Monday, June 12, 2017

Herr-Baker Field

All photos of Herr-Baker Field available on Flickr.

With the rate at which the Northwoods League is expanding, both in terms of number of teams and geographic area, it's getting harder and harder for me to keep up with all of the new parks.  A relatively easy one I was able to cross off this past week was the new Fond du Lac team, which is a little more than an hour north of Milwaukee.  The Fond du Lac Dock Spiders are a mouthful of a team that shares a field with the D-III Marian University team in town.  It was a nice easy drive up I-41 until I got off the freeway and found that nearly every summer athletic team on campus was playing at the same time.  Marian University has several other fields and is also across the street from Moraine Park Technical College and UW-Fond du Lac, so it was confusing to know which field was which and where to park (somehow a city of 50,000 people has 3 colleges).  Once I wedged my Kia into a spot on the street I found that very few of the parked cars were actually for patrons of the Dock Spiders game, so I was able to get a walkup seat just in time for first pitch.

The ballpark itself is really not that old - I can't find a date anywhere online but I think I remember the program said 2010.  In its original form the park was a simple layout of 3 sections of seats with a stone press box and an inning tally-style scoreboard.  The owners of the Dock Spiders - who are actually the same ownership group as the nearby Timber Rattlers - put in $1.5 million in upgrades to prepare for the new team and meet the standard of fan comfort that has come to be expected in the Northwoods League.  Additional box seating down the lines, additional concessions, a team store, a party deck, and a picnic/family area in left field were all added in the offseason.  Other than matching the materials, the architects and the team did not really take any care in making the addition feel like part of the original park.  As I mentioned before, when it first opened, Herr-Baker Field had 3 sections of seats - some box seats directly behind home plate, and a small bleacher section on either side of that.  Beyond that are some on-grade dugouts, so any seats that were added would have to be up higher.  This results in a weird disconnection between the addition and the original park - it's not physically possible to walk from the old bleachers to the new seats without going back on the concourse first.  The new added sections are also real seats and not bleachers, so this means that bleacher seats here are actually closer to home plate than most of the seats.  I bought my usual cheap ticket and was pleasantly surprised to find myself in the 2nd row behind home plate for less money than a box seat.  It's a very odd juxtaposition, kind of like if you are downtown in a large city and see an old shorter building wedged between 2 newer tall buildings and you can tell it looks out of place. 

The strange layout certainly gives the park a lot of character.  Most parks I've been to in the circuit have at least one odd quirk about them and the seating is what makes Herr-Baker Field memorable.  The team store and picnic areas would rival any Midwestern League team.  The picnic area has benches as well as some giant yard games for kids and drunk adults alike.  The party deck is at the top of the highest seating section on the 3rd base line, so I liked how the people here can actually watch the game.  So often the party areas are just an afterthought in the corner of a field and you can never actually see the game.  The main concessions building is very beautifully done in a type of stonework you might see on any older campus.  It was dollar dog and beer night when I went, so I made a lot of trips to the concessions stand.  In total for the game, free street parking, 2 dogs, and 3 beers, I spent $13.

The Dock Spiders lost to the visiting Rockford Rivets in 10 innings.  The Rivets are yet another new team in the league - I went to see them in August last year in their inaugural season.  This was a moderately better pitched game than the disaster I saw in Kenosha the week before, but not by much.  I'm starting to wonder if 20 teams in the league now may be stretching the available collegiate pitching talent a little thin.  Ryan Connolly out of the powerhouse Iowa Western Community College went 3.2 innings for the Spiders, walking 5 and striking out 5.  There were 12 combined walks in the game.  By the time both starters were out it was tied at 3.  Rockford scored 2 in the top of the 7th and looked like they were poised to win the game.  But Fond du Lac put a man on 1st on a fielding error to start the 9th and Colin Braithwaite knocked him in with an RBI double to tie it up.  It was all for naught however, as the Rivets retook the lead in the 10th on a fielder's choice and shut the door in the bottom half for the win.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 7
views from park – 2

view to field - 7 (new box seats are above dugout)
surrounding area – 2 (Marian University)
food variety - 5
nachos - 5
beer - 9 ($1 domestic, a few craft brews)

vendor price - 9
ticket price - 9
atmosphere - 5
walk to park – 3
parking price/proximity - 6 (free but hard to find a spot)
concourses - 4 (disjointed, no view of field)
team shop - 8

best food – combo ketchup/mustard/onion condiment
most unique stadium feature – seating arrangement
best jumbotron feature – n/a; only showed box score
best between-inning feature – visiting team member participates in human bowling

field dimensions – not listed
starters – Clay Moffit (RCK) v. Ryan Connolly (FDL)
opponent – Rockford Rivets
time of game – 3:25
attendance – 836
score – 6-5 L

Brewers score that day – 5-2 W

Brewers 33-31, +1.0 (4 @ Cardinals, 3 v. Padres, 4 v. Pirates)
Reds 29-33, -3.0 (3 @ Padres, 3 v. Dodgers, 3 @ Rays)

Twins 32-27, +1.5 (4 v. Mariners, 3 v. Indians, 3 v. White Sox)

Erik - 4 (+10 worked)

Peter - 18

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