Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Four Winds Field

All photos of Four Winds Field available on Flickr.

With my spring and summer weekends already filling up rapidly, I took advantage of an open Saturday to make a semi-spontaneous ballpark excursion.  I checked the Midwest League schedule during the week and decided on South Bend, mainly because it is one of the few parks I have left to visit within a reasonable driving distance.  Dating a girl who actually likes baseball and wanted to come along validated my decision to drive 6 hours roundtrip.  We hit the road around 2pm for a 7:05 ET first pitch.

The freeway exit took us right through Notre Dame campus and brought back some good memories of when I took my mom to a Fighting Irish football game several years ago.  Several of the first few intersections had manually placed stop signs in middle of the road, and it dawned on me that it must be Notre Dame's graduation weekend.  After another 10 blocks of the stop signs in lieu of traffic lights, I knew something else was going on.  It turns out that there was an underground electrical fire the day before, and power had been knocked out to over 800 homes and businesses on the south side of the river, as well as the traffic lights obviously.  Many restaurants and bars were running on generators to accommodate the thousands of people flooding the city for the Notre Dame commencement, which I'm sure is the event that pretty much keeps the city afloat for the entire year.  Luckily also for us, baseball was still on.  I've learned from past mistakes to check the weather report before leaving for a game, but I now I suppose I need to start verifying that the stadium has power as well.  We heard all of this news from a team employee who graciously offered us a ride in his golf cart to the only ticket booth still functional, on the other side of the stadium.

Once inside, we saw no indication that the stadium was affected by the power outage.  Four Winds Field, formerly Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium or "The Cove," opened in 1987 and is relatively well known among ballpark enthusiasts as one of the first stadiums to introduce a concourse with a view to the field.  This is now common practice for all new stadiums, but prior to The Cove, generally fans were restricted to walking below and behind metal bleachers.  However, 20 years later, this trailblazing model was already becoming obsolete.  Fans today demand more interaction and more entertainment, and owners want more suites and more group areas.  The renovations completed in 2012 delivered this in spades.  The stadium now captures some land behind the outfield wall to complete a 360ยบ concourse which includes a couple of party decks, a walk-up bar, and a kids zone, all of which are quickly becoming standard at new parks.  The outfield concourse also allows for a new public entry into the ballpark which points in the direction of downtown and I can see it tying in nice with future development.  Also included in the renovation were revamped and additional suites above the main concourse.  The park does still have the press box on ground level behind home plate (similar to the setup in Appleton) which is a design flaw remaining from the original construction.  A major overhaul to the concessions gives Fort Wayne a run for its money.  You can get everything from a gourmet hot dog to giant Philly cheesesteak nachos to an Asian-fusion cheeseburger, and wash it all down with a Miller Lite in a 20 oz souvenir cup that only costs $6.  My only real complaint about the stadium is that the seats all face the foul lines orthogonally instead of angling towards home plate, kind of like you would see at a multi-purpose stadium like the Metrodome.  We sat in the first row between 3rd base and the LF pole, and it was very difficult for me to see the batter without turning my body or leaning forward.  Others might complain about the field being entirely synthetic turf, but I've seen enough of these fields the last few years to just accept that this is the trend now.

One of the most unique parts of this or any other stadium is the team store.  It is housed inside South Bend's first synagogue, built in 1903, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.  It had sat largely vacant since the congregation left in 2001 and fell into delinquency.  The city agreed to transfer the title to the Silver Hawks' new owner in 2011 - who happens to be Jewish - and he financed a $1 million renovation to save the synagogue and convert it into the team store, in addition to the $2.5 million he already put into the stadium renovations.  It comes off as kind of odd and sacrilegious when you first step inside building, because it still looks and feels like a place of worship.  But it's projects like this that are the reason adaptive reuse is my favorite type of architecture - instead of razing a beautiful building, the Jewish community and city of South Bend have a new project they can be proud of.

As for the game, the Silver Hawks recaptured the best record in the Eastern Division with a 4-2 win over the TinCaps.  Steve McQuail had the big hit in the game for the home team with a solo bomb to center in the 4th.  The starter for Fort Wayne all but gave the game away by recording 3 errors on throws to first and allowing 2 runs to score on wild pitches.  Fort Wayne had 4 errors in total and some pretty shotty defense on plays that weren't called errors.  Despite this embarrassment, they clearly had the best player on the field in 1B Fernando Perez.  He was a triple shy of the cycle and raised his average to .344 in the process.  He is an aggressive hitter, and all of the balls he put in play were line drives.  The South Bend starter, Blake Perry, notched his 2nd win for his effort of keeping all the hitters other than Perez at bay.

We spent the final inning warming up by the heat lamps at the tiki bar in left field.  Heading back to the car, the downtown was almost completely dark and devoid of life.  I'm hoping this was mostly due to the power outage, and not the lack of development around the stadium.  I didn't want to bother the crew of workers fervently trying to restore power with questions about what bars are nearby, so we drove through the ghost town and back home.  It was well worth the trip; Four Winds Field greatly exceeded my expectations and I highly recommend a visit.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 5
views from park - 4
view to field - 5 (seating bowl not angled properly down the lines)
surrounding area - 3 (hard to tell due to the blackout)
food variety - 9
nachos - 9
beer - 7 ($6 for 20 oz souvenir cup, decent variety)

vendor price - 7
ticket price - 7 (no GA - cheapest is $9)
atmosphere - 6
walk to park - 5 (nice promenade on north end)
parking price/proximity - 10 (free street parking across the street)
concourses - 7 (points deducted for blind spot behind home plate)
team shop - 10

best food - specialty dog stand
most unique stadium feature - team store in refurbished synagogue
best jumbotron feature - clips from "Tommy Boy"
best between-inning feature - Martin's Supermarket vegetable race

field dimensions - 336/405/336
starters - Erik Cabrera (FW) v. Blake Perry (SB)
opponent - Fort Wayne TinCaps
time of game - 2:32
attendance - 3,021
score - 4-2 W

Brewers score that day - 3-0 L

Brewers 27-19, +2.5, (3 @ Marlins, 3 v. Orioles)
Reds 20-24, -6.0 (3 v. Cardinals, 3 @ Dodgers)
Twins 21-21, -6.5 (3 @ Giants, 4 v. Rangers)

Erik - 2 (+4 worked)

Peter - 12 

No comments: