Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Knute Nelson Memorial Park

All photos of Knute Nelson Memorial Park available on Flickr.

It took until I was in a relationship with a girl from central Minnesota to finally make it up to a game in Alexandria.  Megan and I visited her family near St. Cloud for a long weekend and made the trek up to Alex to watch the Blue Anchors play ball on Saturday.  Driving northwest on I-94 through Minnesota, there is a very definite sensation that you are slowly drifting into uncharted wilderness.  Just before I thought I was going to start seeing polar bears, we arrived at our destination.

Alexandria is a very small resort town with a year-round population of around 10,000, but balloons to over 4x that size in the summer due to a booming lake tourism industry.  Because of this, the Blue Anchors regularly draw over 800 fans a game, which is nothing shy of remarkable for this market.  Despite the influx of the out-of-towners, the ballpark and team still have strong ties to the community.  The mix of fans, along with a very intimate ballpark in a residential setting, contributes to a very comfortable and friendly atmosphere at Knute Nelson Memorial Park.  Before going to Alexandria, I was convinced that it would be a model of why I thought a team would thrive in Wisconsin Dells, since they are so similar demographically.  But after leaving, I realized that the sense of community is something the Dells just can't replicate, which is so important for teams in this league in order to maintain a fanbase.  If you are just a fan of a simple and authentic baseball experience in an old no-frills ballpark, then Alexandria is the place for you.

However, I'm not trying to imply that the stadium is a dump.  It's small enough and old enough that I would use adjectives like "quirky" and " unique" as opposed to "rundown."  It reminded me a lot of Athletic Park in Wausau - it has that same entry gate on a residential corner, same small grandstand elevated from the playing surface, and both have very small outfields - only 345 to straightaway center in the case of Knute Nelson.  Both parks are very intimate and were built 70+ years ago, and both parks had the newer party area installed in right field.  The main thing that sets Alex apart from the 'Sau is that it does not have the overpowering exterior.  It's built to look more its size and feel like a neighborhood park.  The seats also seem closer to the field.  Disclaimer: my opinion on this might be influenced by the fact that we sat in a bunker under the grandstand directly behind homeplate.  You have pretty much two seating options besides the group area in right field at Knute Nelson - $5 GA grandstand, or for $20 you get the "Walk-Up Party Deck," in the aforementioned bunker, which includes all-you-can-eat-and drink.  To be literal, it is more like the "Walk Down" party deck, as you have to walk through the kitchen and down a few steps to get into a room with a fenced opening that very clearly used to be an umpires room or a dugout.  A good example of that "quirky" and "unique" I was talking about.  It was not a hard decision to choose these seats over the grandstand and it was definitely one of the better values and most unique seating areas I've experienced at a ballpark.  I was also pleasantly surprised that the hot dogs were delicious locally produced sausages and not just the casings filled with sawdust that you normally get at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

I was expecting a lot of homeruns in this game based on the size of the field; I just wasn't expecting the Blue Anchors to hit any of them.  The Blue Anchors dropped to a dismal 5-20 on the season following their loss to Rochester, but definitely put up a fight in the 9-8 slugfest.  They came back from deficits throughout the game thanks to the help of 4 homeruns, two by diminutive left fielder Jordan Lee.  Despite being only 5'-8" he is hitting a team-best .375 and 4 homers.  Lee went back-to-back with CF Kris Goodman in the 5th - Goodman's was a bomb into the lake over the center field wall.  In a game featuring 30 hits, there was not much good to say from the pitching side.  The starters gave up 5 and 6 ER respectively, and every pitcher who saw action gave up a run except Nick Highberger, who picked up the save for the Honkers.

We didn't see much else in Alexandria besides the ballpark.  We had an hour drive back to Cold Spring following the game, and even if we didn't, the only commercial street in town was closed due to construction.  While no physical qualities of Knute Nelson Memorial Stadium jump off the page, it definitely scores an 'A' in the all-important intangible quality of ballpark experience.  I would definitely come back, even if the team does not get any better.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 3
views from park – 7 (Lake Winona)
view to field - 8
surrounding area – 6 (main street is nearby, but it was closed)
food variety - 2
nachos - n/a
beer - 9 (we only got Miller, but looked to have a great variety for cheap)

vendor price - 9
ticket price - 9 ($5 GA)
atmosphere - 9
walk to park – 7 (residential, Lake Winona)
parking price/proximity - 10 (free street parking a block away)
concourses - 2 (there isn't really one)
team shop - 3 (isn't really one of these either, but bonus points for sweet logo)

best food – hot dog (not just by default - it's actually really good)
most unique stadium feature – party deck below center grandstand
best jumbotron feature – n/a
best between-inning feature – pregame release of doves

field dimensions – 325/345/325
starters – Spencer Greer (ROC) v. Blake Bass (ALX)
opponent – Rochester Honkers
time of game – 2:53
attendance – 741
score – 9-8 L

Brewers score that day – 9-4 W

Brewers 47-31, +4.5, (4 v. Rockies, 2 @ Blue Jays)
Reds 38-37, -7.5 (4 @ Giants, 3 @ Padres)
Twins 36-38, -5.5 (3 @ Rangers, 3 v. Royals)

Erik - 3 (+12 worked)

Peter - 22

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