Monday, May 27, 2013
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
STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 05.27:
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)
2013 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 8
Peter - 12