake not more than 500 feet away.  The lower temps were an excuse for me to purchase a sweet Chinooks hoodie at the team trailer later in the game, and wow were those selling like hotcakes.

As you enter the park, the concourse is set up in a pavilion-type setting like many Northwoods League and minor league parks have.  The back of the pressbox/grandstand rises high overhead with a giant "Kapco Park" sign adorning it, and tucked underneath is the main concession stand.  Erik and I dominated the fish fry, a Friday staple in Wisconsin, and it was very delicious and lots of food for only $7.50.  I washed it down with an ice-cold Robinade and I shared an order of cream corn nuggets with Lauren, both also delicious.  I was very impressed with the concessions menu - you're not going to see a salmon sandwich and fish fry at too many parks.  The entry and concession lines also ran very smoothly for such a young facility, but the line at the team store was a disaster.  Our seats for the game were in the main grandstand, just to the right of home plate near the top, where the wind was sharpest.  The grandstand is an all-metal construction with the exception of the plastic chairs bolted to it.  Huddled in blankets, we saw a poor effort for the hometeam in front of the largest crowd in Kapco Park history.  Our hometown Mallards beat Lakeshore 5-0 behind 6 shutout innings from starter Anthony Marzi.  The key moment came in the 5th inning when C Jose Trevino sliced a ball down the right field line that very clearly landed fair, but the umpire called it foul.  On the very next pitch, Trevino made that bad call a moot point when he tomahawked a no-doubt homerun to left.  That opened the game up and turned it into a 3-run inning instead of 1.  Had there been chalk or even dirt down the lines, the umpire may have been able to judge that ball a little better - more on that in a bit.

Kapco Park is a very serviceable park for its tenants, but any local who is familiar with the saga of the park can't help but wonder what might have been.  The majority owner of the park, Jim Kacmarcik (CEO of Kapco Metal Stamping), donated $1 million towards the construction of the park.  However, the university was supposed to cover the rest of the tab and fell far short of the $3.4 million budget.  Original drawings called for stone and a grass field, but the construction team had to cut back in these areas to save money.  The result is unadorned metal posts, blue corrugated siding, the team store located in a trailer, and a playing surface that is entirely field turf except for the pitching mound.  I don't know for sure which of these elements were originally in the drawings and what were value-engineering items, but it stands to reason that the park as it exists today is not the original vision.  I think the stadium holds its own against other parks in the league but it's hard to look past the very odd playing surface.  It was painful watching people try to head-first slide into bases on turf and seeing those rubber pellets kick up everywhere.  Even the home plates in the bullpens were field turf painted white.  I'm sure this gesture saves the university a ton in maintenance, particularly with the harsh Wisconsin springs, but it just seems like a big waste of money and space to lay out all that field turf and have that much foul territory for a stadium that is only used for baseball.  This field should either be multipurpose or they need to pony up for the dirt infield instead of field-turf painted to resemble one.  But I suppose every stadium needs that one element to make it unique.

Tomorrow we are headed to Chicago to kick off Tour 2012 in style in the lovely town of Crestwood, Illinois.  Lauren is spending the day with a friend near Wrigleyville while Erik and I celebrate our 5th anniversary of the original tour.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 5
views from park - 7 (can just barely see Lake Michigan)
view to field - 6
surrounding area - 3 (Concordia University)
food variety - 7
nachos - 4
beer - 8 (good variety and price)
vendor price - 7 (you pay more for higher quality)
ticket price - 7 ($8 box seat)
atmosphere - 5 (large crowd but we were surrounded by annoying people)
walk to park - 4
parking - 6 (1/2 mile for free)
concourses - 4
team shop - 5 (great stuff but in a trailer and balls are $10!)

best food - fish fry
most unique stadium feature - playing surface is entirely artificial except mound
best jumbotron feature - only showed player facts
best between-inning feature - dizzy bat relay

field dimensions - 317/404/318
starters - Anthony Marzi (MAD) v. Josh Uhen (LAK)
opponent - Madison Mallards
time of game - 2:52
attendance - 1726
score - 5-0 L
Brewers score that day - 1-0 W

Brewers 33-39, -6.5 (3 @ Reds, 3 v. Diamondbacks)
Reds 39-32, +1.0 (3 v. Brewers, 4 @ Giants)
Twins 29-42, -8.5 (3 v. White Sox, 4 v. Royals)

Erik - 10
Peter - 19

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