Monday, June 29, 2015

Joe Faber Field

All photos of Joe Faber Field available on Flickr.

Megan and I went to visit her family in central Minnesota this past weekend, and we took in a St. Cloud Rox game with the clan while we were up there.  I learned a couple of interesting hometown area baseball tidbits during our trip.  #1 - the Rox started playing in a new ballpark 8 years ago and I had no idea.  All this time I had been looking forward to writing the name "Dick Putz Field" as many times as possible the day we finally made it to this park, and here I come to find out they play in a newer stadium right next door.  From the looks of it though, it was a good thing.  #2 - apparently her small town of Cold Spring has a 90+ year history of town ball and is equipped with a legit ballpark that hosts 3 amateur teams.  Three teams!  Milwaukee is 150X its size and doesn't even have three teams.  We drove by it on Saturday night and it looked super fun; I'm pumped to go to a game there next summer.

But let's rein it in here and get back to St. Cloud.  Joe Faber Field was constructed in 1998 and has been host to the Rox since 2007 following a renovation.  Together with their former home Dick Putz Field a mere 200 feet away, an ice arena, and a golf course, these facilities comprise the Municipal Athletic Complex, which is on the west side of town.  Faber and Putz also combine to host the St. Cloud State University ball team as well as a lot of regional high school tournaments.  Although not glamorous by any means, Joe Faber looks to be a vast improvement over their old home, and in retrospect I am glad I got to see a game in the newer park as opposed to when Erik visited Dick Putz Field about 10 years ago, back when the Rox were called the River Bats.  St. Cloud changed their team name to the Rox in 2012 to pay homage to the former Rox minor league club that ceased operation in 1971.  St. Cloud has a long history of minor league baseball, like most teams in the Northwoods League do - many of which I'm learning were affiliates of the nearby Twins.

We met all of my soon-to-be in-laws at the park around 5:45 for a 6:05 game.  Normally I like to get to a park I am visiting the first time as close to gates open as possible, but as I could tell when I got inside, I wouldn't really need that much time to walk around.  You emerge through the main gate into a large low-ceiling volume that houses the main concession stand and some souvenir racks, and that's really all there is to the park aside from the grandstand.  This is something you commonly see at an older park like a Wade Stadium or a Carson Park, and when a ballpark has age this can be charming.  But for a park that isn't even 20 years old it seemed very odd and cheap, and makes it feel much more outdated than it already is.  The first thing you see when you walk into a stadium shouldn't be basically a giant white waiting room with acoustical tile ceiling.  To either side of this "room" are tunnels that ramp up and emerge into the grandstand.  Once you are at your seat surveying the field, it looks and feels a lot like old Midway Stadium in St. Paul, and the between-innings entertainment was nearly as zany to match.  The major difference would be that instead of train tracks and industrial wasteland, you have a pretty view of trees and a golf course.  Joe Faber Field also has a fairly elaborate party deck along the 3rd base line.  Most parks in the Northwoods League have an all-you-can-eat section, but it is usually is just a glob of picnic tables.  Here it is a tiered system that allows good views to the field and also extends over the visitors dugout.  Aside from the party deck, I was definitely keenly aware here just how many aspects of the ballpark I had seen copied from others of a similar size and age.  Maybe this was a conscious strategy by the designer or maybe it was just lazy, or maybe being an architect who's visited over 120 stadiums is finally making me crazy.

The matchup pitted the Rox against the Blue Anchors, who have improved considerably since we saw them about this time last year in Alexandria with only 5 wins.  Andrew Clemen was mowing 'em down for the home team, striking out 7 in 6.1 innings.  It was easy to see that he had good stuff and was fooling a lot of hitters, but his stressful arm motion was even more noticeable to me.  It's little things like that that keep kids in this league from getting drafted.  Clemen's counterpart Sean Terres nearly matched him, striking out 7 in 6 innings but with 3 walks.  In the 8th inning with the game knotted at 1-1, Luke Petterson led off the top half of the inning with a single, advanced on a sac bunt, and scored on a throwing error by the shortstop.  We left after the 3rd out because of a threat of rain, but that proved to be the winning run as Alex held on for the 2-1 victory.

If we were talking about a minor league park, this would have been near the bottom of my list.  But for the Northwoods League, Joe Faber Field more than adequately serves its tenants and its community despite its shortcomings.  It is affordable and quality family entertainment in a neighborhood setting, and at its core there is not much more you need at a baseball game.

park rankings and statistics: 
aesthetics - 3
views from park – 6
view to field - 5 (fence not net)
surrounding area – 3
food variety - 2
nachos - 2
beer - 4 (low variety, $5.75 for craft beer here is absurd) 

vendor price - 10
ticket price - 5 (again, $10 not bad but for this park it is absurd)
atmosphere - 6
walk to park – 5 (golf course)
parking price/proximity - 8 (free lot, but shared within complex so it is crowded)
concourses - 1
team shop - 5 (nice stuff but not an actual shop)

best food – kosher hot dog
most unique stadium feature – "Terrace" party deck
best jumbotron feature – n/a
best between-inning feature – kids giant undies race

field dimensions – 315/401/325
starters – Sean Terres (ALX) v. Andrew Clemen (STC)
opponent – Alexandria Blue Anchors
time of game – 2:31
attendance – 1781
score – 2-1 L

Brewers score that day – 5-2 L

Brewers 29-48, -23.0 (4 @ Phillies, 3 @ Reds)
Reds 34-40, -16.5 (3 v. Twins, 3 v. Brewers
Twins 40-35, -5.5 (3 @ Reds, 4 @ Royals)

Erik - 13 (+15 worked)

Peter - 25

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Return to Davenport

All photos of Modern Woodmen Park available on Flickr.

My final game of the weekend brought me back to a familiar place - Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport, Iowa.  I awoke to strong thunderstorms passing through the area, but by the time I got on the road it had cleared up.  I resisted every temptation to dominate the Waffle House next to my hotel (given what I ate last night) and hit the road around 8AM for the 4-hour drive.  It was a nice drive up Highway 67 through winding fields and towns with names like Industry and Preemption, culminating with my first time crossing the famed Centennial Bridge into Iowa.

There are many things I love about this park and many reasons I keep coming back.  I love the charm of the arched brick exterior and the way you ascend into the park as you would in many parks its age.  The view to the Mississippi River and aforementioned Centennial Bridge directly on the other side of the right field wall is unparalleled and one of the best views in all of baseball.  There are more concessions options than you can imagine, and they are all concentrated into one of the smaller more intimate concourses you'll find.  At most ballparks I am just looking for the first tasty food that catches my eye, but here at Mo Wood it literally took me three passes to even narrow it down to a stand.  Because of the park's low capacity (just over 4,000), noise and crowding are never an issue.  There are a lot of things for kids to do but the areas are well separated from the rest of the stadium.  Lastly, as an affiliate of the Twins, Cardinals, and Astros over the last 15 years, Quad Cities can always be expected to field a competitive team, including 2 league titles during that span.

My motivations for coming back to Davenport this particular time, much like my trip to Sauget, were primarily for reasons other than baseball.  Last year, the ownership group made a bold move by installing a one-of-a-kind attraction that cannot be found at any other ballpark in the world, at least that I know of - a Ferris wheel in left field.  At 110' feet tall, it's tall enough that you get great views of the city and the river, but not so tall that smaller children would be scared to ride (although, being my first time on a Ferris wheel, I will admit I was a little tense at first).  This ride is clearly meant for families and couples, but I paid my $5 and went anyways.  It was so cool and it gives you a very interesting perspective on the stadium you wouldn't be able to get otherwise unless you had a drone.  I got as many pictures as I could, but the wheel moved a lot faster than I expected, and I was paranoid about dropping my camera over the side.  I went before the game started and the line moved pretty fast, but I could see even well into the later innings the line to get on was packed.  This Ferris wheel, along with the tiki bar installed in right field a few years ago, gives Modern Woodmen Park something that a lot of ballparks strive for these days - use outside of a baseball game.  It also makes the view from the grandstand even more breathtaking, something I didn't think was possible.  If there is one stadium in America that is worthy of me trying to figure out the panorama feature on my iPhone camera, it would be this one.

Sunday's game was the last game of the first half before the All-Star Game in Peoria on Tuesday.  I did not stay the entire game, because it was really hot and I was exhausted and it was Father's Day, but it was a pitchers duel for the portion I did see.  Akeem Bostick's pitching line does not jump out at you - 5IP, 1ER, 3Ks - but he did it on only 59 pitches and did a good job of missing the barrel of the hitters' bats.  Jeremy Rhoades, on the other hand, labored for the visiting Bees, needing 51 pitches to get through 2 innings before being removed.  The first run of the game was a run-scoring GIDP in the top of the 5th, and Jason Martin returned the favor in the bottom half with a homerun.  It was 2-1 when I left in the 7th and looks like I did not miss much as the final was 3-1.  One interesting game note: Wayne Gretzky's son Trevor played left field for Burlington and had 2 of the team's 4 hits on the day.  He was drafted in 2011 by the Cubs, and Mike Scioscia traded his own son away for him last year.

This was my 5th overall visit to Mo Wood, formerly John O'Donnell Stadium, and I always look forward to coming back here.  It's probably the park I've visited the most excluding home cities and it remains one of my favorite stadiums, as well as consistently one of the top voted parks in the minor leagues.

park rankings and statistics
(see also previous posts from 8/28/07 and 5/20/09): 

aesthetics - 7
views from park – 10
view to field - 9
surrounding area – 5
food variety - improves to 10
nachos - 6
beer - improves to 8 (very affordable, souvenir cups, craft beer stand)

vendor price - 7
ticket price - improves to 8 ($6 GA)
atmosphere - improves to 7 (Ferris wheel is a big draw)
walk to park – 7
parking price/proximity - 10
concourses - 7
team shop - improves to 6 (new bobblehead museum inside)

best food – Bandit dog
most unique stadium feature – Ferris wheel
best jumbotron feature – commercials
best between-inning feature – kids are bungeed together and try to throw balls in buckets

field dimensions – 343/400/318
starters – Jeremy Rhoades (BUR) v. Akeem Bostick (QC)
opponent – Burlington Bees
time of game – 2:22
attendance – 4135
score – 3-1 W

Brewers score that day – 10-3 L

Monday, June 22, 2015

GCS Ballpark

All photos of GCS Ballpark available on Flickr.

Ballpark #2 of my weekend was across the river from St. Louis for an independent league game.  It was about a 5-hour drive down to Collinsville, Illinois to check into my surprisingly nice hotel room.  How far we've come since the Tour - even Super 8s are fancy now and cost $75.  I relaxed for awhile and watched the last inning of Max Scherzer's should-have-been-a perfect game, and then drove the additional 15 miles to the ballpark.  Why did I stay so far out of town?  Because this ballpark is in Sauget, IL, or in other words, East St. Louis.  Anybody who knows anything about crime rates in America (or has seen the movie "Vacation") knows that East St. Louis has the highest murder rate in the country, by quite an impressive margin.  After going to #2 Gary last year, I might have to plan a trip to Detroit in 2016 to complete the trifecta.  I'm not sure what the story is of why Sauget broke off from East St. Louis, but I'm sure the association with crime was a big reason.  It's a pretty interesting little town in that it has less than 200 people but somehow boasts a professional ballpark and a major airport.  Perhaps the fact that the mayor owns the team and the town takes his family name has a little something to do with that.

But I didn't drive all this way on a danger-seeking mission or a political investigation.  Frankly, baseball wasn't even the top reason - it was the food.  I know of this ballpark primarily from Adam Richman's gastronomical excursion there for his former show "Man v. Food."  In that episode before one of his ridiculous eating challenges, he stuffed his fat face with a bacon cheeseburger utilizing a Krispy Kreme donut as the bun.  Since the media attention gained from Richman's visit, the team has continued to up their game and now claims to have the best food in baseball.  They even have a concession stand arrogantly titled the "Baseball's Best Stand."  I had to see what all the fuss was about for myself.  I tried the donut hamburger ("Baseball's Best Burger") and it was perfectly delicious.  When you think of outrageous ballpark foods these days, in your mind you are probably thinking of something the size of a plate that costs a day's pay.  This burger was of normal human size and only $5, and also surprisingly easy to eat, all of which I liked.  Later in the game I tried the "Baseball's Best Nachos" with queso cheese and ground up steak, also delicious.  Both of these items were up near the top for me in each category.  Now I have to brave one more trip down there to try the "Baseball's Best Cake Bites" (are there any other ones?) and the "Baseball's Best Hot Dog."  I somehow had room in my stomach for a beer as well, and even that was amazing - they have those cups here that fill from the bottom.  There is a hole in the cup with a magnet and when depressed on the dispenser, it fills a 16oz cup in less than 5 seconds with zero waste and very little foam.  Maybe not the best system for a beer snob, but when you're talking about bottom-line speed and profit, it is something that should be installed at every ballpark.

As for the ballpark itself, the one thing I was looking for with a team called the Gateway Grizzlies across the river from the Gateway City was...well, a gateway.  And the entry delivered that.  Nothing too over-the-top like Joliet, to use a comparison from another Frontier League team, but it got its point across and was the defining physical feature of the park.  Other items of note were a very nice outfield berm in right field and a second-level private deck.  A lot of parks this size have these, but the berm was very low to the field behind a short wall, so it was very close to the action, and the second level was open to the back so a fan up there was able to enjoy the weather while still being covered.  Other more standard features were a kids area in left and a picnic pavilion behind the first base grandstand.  Overall a very intimate park that compares favorably with other independent league stadiums, and it was a comfortable enclosed setting despite being surrounded by miles of empty land.  The surrounding area is in fact so vacant that you can clearly see the St. Louis skyline from the parking lot, even on a 90-degree hazy day like Saturday was.  My biggest complaint about the park would be the viewing angles.  The grandstand pitch was much too shallow, and the seats by the right field pole where I sat were rotated awkwardly.

The game pitted the cellar-dwelling Grizzlies against the Windy City Thunderbolts.  Max Schonfeld got the start for the Grizz and was bludgeoned with singles and baserunners over his 6 innings of work but somehow gave up only 3 runs and kept his team in the game.  Things became unraveled for both teams after that, as 11 of the total 17 runs were scored from the bottom of the 6th on.  Ben Waldrip ran into one for the home team as part of a 5-run 6th.  Waldrip is a perfect example of the kind of guy you see a lot in independent league baseball - he looks the part, and maybe has one or two good tools, but then you see the 250 pound guy try to run or field and you understand why he's not signed anywhere.  Despite the T-Bolts getting a guy to 3rd base with less than 2 outs in the 9th - and by the crowd reaction they have seen this before - Brett Zawacki managed to wiggle his way out with the save.  Obviously the pitching and defense were terrible in this game, but I was impressed with the batting averages I saw (and in the Saints game a couple of weeks ago too for that matter).  It is interesting to me that where Major League Baseball is now with so many dominating pitchers that none of these hitters are getting a look; I did not see any scouts.

Because of all the league shifts over the last 5 years, I've now crested the hill and seen 8 of the 14 Frontier League stadiums.  If I ever get back to suburban St. Louis to see the team in O'Fallon, I will have completed the west division.

park rankings and statistics: 
aesthetics - 7
views from park – 1 (which is probably for the best)
view to field - 5 (poor viewing angles)
surrounding area – 0 (East St Louis)
food variety - 9
nachos - 9
beer - 8 (bonus points for filling system, but points deducted for only Busch products)

vendor price - 8
ticket price - 8 ($7 GA)
atmosphere - 7
walk to park – 4 (nice view of St. Louis)
parking price/proximity - 10 (adjacent lot for free)
concourses - 7
team shop - 8

best food – donut bacon cheeseburger, a.k.a. "Baseball's Best Burger"
most unique stadium feature – the food
best jumbotron feature – they had one but nothing of note occurred on it.
best between-inning feature – watching Grizzlies bullpen try to toss quarters in cups of water

field dimensions – 318/385/301
starters – Danny Jimenez (WC) v. Max Schonfeld (GAT)
opponent – Windy City Thunderbolts
time of game – 3:00
attendance – 4564
score – 9-8 W

Brewers score that day – 5-1 L

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Midwest League Matchup at Miller Park

All photos of Snappers v. Timber Rattlers @ Miller Park available on Flickr.

Megan is having fun in New York City this weekend, so I of course am trying to cram as much ball into 48 hours as possible in her absence.  My weekend started off at Miller Park on Friday night.  This is a pretty standard place I spend my Fridays during the season, but on this occasion I would not be seeing the Brewers, but rather a matchup of the two Wisconsin A-ball teams - the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and the Beloit Snappers.  Over the years the Brewers have done an increasingly great job of getting non-Brewer events and games at the stadium when they are out of town - charity runs, movies, concerts, other ballgames, even soccer matches.  My favorite such event was a Brewers minor-league all-star game played the Saturday before the 2011 season.  Other than that year, typically the Timber Rattlers will play a game at Miller Park each season.  With the T-Rats being an affiliate of the big league squad the last 6+ seasons, it's a great way for fans to see what sort of talent the Brewers have on the horizon, especially in a season like this that has pretty much been a lost cause since the third week.

Even though the Timber Rattlers were technically the "away team" for this game, I was still very surprised and disappointed with the attendance.  It was posted at 4,507, but unless they were counting everybody in TGIFriday's it couldn't have been half of that.  Which is probably an average crowd in Appleton, but still 10x more than what they draw in Beloit, so it must have felt like the big leagues for the Snappers.  In another way it was kind of cool though to be in a major league stadium that empty, I felt like we kind of had the run of the place.  I went with my parents, brother and sister-in-law, and some friends, and we had 5th row seats just to the right of the 3rd base dugout.  Since we had such good seats for so cheap and there was literally only one concession stand open, we actually stayed and watched quite a bit of the game.  I once again got to see Milwaukee's 1st round 2014 draft pick Kodi Medeiros pitch for the Timber Rattlers.  He had an ERA of nearly 5 coming into the game, but he was dominant from what I could tell.  I've now seen him take a no-hitter into the 6th twice this season with an absolutely filthy slider, so I have no idea how his ERA and record are so poor.  He's averaging more than a strikeout per inning and seems to have pretty decent control for a 19-year old.  Local boy Josh Uhen got into the game also and pitched 1 1/3 scoreless, and David Burkhalter picked up the 2-inning save.  Both Timber Rattlers mascots and Snappy D. Turtle were all hanging out in Bernie's Chalet and we thought for sure they would be up there doing nothing the entire game, but shockingly a Rattlers player actually hit one out and forced Fang down the slide.  Wisconsin has sent their other high draft picks - Jacob Gatewood and Monte Harrison - back down to rookie ball since I last saw them play, so Tucker Neuhaus and Dustin DeMuth are probably the best remaining hitting prospects on the team.  DeMuth had 2 hits in the 5-1 win.

The team in Appleton has inconceivably an even worse record than their parent club, but from what I've seen from them this season, I think there are some potential impact players that could be with the big league squad in a few years, particularly Medeiros.  I am beyond excited to watch their AAA team play in Nashville in a couple weeks and see just how much hope there is in the Brewers' immediate future, sort of a sneak peak for when we trade all of our veterans away and need to call up half of the Sky Sox.

starters – Joey Wagman (BEL) v. Kodi Medeiros (WIS)
opponents – Beloit Snappers v. Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
time of game – 2:40
attendance – 4507
score – 5-1 WIS

Brewers score that day – 9-5 W

Brewers 25-45, -21.0 (3 v. Mets, 3 v. Twins)
Reds 31-36, -13.5 (3 @ Pirates, 3 @ Mets
Twins 37-31, -3.5 (3 v. White Sox, 3 @ Brewers)

Erik - 13 (+13 worked)

Peter - 22

Monday, June 15, 2015

Top Prospects Correa, Buxton, Lindor Get The Call

The American League just got a whole lot better this week as 3 of the top 5 overall 2014 propsects got called up to the big leagues.  #2 prospect Carlos Correa was first on Monday, and made his debut in a grand way with an RBI single in his first game as an Astro and a homerun the following day.  Top overall prospect Byron Buxton was next on Saturday and scored the game winning run for the Twins on Sunday.  He was hitting .283 with 37 RBI and 20 steals at the time of his promotion.  Not too long after, #4 prospect Francisco Lindor got the call at shortstop for the Indians.  Even though he fell down rounding first base on his first major league hit, he was also deserving of the promotion, with a career .354 OBP in parts of 5 seasons in the minor leagues, and probably the best glove of the group.  Carlos, Byron, and Francisco are 20, 21, and 21 respectively, and all 3 were 1st round draft picks of their respective teams.

The future in Major League Baseball is looking very bright this year, with already 15 of the top 100 prospects making their debuts in the first 2 months of the season, and nearly all of them making a significant impact.  Joey Gallo hit an upper deck homerun in his first major league game for the Rangers and already has 4 in his first 11 games.  He was called up to replace Rougned Odor on the roster and there is already talk of moving Gallo to another position for Odor's inevitable return.  Noah Syndergaard joined an already formidable Mets rotation last month and has shown flashes of the dominance he had in the minors, including his mythical hitting prowess (which fits for a man whose nickname is Thor).  Kris Bryant Watch was the talk of the majors for the first 2 weeks of the season following his historic spring training and he has done nothing but produce for an upstart Cubs team.  And if that wasn't enough, #5 overall prospect Addison Russell was right on his coattails.  Joc Peterson has not just been one of the best rookie outfielders in the league this year, but one of the best outfielders in the league overall if not the best.  Here in Milwaukee, guys like Tyler Cravy, Taylor Jungmann, Scooter Gennett, Jimmy Nelson, Khris Davis, and Jean Segura have all made a splash in the last couple of years, albeit with much less national media attention. 

For anybody that would argue that baseball does not have the star power it once did in the wake of the ongoing PED abuse scandals, one need only tune in the next few years to watch these kids develop.  Led by a still-improving Mike Trout and Bryce Harper at the front of the pack, the future of baseball looks very healthy in terms of young, marketable talent.

Brewers 24-40, -18.0 (2 v. Royals, 2 @ Royals, 3 @ Rockies)
Reds 28-34, -13.0 (2 @ Tigers, 2 v. Tigers, 3 v. Marlins
Twins 34-28, -1.5 (2 @ Cardinals, 2 v. Cardinals, 3 v. Cubs)

Erik - 12 (+11 worked)

Peter - 20

Monday, June 8, 2015

CHS Field

All photos of CHS Field and St. Paul available on Flickr.

I crossed something off of my baseball bucket list on Saturday that may seem insignificant, but was something I've wanted to do for ten years: the Twin Cities Doubleheader.  With the Brewers playing the Twins in a weekend series and a brand new ballpark open in St. Paul, the timing couldn't have been better to do it this year.  The Brewers and Saints both won in exciting fashion, and what was supposed to be a rainy Saturday held up for a gorgeous 18 innings of baseball.  Erik and Megan were both in attendance with me for the day, and as a bonus, in between games we got to watch American Pharaoh win the first Triple Crown in 37 years at the hotel bar.  Just about the only thing that could have made it any better would be if we could have "rail-gated" on the light rail from Target Field to CHS Field.  Maybe next time - it's good to have goals.

The doubleheader began with the Brewers surprisingly winning an afternoon game at Target Field, 4-2.  The Brewers are 18 games out of 1st, yet somehow managed to take 2 of 3 from the first place Twins on the road with our two worst pitchers starting; don't ask me to explain that one.  It was an early start to the day, as we got to the park 3 hours before first pitch to wait in line for giveaway Torii Hunter jerseys, everybody's favorite Twin.  Erik was working in the suites while I watched with Megan and her parents from the 4th row of the upper deck.  It was fun to cheer for the Brewers on the road, something I've only done a couple of times since the Tour.  It was a marathon of a game and we got back to Erik's apartment around 5 to pick him up for the drive to St. Paul.

Target Field is always a great time, but I think I can speak for the group when I say the highlight of this day was CHS Field.  We checked into our hotel and decided that we would walk the mile to the park so we could see downtown.  St. Paul reminded me of Milwaukee in the 1990s.  Nothing was open and we saw more people sleeping on the streets than we did pedestrians walk by.  The couple of blocks directly outside the park were nice, with what looked to be a farmers market and outdoor amphitheater, and a couple of bars.  Civic and state leaders bankrolled a lot of money into cleaning up this severely contaminated site with the hopes that, along with the light rail, this project would rejuvenate Lowertown St. Paul.  It will be interesting to see in 10 years what the area will look like, because from what I could tell it still has a long way to go.

The main entrance to the ballpark is really the only public entrance, which is in the southwest corner of the site near the right field pole, with the field oriented facing southeast.  The architects used this to their advantage by creating a great plaza for gathering which includes a dog park.  With the farmers market across the street and a light rail station a block away, this has the makings of a very active space and was full even past the start of the game.  The other thing that hits you before you even walk in are the materials.  You're not going to find the standard brick and concrete stadium here.  Julie Snow Architects - which incidentally is not a stadium architecture firm - did a wonderful job of incorporating a fresh palate of materials such as blackened metal panels, exposed steel columns, and a warm wood plank canopy that stretches the entire infield concourse.  I love that in true St. Paul Saints fashion, the team took a huge gamble by not hiring Populous or NBBJ like everybody else does, and that decision is definitely reflected in the design.  It's not so crazy that it doesn't feel like a ballpark or is uncomfortable, but the attention to detail and the clear intent of trying to make this project more than just a ballpark are admirable qualities that make the place memorable.  This is most prevalent in the openness of the concourse.  The concessions stands are small, short, separated, and set back so as not to enclose the ballpark and provide a view out, and this view becomes more pronounced by the fact that the concourse is a little below street level.  There is a good sized area between two concessions booths to sit and relax that makes you very aware the city is right next door and that the ballpark is part of a larger system.  If the freeway wasn't looming over the left field wall, this stadium might feel more like a park than a ballpark, and I mean that in a good way.  It's a place I would hang out not necessarily in just a baseball setting because it is knit in so well with the city fabric.  There aren't too many other ballparks I can think of where you are so aware of your surroundings without using the obvious advantage of a picturesque view beyond the outfield wall.

We walked the concourse from the entry around to our seats between 3rd base and the pole, and a lot of other interesting details caught my eye that made me smile because I could tell a "real" architecture firm designed them rather than one who just does stadiums.  Just little things like the bar-height seating at the top of each section, or the section numbering on the ceiling, or how there is a scattering of single yellow seats in the seating bowl to draw your eye, or even just a nice font (which every designer is a sucker for).  And then of course there is the wood ceiling to tie it all together.  You can't help but look up as you walk through the concourse, and it serves to reinforce the warm open feeling and the park's horizontality.  If I have one complaint about the park, it's that there was not as much attention paid to the outfield as there was the main concourse.  This isn't uncommon, so I can't fault the architect completely, particularly one designing their first stadium.  The park in Indianapolis we saw last month was actually one of the few non-major league stadiums I've seen with a great outfield concourse.  Other than the craft beer corner and a cleverly named ice cream stand (Mud's Dairy Area), CHS Field really just has a wrap around concourse for functionality.  There was even an area with a tent and gravel and a wall in right field that was just a tarp on a fence that made me think these parts were just plain forgotten.  It's an eternal struggle of architecture to simultaneously create a focal point of a building without neglecting other portions.  Nuances aside, Mike Veeck was behind Erik and I in line at the craft beer corner and seemed very pleased with the stadium, so if it's good enough for the owner, it's good enough for me.  It certainly did not have that same free-spirited atmosphere of the old Midway Stadium, but the Saints deserved a new park and I'm sure can create many new memories in Lowertown.

CHS Field gets the record for least amount of time I've ever spent in a ballpark.  We got there about 5 minutes before first pitch and the game cruised along at a pace of just over 2 hours, due in large part to the 88-pitch, 2-hit CG gem tossed by Saints starter Dustin Crenshaw.  He only had 2 strikeouts, and didn't seem to have overpowering stuff, but for whatever reason the Canaries hitters could not square up the baseball and were beating ground balls to the infielders the entire night.  Another performance like that and he'll be earning himself a minor league contract.  1B Angelo Songco hit a bomb to right field in the 3rd and that would be all the support Crenshaw would need, but they added a run in the following frame for good measure.  As a result of a 1 for 4 effort, Saints DH Ian Gac lowered his season average to a meager .600.  With the win, the Saints elevated their record to an astonishing 13-1.  The Twin Cities can now be proud to say they have two gorgeous stadiums and two first place teams, and I am happy to say that I was able to see both in the same day.

park rankings and statistics: 
aesthetics - 9 (tarp wall in right field is really the only thing keeping this from a 10)
views from park – 5 (I-94 and downtown St. Paul)
view to field - 10
surrounding area – 3 (Lowertown St. Paul is a work in progress to put it politely)
food variety - 10
nachos - 8
beer - 9 (fantastic variety, fair price, souvenir cups)

vendor price - 4
ticket price - 3
atmosphere - 8 (not the same as Midway Stadium but still fun)
walk to park – 2
parking price/proximity - 7 (we parked at hotel a mile away but there are tailgating lots)
concourses - 10 (one of the more uniquely designed you'll find)
team shop - 8

best food – anything from "The Dog Park"
most unique stadium feature – use of materials, zero-waste features
best jumbotron feature – Saints players do their best pirate impression
best between-inning feature – fans in cow suits wrestle during "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"

field dimensions – 330/405/320
starters – Brett Gerritse (SXF) v. Dustin Crenshaw (STP)
opponent – Sioux Falls Canaries
time of game – 2:02
attendance – 7982
score – 2-0 W

Brewers score that day – 4-2 W

Brewers 20-37, -18.0 (3 @ Pirates, 4 v. Nationals)
Reds 24-31, -13.0 (3 v. Phillies, 4 @ Cubs
Twins 33-23, +1.0 (3 v. Royals, 3 @ Rangers)

Erik - 12 (+10 worked)

Peter - 18

Monday, June 1, 2015

Opening Week in Kenosha


All photos of Kenosha Kingfish Home Opener available on Flickr.

For Valentine's Day, I got Megan an engagement ring, and she got me a baseball ticket package.  Seems like a fair deal to me!  The Madison Mallards will always be my Northwoods League "home team" because I have rooted for them the longest, but this year I am also pledging my allegiance to the Kenosha Kingfish in the form of a 7-game commitment.  It's about a 50-minute drive to K-Hole compared to a half-hour to Mequon, the closest team to the Milwaukee metro area, but from my experience at Simmons Field last year, it was a no-brainer to go with the Kingfish for our ticket package.  They are owned and operated by Big Top Baseball, the same group that runs the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters, the Green Bay Bullfrogs, and my Mallards, and they do a great job providing a fun fan-centric experience at all of their ballparks with outstanding branding and promotions.  This reason alone would be enough to choose Kenosha, but coupled with a gem of a historic stadium in Simmons Field, Megan and I are both excited for the season.  That's not to say the Chinooks are a bad time at all, but watching 10+ years of Mallards baseball, the Big Top brand is now the standard for me in Northwoods League entertainment.

Our first game of the 7-pack was a blustery opening night this past Tuesday.  Megan now works in a western suburb which makes it much easier to get down there during the week, and we were in line before the gates even opened.  Like the Mallards, the Kingfish 7-pack holders are treated to a buffet included with ticket price, which contains standard ballpark fare like hot dogs, hamburgers, brats, etc.  Unlike the Mallards, there is no place to sit when you get your food, which I didn't care for at all.  There is a large private picnic area in left field that nobody was using that they could have at least partially opened up instead of me having to try to not get mustard blown on my shirt walking all the way back to our seats.  The food was about the same if not slightly better than Madison.  Another thing I enjoyed about the buffet was that the area is carpeted with a hodgepodge of old turf squares, which I could tell were clearly pulled up from some neighborhood high school football field because they didn't even bother painting over the yard markers.  It made me shake my head at first, but in true Big Top Baseball style, it was an unapologetically creative way to reuse materials - Simmons Field also has repurposed Camden Yards seats and constructed some fixtures with old metal bleachers like you see in WI Rapids and Madison.  New at the park this year are sections of picnic seating next to the dugouts and in front of the first row of seats on both sides, kind of how like Miller Park wedged in the ATI section on field level in right.  The ballpark is now trimmed with full-service casual picnic and 4-top seating around almost the entire front of the grandstand from 1st base to 3rd base, which I have mixed feelings about.  We were still plenty close with our 1st row seats don't get me wrong, but visually the picnic seating makes the grandstand seem further away, particularly the covered grandstand behind home plate.  The fact that I'm complaining about picnic seats being too close to the field and that I had to walk 100 feet to eat my free food should tell you that there really isn't a lot not to like about watching a game here.  Still, I am disappointed there are not souvenir beer cups like they have at Warner Park, because my Mallards set is getting a little dingy.

We left Tuesday's game in the 8th inning because it was getting late and cold, and it looks we made a good decision as St. Cloud added 7 runs in the top of the 9th to complete the 13-4 Opening Day schlacking.  Difficult to tell in a game you lose by 9 runs and commit 5 errors who might be a standout player for the Kingfish this year.  It might take me a couple games to identify the Tyler Marincov or Jordan Comadena of this team.  RF Nick Sergakis had 3 RBI and sounds awfully similar to MLB right fielder Nick Markakis, so it would be hard for him not to be an early favorite.  The noticeable star of the game for me was pitcher Austin Casperson of the visiting Rox.  He dominated the Kingfish with four stellar relief innings, during which he surrendered only 1 hit and struck out 5.

Megan and I tried going to game #2 of our pack on Saturday, but it was postponed despite the fact that the rain had stopped.  We had time to explore the city a little bit and raid the team store while we were down there, as it was our only Saturday night game of the pack, so it wasn't a total loss.  We look forward to another 6 trips to K-hole this summer and another thrilling season of Northwoods League baseball.

Brewers 17-34, -16.5 (3 @ Cardinals, 3 @ Twins)
Reds 22-27, -10.5 (3 @ Phillies, 3 v. Padres
Twins 30-19, +0.5 (4 @ Red Sox, 3 v. Brewers)

Erik - 11 (+8 worked)

Peter - 15