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

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