Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tour 2012: Standard Bank Stadium

All photos of the University of Chicago, Robie House, and Standard Bank Stadium available on Flickr.

Lauren and I started our Saturday off right by hitting Webbs pretty hard, while Erik ran the Summerfest 5K, and the three of us left for Chicago around 10:30.  Erik and I dropped off Lauren at her friend Liz's house, and then it was a slow crawl down Lake Shore Parkway to the south side of town.  We spent the afternoon killing time before ball by walking around the University of Chicago campus and touring the Robie House.  The Robie House is widely considered to be Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece of the Prairie Style, as indicated by my Robie House LEGO set.  Erik and I are both familiar with Wright's design concepts and have seen several of his buildings now, but there was still a lot about the house and Chicago architecture I learned on the tour.  At the time this house was built, Chicago was still trapped in the neo-classical mindset following the World's Fair, and this house was like nothing the city had ever seen.  This is most evident, as the guide pointed out, in the 2 buildings across the street whose outdated style makes them appear hundreds of years old but are in fact younger than the Robie House.  We got to see the fruits of the extensive 1999 brick-by-brick exterior restoration but the house is still raising money to return the interior to its past glory.

If I don't stop myself now, I will write an entire chapter about the Robie House, so let's move on.  After the house tour, we made a quick stop at Binny's Beverage Depot to purchase some much-anticipated silos of Big Hurt Beer.  We then rolled through the hood for a solid 45 minutes and emerged at our end destination of Bridgeview, Illinois to check into a sketch $40 Days Inn.  We had about a half-hour to pound the aforementioned Big Hurt Beer, and let me just say that the name "Big Hurt" works on a couple of levels.  Erik was in some pain but I proudly and boldly consumed my beverage.  Dear Frank Thomas: please stick to baseball, not endorsing products.  Somehow, 24 ounces of that stuff did not cause me to go blind and we headed to the park.

Tonight's game was at Standard Bank Stadium in Crestwood, thankfully not too far from our hotel, and we got there at about 5:45 for a 6:05 first pitch.  Parking was ridiculously $2 and there was a surprisingly long ticket line and large crowd for a Frontier League game.  From what we had seen in the past couple hours, there probably aren't too many alternatives around there on a Saturday night.  When we finally got to the front of the ticket line, there was a sign on the window that said "lower deck sold out."  Wait...so that implies that this park has an upper deck?  That was absolutely the case - this is the smallest ballpark I've ever seen that has an upper deck.  Yes, I realize that many minor league parks have a level for suites and the press box, but this was an actual deck for the general public.  To make it even more strange, the upper deck was only along the 3rd base line, and it had twice as many rows as the lower deck, making the stadium appear top-heavy.  So our seats were up here and we had a decent view (from which we could see that the lower level was very clearly not sold out), but the level is not very functional.  There is no "upper concourse" and the stairs to get up to each section are not easy to find for a first-time visitor, and you have to go back downstairs to use the bathroom and buy concessions.  This creates a strange juxtaposition of a lower level that contains all of the amenities but only 6 rows of seats, and almost all of the patrons sitting in the upper deck.  Despite the inefficiency, this oddness gave the stadium a memorable character, and it felt pretty cool to be sitting in the upper deck of a 3,000 seat stadium.  The other large concentration of fans besides the upper deck was in a huge party deck down the right field line.  So in summary, the upper deck and party deck were nearly full, and 6 rows of seats closest to the field were half-empty.  I interpreted the stadium's layout and location as an analogy of suburban flight: people living outside of the city, but needing to go back into the main part of town to get everything they need.  But I doubt that the designers put that much thought into it.

I remembered the Frontier League as being a pitching-heavy league and that was certainly the case here tonight, as we witnessed 4 1/2 hitless innings to start the game.  I thought we might see a little more hitting talent now with the demise of the Northern and North American Leagues, but aside from a couple home runs there was not much offense.  Most of the hitters for both teams were hitting in the low-mid .200s, but on the flip side, the game program outlined all of the local pitchers that have been snagged up by the White Sox in recent years.  The match pitted the home team Windy City Thunderbolts against the visiting Joliet Slammers.  Dustin Williams got the win for the T-Bolts despite 6 walks, and the bullpen slammed the door on the Slammers by not allowing a baserunner after Williams departed.  The offensive star of the day was Brandon Decker of Windy City, who went 2-4 with a 2-run HR.  As always, I admire the dedication of these players who by all means have every excuse to call it quits, but continue to scrounge around getting paid next to nothing just because they love baseball so much and have a dream.  I made sure to contribute to Decker's beer fund when the home run bucket was passed.

After the game, there was about an 8-minute fireworks show, and on the way back to the hotel, we stopped to critique the Miss Hooters International Competition on the TV at the Oak Lawn Hooters.  Tomorrow we watch the Brew Crew battle the Pale Hosers in our triumphant return to US Cellular Field.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 3
views from park - 2 (parking lot)
view to field - 6
surrounding area - 2
food variety - 5
nachos - 5
beer - 3 (mostly Busch products in plastic bottles - I hate both)
vendor price - 8
ticket price - 6 ($9 upper deck)
atmosphere - 6
walk to park - 1
parking - 4 (adjacent for $2)
concourses - 3 (getting to upper deck confusing)
team shop - 3 (just a room)

best food - Beggar's pizza
most unique stadium feature - stadium has upper deck
best jumbotron feature - n/a
best between-inning feature - two teams of kids race in giant underpants

field dimensions - 335/390/335
starters - Wander Alvino (JOL) v. Dustin Williams (WC)
opponent - Joliet Slammers
time of game - 2:41
attendance - 2992
score - 4-2 W
Brewers score that day - 8-6 L

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