All photos of Werner Park available on Flickr.
Another "work" trip to Omaha for me this week meant another ballpark visit. This time I was able to make it out to Werner Park, the home of the AAA Storm Chasers. And when I say "make it out," I mean WAY out. The ballpark is actually on the outskirts of Papillion, a suburb that is about a half-hour southwest of downtown Omaha. If you are in Papillion and start driving west along Highway 370, just when you've passed enough farmland to think you couldn't possibly be going the right direction, you will see the ballpark emerge on the horizon above the corn stalks. It wasn't until this trip that I realized just how big the Omaha area really is. I stayed near the airport, and between visiting job sites in west Omaha and Papillion, I probably put nearly 100 miles on my rental car. The intent with putting this park way out in the boonies was to have access to a huge swath of land to develop and invest into a "ballpark village" like so many parks are doing these days. The tiny city of Papillion obviously jumped at this development opportunity, but so far nothing other than the stadium and some new infrastructure has panned out. I hope that this is not a forecast for things to come because the Braves are doing the same exact thing. From what I've read, the Storm Chasers have been doing well attendance-wise and are paying down their debt despite the lack of anything within 5 miles of the ballpark, so I'm hoping the small crowd on a gorgeous night for baseball was an anomaly.
The ballpark itself is rather unassuming from the outside. It does not have any sort of main entry feature that draws you in other than just the signage, and the entire park is rather short compared to other contemporary parks. Werner Park also lacks the weight that you would see with a lot of the massive masonry parks of today. It has a little bit of stone at the base, but a lot of the exterior is exposed metal and stucco. This is likely a cost decision primarily, but I also think it pays homage to "farm architecture." The metal siding and the shed roofs play off a lot of the barns and sheds you might see in the area, and it helps the park to feel like it belongs as part of the landscape. This is most obvious at the main entry where a taller piece clad in mismatched corrugated siding seems to abstractly represent an old patched-up grain silo or farmhouse.
Once inside, the park almost felt more like a spring training facility than a minor league park. Aside from materials, it actually reminded me quite a bit of Camelback Ranch in Glendale. The press boxes and suites on the upper level have their backs visible from the entry gate with a walkway behind them, and are detached from the buildings that surround the periphery of the stadium, just like at Camelback. This creates a plaza in between these structures and makes a nice transition between the gate and the field. The second level is also segmented and not one continuous roof, which adds visual interest. I was pretty taken aback at first when I walked in because there are gobs of exposed PVC pipe under the second floor that you notice immediately, and weird areas of random rock landscaping instead of concrete, both of which were quite the eyesore. I think both the visual elements and the lack of vendors and soft surfaces keep the plaza from being the great space that it has the potential to be. The team store is right off of the plaza and was one of the better ones I have seen on any level even despite being about 50% Royals gear. Concessions were a little disappointing, but the fact that I had to suffer through a plain cheeseburger and a Bud Light did not put too much of a damper on my evening. Another disappointment was the inability to circumnavigate the outfield, which is always a sticking point for me. Even if there is nothing out there but a berm and the scoreboard, it is always nice to get that different vantage point and walk around a little bit. Overall it was certainly a memorable park, both because of and despite of its conscious architectural gestures.
The game got out of hand pretty quickly for Omaha, who are in the basement of the American North division of the PCL. If this team's performance this year is any indication, the window of opportunity may be closing for the parent Royals, which I would be more than okay with. Jason Vargas was making a rehab start for the Storm Chasers and does not look like he is ready to help the big club any time soon. He gave up 3 ER in 3 innings of work, including Matt Chapman's 1st homerun of the year for the visiting Sounds. Nashville broke it open with 7 more runs in the 4th, including a 3-run bomb by Jaycob Brugman. The Chasers eventually decided they wanted to play offense and scored a few runs but ended up losing 12-3. The only Chasers player I recognized besides Vargas was Orlando Calixte, and he went 3-5 with an RBI in the leadoff spot.
It will be well into the fall the next time I visit Omaha, so my attention will probably have to start wandering to the University of Nebraska-Omaha hockey schedule pretty soon. I'm hoping my projects out there are wrapped up before next season, but I'd be lying if I said a part of me didn't want to go to a Creighton Blue Jays game in April.
park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 6
views from park – 2
view to field - 8
surrounding area – 1 (literally nothing)
food variety - 5
nachos - 5
beer - 4 (only 1 craft beer stand, primarily Budweiser)
vendor price - 7
ticket price - 5 ($15 just outside dugouts)
atmosphere - 4
walk to park – 2
parking price/proximity - 6 (adjacent lot $5)
concourses - 6 (nice entry plaza but can't go in outfield)
team shop - 9 (point deducted for being mostly Royals gear)
best food – burger
most unique stadium feature – entry plaza / materials
best jumbotron feature – crazy cap shuffle
best between-inning feature – a plethora of mascots
field dimensions – 310/402/315
starters – Dillon Overton (NAS) v. Jason Vargas (OMA)
opponent – Nashville Sounds v. Omaha Storm Chasers
time of game – 3:11
attendance – 3465
score – 12-3 L
Brewers score that day – 4-2 W
STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 08.26:
Brewers 56-71, -25.5, -11.5 WC (4 v. Pirates, 3 v. Cardinals)
Reds 54-72, -27.0, -13.0 WC (3 @ Diamondbacks, 3 @ Angels)
Twins 49-78, -23.5, -21.0 WC (3 @ Blue Jays, 3 @ Indians)
2016 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 13 (+24 worked)
Peter - 29