Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Victory Field

All photos of Indianapolis and Victory Field available on Flickr.

This year's semi-annual, semi-spontaneous "it's been Spring for awhile but it's still 40 degrees and I need to get the hell out of here and watch outdoor ball" trip took us to Indianapolis, Indiana.  Slowly but surely, the radius of ballparks I've visited surrounding Milwaukee has been widening, and I'm starting to reach into destinations that require me to stay overnight.  Megan and I left Saturday morning and 4 1/2 hours later arrived at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.  We bought tickets and checked into our hotel a couple blocks away, and I couldn't help but stop and think for a minute, as I stared out the window from our 10th floor room, just how far I've come since the sleazy motels of the original Tour.  Just across the street, we stopped at a patio bar to hustle down a pregame drink, and in the process shared some laughs watching hoards of gaudy teenagers walk by on the way to their prom.  We arrived at the ballpark around 6:30 for a 7:05 first pitch.

Upon arrival, we soon realized why there was a huge line waiting to get in when we got into town - Wade Boggs was signing autographs.  I'm definitely not one of those fans who likes to hassle players off the field, but Boggs in particular I've always wanted to ask if the legend of him drinking 64 beers on a transcontinental flight was true.  However, in true Wade Boggs fashion, I chose to spend my time waiting in line for a cold one instead.  Megan and I both enjoyed a local Sun King Brewery beer called Indians Lager, and as far as beers go that are brewed specially for a ballpark, this one tops my list.  We paired our adult beverages with rather unimpressive fries and sandwiches, and did a quick lap around the ballpark before gametime.

Victory Field opened for business about 20 years ago as the cornerstone of a large downtown Indy revitalization project.  On the surface it is very clean and beautiful, but because of its age lacks some of the amenities that people have come to expect from modern ballparks.  For example, there is only one small standing room bar / specialty food area in the entire stadium, in left field; everything else is served at concessions stands or carts.  A standard minor league park nowadays is laden with various fan interaction zones, party decks, grills with crazy food items, and picnic areas, like the park in Charlotte we visited last year.  The downside of this at Victory Field is a lack interesting nodes in the ballpark, but the upside is a generous and peaceful centerfield promenade with a full wraparound berm and nearly uninterrupted views.  This walkway culminates at a grand centerfield plaza, which is flanked by the main gate to the northeast, a grove of trees in the batters eye to the southwest, and concession stands and carnival games to the sides (which are meant for children but we played anyways).  If this ballpark was built today, that avenue would have been lined with high-top seating, a shack serving six different types of bacon cheeseburgers, and the plaza would have had a huge bar with TVs, and the ambiance would have been completely different.  Not necessarily better or worse, but certainly not unique.  Speaking of unique, this stadium was also built at a time when AAA stadiums had a much larger seating capacity, so there is a full 2nd deck here that is atypical of minor league parks today.  We sat up here and really enjoyed it - you get a great view of the city yet still feel close to the action despite being higher up.  Nothing about this park really stands out or is particularly glamorous, but it is a very comfortable and spacious place to watch a ballgame, particularly on the first 70-degree night I have felt in 8 months.  A ballpark in a dense urban area doesn't need much to achieve a great sense of place, and I think they pulled this off quite well in Indianapolis.

The night's matchup was a battle of Pennsylvania farm clubs, as the Indians hosted the dismal Lehigh Valley IronPigs.  I recognized quite a few players in the lineups from their time in the majors, including Brian Bogusevic, Jordan Danks, Dominic Brown, Jose Tabata, Steve Lombardozzi, and the Indians' starter Chris Volstad.  At the time, I was wondering how some of these players were not good enough to make the Phillies roster given how awful they are, but now that I see their record going into Saturday's game was 6-18, I guess that answers my question.  Volstad stumbled through 6 innings for Indy, giving up 5 runs, including a booming homerun to the aforementioned Bogusevic.  The I-Pigs actually managed to carry a 5-3 lead going into the 9th, but the Indians had some fight left in them and rallied for the 6-5 walkoff victory.  Perhaps the most unlikely of candidates to win the game was the .136-hitting Brent Morel, but he did just that with a 2-run, 2-out single for the home team.  And that's why you never leave a game early!

Following that thrilling ending, Megan and I explored downtown Indy a little bit.  We were directed to Georgia Street by one of the beer vendors and it was definitely the place to be downtown.  We sat and enjoyed some drinks outside at an Irish bar and walked around to a few other places, trying our best to find bars not charging $10 for the stupid boxing match.  I was extremely impressed with downtown Indianapolis and had no idea it would be as big, as clean, or as lively (now I know how visitors must feel when they leave Milwaukee).  My only complaint would be there are far too many chain restaurants and bars from what little of the city we did see.  I mean, seriously, there's a Hard Rock CafĂ©?  I didn't even know those still existed.  On Sunday, we had brunch at a fantastic little scratch brunch place called Milktooth and swung by the Indians' former home, Bush Stadium, before hitting the road back to Wisconsin.  We both arrived home exhausted, yet glad we went and wishing we would have spent an extra night.

park rankings and statistics: 
aesthetics - 5 (entrance is in the back of the stadium)
views from park – 8 (Indy skyline)
view to field - 10
surrounding area – 9 (downtown Indy)
food variety - 2
nachos - 5
beer - 5 (one local brewery, $7.25 for 16 oz)

vendor price - 8
ticket price - 2 ($16 and for some reason upper deck is same price as lower deck)
atmosphere - 9
walk to park – 8
parking price/proximity - 3 (lots close but expensive)
concourses - 9
team shop - 8 (two mid-size ones, lots of retro gear)

best food – anything from "The Cove"
most unique stadium feature – main entry is in centerfield
best jumbotron feature – graphics for "Star Wars Night"
best between-inning feature – Chick-fil-A Cows Race

field dimensions – 320/402/320
starters – Adam Morgan (LHV) v. Chris Volstad (IND)
opponent – Lehigh Valley IronPigs
time of game – 2:33
attendance – 9620
score – 6-5 W

Brewers score that day – 6-1 W

Brewers 8-18, -11.5 (4 v. Dodgers, 3 v. Cubs)
Reds 13-13, -6.5 (3 @ Pirates, 3 @ White Sox)
Twins 14-12, -3.0 (4 v. Athletics, 3 @ Indians)

Erik - 2 (+4 worked)

Peter - 8

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