Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Corn Crib

All photos of Normal and The Corn Crib available on Flickr.

The past couple of weeks have been pretty depressing for me.  My fiance Lauren and I broke up, and Erik has been on "vacation" in New Hampshire and North Carolina with his girlfriend Katie, so I've found myself alone watching a lot of Little League World Series quintuple-headers on ESPN.  Perhaps driving 3 hours into rural Illinois isn't the best way to curb loneliness, but I can always find solace in a trip to the ballpark.  My first option for how to fill my free Saturday was to attend Game 3 of the Northwoods League World Series in La Crosse, but unfortunately for me the Loggers swept the series on Friday night.  After weighing my options, Normal it was.

The ballpark in Normal is ironically anything but normal.  This 3rd-year stadium is octagonal-shaped in order to accommodate the soccer team of the local community college.  Other than maybe RFK in DC, it's the only other ballpark I've seen that is multi-purpose built primarily for baseball.  Although there is a ton of foul territory out of necessity, the seating bowl and layout of the concessions are most suited for watching a ballgame.  Another obvious quirk is the 100% synthetic turf playing surface.  Perhaps this was installed because of budgetary concerns, or perhaps because the stadium is used for several sports, but either way, it is weird.  This is now the 2nd all-turf stadium I've seen this year and I still need to get used to it.  At least at Kapco Park the pitcher's mounds were dirt, at The Corn Crib even those are turf.  I watched the last inning of the game by the bullpen and asked one of the CornBelter pitchers what he thought of the turf mounds, and he told me he preferred it to dirt because you don't have to worry about divots, which makes sense.  This is another one of those ballpark issues where I'm torn between my lives as a baseball fan and an architect.  As a fan, I find it atrocious that a team has to play on fake grass, even fake dirt.  But as an architect, I recognize what an incredible waste of water, money, materials, and labor it is to install and maintain an 3-acre field for one sport.  If you also take into account the cheap building materials and the wind farms in the area, I really applaud Normal for their innovative and sustainable design solution.

What further supports this sustainability concept is that there is corn planted outside the ballpark and over the right field wall instead of absent-minded landscaping (the only grass on the entire property are berms in the outfield).  The corn is not just there because there is an abundance of it in the area, or for aesthetic reasons; the team's main sponsor is the Illinois Corn Farmers Association.  Everything here - the name of the stadium, the team name, advertisements, the concession stand names, even the mascot - all works in congruence with the team's sponsorship very thoroughly.  There are even ethanol commercials on the jumbotron and corn facts on banners strewn around the ballpark.  In an obvious gesture, there are also several foods containing corn at The Corn Crib.  I had a corn dog and an ear of corn for dinner and both were among the best I've ever had.  The rest of the concessions were wide in variety but nothing really unique other than the corn.  My favorite part of the park were the little patio areas they had spread throughout the concourse.  These areas were probably just ways to use up dead space, but I thought they were well done and not tacky.  In particular, the beer tent above the 1st base seating seemed like a great social space.  Seeing as I was like the 9th person to enter the ballpark, I had plenty of time to investigate these areas.

Getting to the park so early also allowed me to obtain a seat in the first row behind homeplate.  At the time of first pitch, it was so quiet I could hear the radio announcer in the booth behind me calling the game, but eventually the stadium got to about 1/3 full and the din was replaced by zany between-innings entertainment.  If you are not a fan of goofy non-baseball related antics and rowdy mascots, then you will definitely not enjoy a CornBelters game.  This is sort of the norm at minor/indepedent league games now and I've grown accustomed to it, but even this was a little too much for me.  There were two mascots, Corny the Cornasaurus and Reggy the Purple Party Dude.  One of them was lazy and fat and mostly just got in people's way, and the other one talked in a Pee-Wee Herman-esque voice and was very obnoxious and did stupid things on the field.  When I wasn't distracted by the mascots, it was actually an outstanding game.  In true Frontier League fashion, it was a pitcher's duel most of the way.  The visiting Rockford starter gave up only 1 run over 8 innings.  The Normal starter Tyler Lavigne scattered 12 hits over 8 1/3 and left 11 runners stranded.  The CornBelters' manager was solely to blame for this loss.  After escaping jams for 8 straight innings, Lavigne was allowed to come back out for the 9th despite having well over 100 pitches.  He promptly gave up the lead, and the manager finally went to the pen for a sidewinding lefty.  He got his man out but then was for some reason left in the game to face a right-handed hitter, despite a righty being up in the pen, and allowed the go-ahead run to score.  The Riverhawks would go on to add 3 more in the top half of the frame, and closed out the 5-1 victory in the bottom half with the most underhanded submarine pitcher I've ever seen in my life.

Following the game, I got a pretty awesome photo through the corn in the outfield, and decided not to blow money on a motel and headed back to Madison.  With this trip, I've now driven the entire length of I-39 in the past month, from Wausau to Normal.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 5
views from park - 2
view to field - 5 (seats far away)
surrounding area - 4 (Illinois State, Heartland CC)
food variety - 8 (lots of choices but nothing unique, bonus points for funnel cake)
nachos - 6
beer - 4 (only one stand with non-Bud products)
vendor price - 7
ticket price - 6 ($11 box seat)
atmosphere - 4
walk to park - 2
parking price/proximity - 7 (adjacent lot $2)
concourses - 7 (partially blocked view to field, but nice patio niches and active entry space)
team shop - 4

best food - anything containing corn
most unique stadium feature - 100% turf playing surface
best jumbotron feature - opposing batter songs correspond with their names
best between-inning feature - Reggy, the obnoxious auxiliary Saturday-only mascot

field dimensions - 328/400/328
starters - Ziggie VanderWall (RCK) v. Tyler Lavigne (NRM)
opponent - Rockford Riverhawks
time of game - 2:54
attendance - 2003
score - 5-1 L
Brewers score that day - 4-3 L

Brewers 54-66, -19.0 (3 v. Cubs, 3 @ Pirates)
Reds 74-48, +6.5 (4 @ Phillies, 3 v. Cardinals)
Twins 50-70, -15.0 (3 @ Athletics, 4 @ Rangers)

Erik - 25
Peter - 35


mini baby cribs said...

Love your blog, it's just a lovely, happy place to spend hours and hours reading!!

pnagel2 said...