Monday, May 27, 2013

Dozer Park

All photos of Dozer Park and Peoria available on Flickr.

I recently visited my 11th of 16 Midwest League parks in Peoria, Illinois, home of the Chiefs.  You could say that Peoria has definitely been my "white whale" of ballparks.  It's one of the few parks I had left to visit within an afternoon's driving distance and I've been trying to go there since I finished grad school.  It just seems like they are never home when I'm free to go, or I have plans to go and something comes up, or the weather doesn't cooperate - it just never works out for a variety of reasons.  Thus, with each passing year, I have grown more and more excited to see this park based on nothing more than my own anticipation.  After an affiliate change and a couple stadium name changes, I finally made it there this past Sunday.

The drive down to central Illinois was a little over 3 hours and not too eventful.  I rolled into town about 1:30 and was not expecting Peoria to be as big a city as it was.  With approximately 115,000 residents, it comes in as the 3rd largest city in the circuit - any idea what the largest Midwest League city is?  I would have guessed Lansing myself, never in my life would I have guessed Fort Wayne-Dayton-Peoria were 1-2-3.  Anyways, I would compare Peoria to Waterloo, only with taller buildings and wider streets.  Like Waterloo, it's a very old river town with long-abandoned factories, and has an up-and-coming "main street" area.  I parked a couple blocks up from the ballpark on the street for free - one of many great things about going to a ballgame on a Sunday.  I was also not anticipating the ballpark being urban in nature.  It is wedged between two streets across from the Caterpillar Headquarters and a stone's throw from the CBD.  And when I say wedged, that is not an exaggeration - Dozer Park is very short down the lines and has tall nets like you would see at a golf driving range beyond the fence to prevent balls from landing in the street.  This is exactly the type of long and narrow site you saw ballparks of the late 19th century built on (i.e. Polo Grounds and Borchardt Field), only in Peoria it doesn't take Babe Ruth to hit one out to center.  Incidentally, Dozer Park takes its name from the aforementioned Caterpillar HQ, following a couple of years without a sponsor.

Dozer Park opened for business in 2002 and does not stray from the standard minor league template, at least in terms of the exterior design and the seating bowl.  The variation of this park comes in the outfield.  As I said, it's really pinched down the lines, leaving only about 10-15 feet between the foul poles and the street, which is enough room for an interior walk, a net, and then the public sidewalk.  I've only been to one game here obviously, but it seems to me like the nets should actually be higher.  I would think a 25' high net behind a 310' foul pole is not going to stop many homeruns from smashing a parked car in the street, although these are only A-ball hitters we're talking about.  One thing I found annoying though was that like in Appleton, the outfield concourse is just a tease, it does not wrap all the way around.  Approaching from right field, you can walk out to center field to a picnic area with a little standalone building housing bathrooms and equipment, but the concourse is suddenly interrupted by a grade-level service entry and you have to double back.  Approaching from left field, there is a secondary ticket office/entrance in the outfield corner, which I liked.  The left field corner is actually on the busiest intersection of the park and faces downtown and the parking lot, so it is nice that people can enter at a point which presumably handles the most traffic, rather than have to walk down to the front of the stadium.  Another thing that distinguishes Dozer Park from other parks is the concessions.  There was an amazing smorgasbord of different types of hot dogs and specialty food items, and also a couple of craft beer stands.  The park also features a pretty good size team store surrounded in glass.  Besides the concourse issue and the lawn seating being way too steep to be functional, I thought it was a great park.  A subtle thing that the Chiefs do that I always like to see at ballparks is attention to branding and colors.  Even though it might seem like overkill to slap matching signage around and reference firefighters everywhere, to me it makes the park feel like a home and that it is a part of the community; it really ties everything together.  That was one of the things Fort Wayne did really well and one of the many reasons it is my favorite minor league park.  

Getting to the game - it was a 5-2 win for the visiting Clinton Lumberkings, now a Mariners affiliate.  Clinton led the entire game and was up 5-0 heading into the 8th before Peoria managed to scratch a couple runs across.  It's been a week since I was at the game so I don't really have any memorable plays or players to share.  The highest ranked Cardinals' prospect on the Chiefs was 3B Carson Kelly, who went 0-4 and was hitting 6th in the lineup, so I'm not looking for him to be headed to Palm Beach anytime soon.  2B Jacob Wilson hit cleanup and led the team with 2 hits and a run scored.  SP Tyler Pike was phenomenal for the Lumberkings, giving up only 1 hit over 6 and picking up his 3rd win.  I do remember the atmosphere of the game being very odd because the Chiefs just changed back to a Cardinals affiliate after an 8-year pitstop with the Cubs organization, so there was a mix of different fan allegiances in the crowd.  Rooting for the Cardinals in Illinois is probably not very easy.  I personally hate both of those teams so to me it was just funny.  On a side note, I'd be curious to know if the name "Chiefs" was at one time in reference to Native Americans and was changed to firefighters with a lovable dog mascot to be more PC.

Peoria was my final park in the Western Division of the Midwest League to visit.  My remaining parks in the league are in South Bend, and then 4 in the far reaches of the league - eastern Michigan, eastern Ohio, and Kentucky.  I also hope to make it back to Kane County this year to see the recent-ish renovation.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 5
views from park - 4 (downtown in the distance)
view to field - 9
surrounding area - 4 (downtown Peoria)
food variety - 9
nachos - 9 (philly cheese steak nachos)
beer - 8 (great variety and fair price)

vendor price - 7
ticket price - 6 ($7 lawn)
atmosphere - 3 (not a lot of between innings entertainment)
walk to park - 3
parking price/proximity - 10 (free street 2 blocks down)
concourses - 7 (points deducted for discontinuity in outfield)
team shop - 6

best food - specialty hot dogs
most unique stadium feature - nets beyond outfield corners
best jumbotron feature - players in Disney character garb for "Princess Day"
best between-inning feature - tug-o-war bucket race

field dimensions - 310/400/310
starters - Tyler Pike (CLI) v. Michael Aldrete (PEO)
opponent - Clinton Lumberkings
time of game - 2:20
attendance - 1,467
score - 5-2 L
Brewers score that day - 4-2 L

Brewers 19-29, -12.5 (2 v. Twins, 2 @ Twins, 3 @ Phillies)
Reds 32-19, -1.0
(2 v. Indians, 2 @ Indians, 3 @ Pirates)
Twins 19-28, -8.5 (2 @ Brewers, 2 v. Brewers, 3 v. Mariners)

Erik - 8

Peter - 12

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Brewers "Team Streak" 2.0

There are so many great moments in Brewers history that I will never forget.  Probably the earliest season I remember vividly is 1992.  Early that spring, I recall going to Seat Cushion Night with my family at County Stadium and watching Franklin Stubbs crank a walk-off grand slam.  And of course later that season, perhaps the greatest Brewer of all time, Robin Yount, became the first player in club history to notch his 3,000th hit in a Milwaukee uniform on September 9th, 1992.  I was totally jealous of this girl in my class because she got to go to the game.  Not coincidentally, a year or two later I switched from playing soccer to baseball, and have loved the sport ever since.  I remember Miller Park opening in 2001 and attending some of the All-Star festivities in 2002.  There was Ben Sheets' 18-strikeout game against the Braves in 2004.  In person, I witnessed Bill Hall as a Mother's Day hero in 2006, Prince Fielder become the youngest player in major league history to hit 50 homeruns in a season in 2007, and Trevor Hoffman notch save #601 in 2010.  It used to be that reaching .500 was the Holy Grail for the Brewers, but after playoff appearances in two of the last five seasons, Brewer fans have come to expect a competitive team.  All of these good memories are the things that bring me back down to earth when the Brewers are playing as poorly as they are now.  I think of the good ol' days when you could practically walk by with your hand out for tickets and sit wherever you wanted because the team was so terrible, and I remember what it is like to find the silver lining from a poor stretch of play and root for a player win or lose.  Because a common thread of all the memories I describe above - they were mostly amidst really, really bad teams.

One season I am too young to remember is the 1987 season, a year the club was dubbed "Team Streak."  The Brewers stormed out of the gates winning 13 in a row, which culminated with perhaps one of the top moments in Brewer history, Dale Sveum's walk-off homer on Easter Sunday.  That was also the year of Paul Molitor's club record 39-game hitting streak.  What many people don't remember is that the Brewers also had a 12-game losing streak later that year.  And that's exactly my point - people remember the good times.  The Brewers of 2013 are giving the '87 team a run for their money, with their season already divisible into 3 distinct chapters - starting off the year 2-8, followed by a 9-game winning streak finishing the month winning 12 of 15, and now currently losing 13 of 15 in the month of May.  This team has some good things going for it but just isn't putting everything together at one time.  The season started out with a lot of runs from the bullpen, then the starting pitching was bad, and now the Brewers are hitting below .200 with RISP on their current roadtrip.  The reason I keep watching is for the silver lining: Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura are enjoying breakout seasons and are currently 1-2 in hitting, Ryan Braun is hitting over .300 with 8 HR despite battling neck issues, the Yuni-Bomber has provided some unexpected production, Aramis is back, and free agent signing Kyle Lohse has been as good as advertised. 

Despite an embarrassing stretch against the three teams ahead of them in the division, the Brewers still control their own destiny for how they want this season to be remembered.  Can they use all of their assets and play more consistently?  Or will they just be known as Team Streak 2.0

Brewers 16-24, -10.5 (3 v. Dodgers, 3 v. Pirates)
Reds 25-17, -2.5
(3 @ Mets, 3 v. Cubs)
Twins 18-20, -4.5 (3 @ Braves, 4 @ Tigers)

Erik - 5
Peter - 9

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Wrigley Field Renovation Proposal

(photos courtesy of

The Cubs have been in the news a lot recently, but certainly not for their play.  A $500-million renovation plan for the iconic Wrigley Field has finally been formally submitted to the city of Chicago after years of speculation and negotiation.  The team hopes for approval by October so construction can begin in the offseason, and continue over the subsequent five offseasons.  The proposal will include:
  • 6,000 SF jumbotron in left field
  • 1,000 SF of additional signage in right field
  • Permission to increase number of night games and non-baseball events
  • Upgraded clubhouses
  • Addition to house new visitors clubhouse and 2-story bar
  • Widen concourses
  • Upgrade concessions, restrooms, and team store(s)
  • Substantial repairs and maintenance
  • New building to house 175-room hotel, fitness club, and team offices; linked to park with skywalk
  • Remove parking on Waveland Avenue to allow for stadium expansion
  • Closing of Sheffield Avenue on weekend home games
  • Off-site parking garage with shuttle to park
  • Better connection of bleachers to rest of ballpark 
Updating Wrigley Field to the standards of modern baseball has been of highest priority of owner Tom Ricketts since he purchased the team in 2009, and to say this renovation is long overdue would be a major understatement.  I have been pretty vocal about my thoughts on Wrigley Field, namely that I think it is a dump and it is overrated.  I understand that I am in the minority, and yes being a Brewers fan definitely contributes to my disdain for the park, but in my mind there is difference between a historic structure and a building that is just old and falling apart.  I get it - it's got a hand-operated scoreboard, and the ivy is cool, and it's in a neighborhood, blah blah blah...I get that.  I get that it is a great atmosphere and a baseball mecca for many.  But in my opinion, the team has to at least give the illusion that it cares and does not just take for granted that Wrigley Field will be around forever.  Granted, it's not entirely the Cubs' fault, but I think it's incredibly stubborn and naive that prior ownership has just left the field to wither and age all these years, knowing that fans will still come to the park and shell out $10 for an Old Style regardless of stadium condition or the team's record.  I personally don't find falling concrete and 50-year old plumbing and cramped concourses to be alluring.  Fenway Park has shown us that it is possible to have a historic structure that has been upgraded yet still keeps its charm.  Until the Cubs follow suit, I will not be going back to Wrigley, aside from next year's 100th anniversary season (just in case the proposal stalls and the park falls down).  As both an architect and a baseball fan, it would be a shame to me if this stadium is not repaired.

So why has it taken so long to get the ball rolling on this?  Part of it is the Cubs just trying to keep costs down and taking the approach of not fixing something that isn't broken - even though in some cases, the park literally is breaking.  The Cubs still make money hand over fist despite Alfonso Soriano's neverending albatross contract and 50+ home day games a year.  I think ultimately having an owner like Ricketts who is a business guy and not a "baseball guy" is a blessing for the Cubs, because he recognizes this golden opportunity to improve an already profitable product and to remain competitive.  The other big reason the process has been slow-moving is because, in the words of Ricketts, the city is forcing the Cubs to run their operation more like a museum than a business.  There are so many outside interests, landmark regulations, neighborhood codes, and historical nuances that the Cubs have to address with their 99-year old ballpark that most other teams simply don't have to deal with.  First, Ricketts wanted the city to help finance the renovation with tax dollars, and the city said no dice.  Then he said ok, I'll just put up some more advertising, and the rooftop owners balked at that, since they have a minority stake in the team's ticket sales and proposed signage would block their view.  Now Cubs' ownership has been left no choice but to pursue outside means of revenue, i.e. hotel.  After continuing to bend over backwards to please all the parties involved, Ricketts reached a boiling point last week when he threatened to move the team out of Wrigleyville if a deal did not go through.  I don't think this would ever happen, but I can certainly understand his frustration.  The fact that I'm siding with somebody associated with the Cubs should let you know how much I think this whole thing stinks.

When the Red Sox went through this same conundrum in the past decade, ulimately the team, the city, and the neighborhood all took a step back and thought about what life would be like without Fenway Park, and a deal got done.  The result was a beautiful and tactful renovation to ensure the stadium is around for generations to come.  In the end, I think Wrigley Field will enjoy the same result.  It's a cash cow for the Cubs, it is singlehandedly the reason the neighborhood exists, and a huge tourism draw for Chicago.  If the rooftop owners continue to be stubborn and bark about a modestly sized scoreboard and a few advertising billboards - things that every team deserves to remain viable - the more critical upkeep and repair will fall by the wayside.  Wrigley Field has been around for nearly 100 years, and this renovation is needed to ensure it is around for another 100.

Brewers 15-19, -7.5 (4 @ Pirates, 3 @ Cardinals)
Reds 21-16, -3.0
(3 @ Marlins, 3 @ Phillies)
Twins 16-16, -3.5 (3 v. White Sox, 3 v. Red Sox)

Erik - 3
Peter - 8

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Robin Roberts Baseball Field

All photos of Robin Roberts Baseball Field available on Flickr.

This past Tuesday, the mercury reached an unexpected but welcome 85ยบ, so I scrambled to find a ballgame to go to and enjoy the weather, and Madison Area Technical College was what I came up with.  Even though I now live only a few minutes away, this was actually my first visit to the campus, and I was surprised to see all of the new buildings going up there and that it was relatively consolidated.  This includes the new-ish Robin Roberts Baseball Field, which was dedicated in 2000.  The field is not named after the Hall-of-Fame pitcher nor the fetching newscaster, but rather a former Madison College ballplayer and project benefactor.

Even though Robin Roberts Field is only 13 years old, it looks at least three times that old.  Part of the reason is because it is not surprisingly a very barebones facility, and part of it is because the field does not look like it is maintained too well.  But a large part of the implied age has to do with the fact that they used old Milwaukee County Stadium seats for the grandstand, which are all some combination of rusty, cracked, faded, or just flat-out broken.  I appreciated the sustainable homage to County Stadium and that a park this small has chairs instead of bleachers, but it was not comfortable resting my elbow on rusted armrests.  Another inconvenient thing is that the grandstand is in three discontinuous sections with no front aisle.  The park has a lot of foul ground and a large dugout/clubhouse/concessions building on the 1st base side, so even at a park this size I felt far away from the action and balls hit to right field were obstructed.  One particularly odd thing about the park is that the roof of this aforementioned building is habitable.  There are a few benches up there in the front close to the field, but the rest of the roof is just covered in used astroturf and is mostly wasted space.  I suppose that the team does not draw well enough to warrant installing a set of bleachers up there, but it is disappointing that the roof is really just accessible for its own sake.  I stood up there for an inning and mingled amongst the Madison College softball team that clearly just came from their own game to watch the boys play.  On my way down, I had a good view of the bullpens and batting cages further up the line, and watched a pitcher warm up for awhile.  The park definitely has all of the pieces that can make a park of this size interesting, but none of them are done well.  The roof is a good example of this, or the concession stand that only sells hot dogs and chips, or the dugouts that are built dangerously wide open on ground level.

The game itself was a quick one, only about 90 minutes; it was a 7-inning affair and the second half of a doubleheader.  I got to the park literally as the first pitch of Game 2 was being thrown so I didn't get to see any of the first game.  The Madison College schedule is actually comprised almost entirely of doubleheaders, of which I am a big fan.  In sweeping the doubleheader against College of Lake County, the Wolfpack improved to 28-9 and were ranked #11 nationally in Division II as of my visit.  In the early years of the Mallards, before the Northwoods League was the hotbed of talent that it is now, very often the club would field players from MATC, and I always just assumed it was because they were local.  Yes, that was probably still part of the reason, but it turns out the Mallards weren't doing the MATC kids any favors; they actually perenially field a pretty legit squad.  The Wolfpack won the game I was at courtesy of a 3-spot in the 6th.  Dan Schmidt went 2-2 with an RBI for the home team, and starting pitcher Hayden Hughey provided a serviceable 5 innings.  Nathan Hoffmann picked up the win in relief despite surrendering a run.

This concludes my brief and uneventful Madison community college baseball tour, unless I find out that Madison Media Institute has like a D-6 club team.  Not the greatest of facilities, but certainly not the worst I've been to either.  My experiences at Edgewood College and MATC were unfortunate reminders of how disgusting it is that UW is the only Big 10 school without a baseball team.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 1
views from park - 2
view to field - 3 (obstructed along first)
surrounding area - 2 (campus, airport)
food variety - 1
nachos - n/a
beer - n/a

vendor price - 10
ticket price - 10 (free)
atmosphere - 2
walk to park - 2
parking price/proximity - 10 (free adjacent lot)
concourses - 1 (there really isn't one)
team shop - n/a

best food - dog?  I guess?
most unique stadium feature - roof of concessions/clubhouse building
best jumbotron feature - n/a
best between-inning feature - PA guy pumpin the tunes

field dimensions - n/a
starters - DJ Engle (CoLC) v. Hayden Hughey (MATC)
opponent - College of Lake County Lancers
time of game - 2:45 (total for both games)
attendance - n/a (I counted about 30)
score - 4-3 W
Brewers score that day - 12-8 W

Brewers 14-16, -5.5 (2 v. Rangers, 3 @ Reds)
Reds 18-14, -2.5
 (3 v. Braves, 3 v. Brewers)
Twins 13-14, -4.0 (4 @ Red Sox, 3 v. Orioles)

Erik - 3
Peter - 8