Monday, August 26, 2013

Tour 2013: Hammons Field

All photos of Hammons Field available on Flickr.

It was a long wait into the season this year for our big annual ball trip, and as is always the case, it seemed to be over before it began.  Tour 2013 brought us to Missouri, with a stop at a AA game en route to see the $250 million Kauffman Stadium renovation completed for the 2009 season.  I keep saying "us," because Erik and I did plan the trip together, but I actually went by myself because he was unable to shake loose from prior commitments.  In 5 short weeks this season will be over, and will be recorded in the annals of history as the first year since we were in college together that we haven't gone on some sort of ball trip.  Although extremely disappointing, I know we still have many, many years of ball tours ahead of us.  The 8 1/2 hour drive down to Springfield was pretty lonely and most of the way I was thinking to myself how ridiculous it was to go on a weekend vacation alone, but looking back, I'm definitely glad that I went.

I arrived in Springfield around 4:30, well in advance of the odd 7:09 game time.  The first of many small fortunes I encountered on this trip was when I found out the hotel I was staying at had a pool, so I was able to occupy myself until it was time to head to the ballpark.  Erik and I have an affinity for quoting Caddyshack among other movies, and one of our go-to lines is when Chevy Chase says "we have a pool, and a pond...pond's probably good for you."  So, I had to laugh when I saw the pond-esque condition of the pool featuring leaves and bugs, but it was 90ยบ so I jumped in anyways.  After my swim, I took a circuitous route to the ballpark to survey the downtown area for potential places to drink after the game, but finding it to be dilapidated and deserted, I made a bee-line for the ballpark.  I then spent at least 10 minutes waiting in line to get into the parking lot across the street.  It was completely absurd - it is a shared parking lot with a hotel, with only one entry point, and they charge $7!!!  I might have expected this were the ballpark truly urban, but it was more on the fringes and it not a city-operated lot.  Anyways, after that atrocity, I got to the ticket window and found that only GA tickets were available.  The game tonight may not have been the largest minor league crowd I've been a part of, or even the loudest, but it was definitely the most full I have ever seen a minor league stadium.  Usually when I go to minor league games, I just buy GA tickets regardless and sit where I want, but I literally did not see one empty seat for at least the first 6 innings.  Even the grass berms were packed and I ended up standing for most of the game.  Aside from concessions lines being understandably long, being a part of a standing-room crowd at a minor league game was a pretty incredible experience.  It was a perfect storm of A) Springfield being tied for 1st, B) playing the nearby rival Royals' affiliate whom they are tied with, C) the 4th to last home game of the season, and D) just Cardinals fans being awesome in general, as much as that pains me to say.

Given the huge contingent of St. Louis Cardinal fans at the ballpark as well as the team's proximity to St. Louis, I was very surprised to find out that both the team and stadium have existed for less than 10 years.  Hammons Field is named after the late John Q. Hammons, a famous hotel entrepreneur, who funded the ballpark entirely himself with the promise of luring a team to his hometown to become a new Cardinals affiliate.  Included in the price tag for this park was its own separate indoor practice facility beyond the outfield wall, which is a luxury I've certainly never heard of in minor league stadium that doesn't double as a spring training facility.  As it is set up now, there is a berm that wraps around the left field pole into the outfield, is interrupted by some trees in the batters eye, and then another small portion of berm in right center, and between this berm and the right field pole is the practice facility.  The nice part is the out-building gives the site some context, but the drawback is that the concourse does not wrap all the way around.  Other than that, there are a lot of nuances that make this park unique.  Most interesting to me was obviously how the park was constructed.  The composition had a "horse track" kind of aesthetic and the structure utilizes joist girders with clevis turnbuckle rods, painted in sea foam green.  In laymen's terms - fancy metal trusses.  The concourse is also set up kind of cool.  It terminates in left field at a stair tower that goes up a level to a small canopied deck of seating, and down a level to the GA berm area, which also has its own separate concessions area and a half-court basketball hoop.  I really liked that the grass berm area, which can be rambunctious and typically appeals to kids and families, was separated from the rest of the park while still maintaining visual connectivity.  The interrupted berm, the drop in level to the berm, the stair tower on one side, the seating area on one side, the jumbotron being off center, and the out-building in right center - all of these things give the park a subtle asymmetry, which any architect will tell you adds visual appeal.

The park may be slightly asymmetrical, but it was certainly tied together nicely with a sea of red, as over 9000 fans packed "The Ham" for an important game against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (hilariously abbreviated "NWA").  The S-Cards did not have a good showing and got blown out 12-0.  Cardinals starter Anthony Ferrara did not make it out of the 5th, surrendering 4 earned on 83 pitches.  The big blow came in the 8th inning when reliever Danny Miranda came on, loaded the bases on a hit and two walks, and then gave up a grand slam to Matt Fields.  Fields is only hitting .230 on the year but had 31 HR and 85 RBI as of this game, both of which I have to assume are near the top of the Texas League leaderboards.  Despite the schlacking, or perhaps because of it, there was no real shining talent in the game.  With all of the young kids being called up to the big leagues this year for the Cardinals, that honestly didn't surprise me.  There were a couple players though on the Naturals I recognized from when the Royals had an affiliate in the Midwest League - SS Orlando Calixte and 3B Cheslor Cuthbert.  I mean, who could forget names like that?  After the game, I finally managed to find a seat for all 4 minutes of the post-game fireworks extravaganza.

At no point during the weekend was I more aware that my ball trip companion was not with me than on Friday night after the game.  As Erik and I often do in sketchy minor league cities, I settled for a night cap at the local Applebee's to await the inevitability of players and/or team staff coming in for a late night meal, which they did.  My night ended after just one beer, but I imagine Erik and I would have closed the place down, destroyed the Waffle House across the street, and then taken advantage of the mini-fridge and giant handicap-accessible bathroom floor back at the hotel.  On the other hand, the good part of being there myself was I didn't have to share the small bed and was not hung over for my big day in Kansas City.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 8
views from park - 2
view to field - 8
surrounding area - 3 (downtown a few blocks away, looks shady/mostly abandoned)
food variety - 3 (one specialty dog stand)
nachos - 8 (custom nacho bar)
beer - 4 ($6.75, 4 kinds)

vendor price - 5
ticket price - 6 ($7 GA)
atmosphere - 9
walk to park - 3
parking price/proximity - 1 (adjacent screwy lot $7)
concourses - 8
team shop - 6

best food - specialty dog stand
most unique stadium feature - structure
best jumbotron feature - Are You Smarter than a Cubs Fan?
best between-inning feature - Duck Hunt

field dimensions - 315/400/330
starters - Aaron Brooks (NWA) v. Anthony Ferrara (SPR)
opponent - Northwest Arkansas Naturals
time of game - 3:04
attendance - 9,509
score - 12-0 L
Brewers score that day - 6-4 W

Brewers 57-73, -19.5 (3 @ Pirates, 3 v. Angels)
Reds 74-58, -3.5 
(3 @ Cardinals, 3 @ Rockies)
Twins 57-72, -19.0 (3 v. Royals, 3 @ Rangers)

Erik - 10 (+28 worked)

Peter - 38 

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