When I was going to Cincinnati I kept wondering how cocky the team was to name their park the Great American Ballpark. They are saying that the park is great? I later found out that the park is named such because the naming rights were bought out by the Great American Insurance Company which is located in Cincinnati. They have the naming rights for 30 years. Once I left the park at the end of the night I would have agreed with my original thought. This is a Great American Ballpark. It has many things that make it so. I will highlight a few of those in the next few paragraphs.
At the begining of May I was lucky enough to get to see the finest single A stadium that I have seen to date. That is Parkview Field in Fort Wayne. This stadium is by leaps and bounds a better ballpark than any other single A stadium that I have been to. That list is still short, but I can’t imagine many better than this. The park looks like it could be a Triple A ballpark very easily. They have done a lot right with this park. One of those things has to do with the seating arrangements. Pick a way that you would like to see a ballpark and they have it. You have the normal stadium seats, pinic tables, a lawn area, lawn seats (not the same because they are built into concrete tiers with grass on top to sit on), and suites. This place has it all. I sat in the second row on the first base side, and had a great view of the Fort Wayne dugout while watching the game. No more hidden players. This could be looked at as both a positive and a negative I guess. Another shocking thing about the stadium was the bathroom smell. It smelled like fresh paint, and not underpass hobo. I know the stadium has only been open a month or so, but it is refreshing not having to hold your breath in the bathroom. The stadium has no shortage of picnic areas. Both the first and third base lines have a nice picnic area near the foul poles. They also have a new take on the lawn seating philosophy. They have constructed concrete tiers with grass as a seat. These are not your normal everyday seating in the lawn.
Didn’t I just do one of these. It was a Minor League Affiliate of the Detroit Tigers that I just visited a couple weeks ago. That was Fifth Third Field that is the home of the Toledo Mud Hens (not to be confused with the Fifth Third Field that is the home of the Dayton Dragons). Visiting parks can be confusing. This was my second trip to the stadium located in Grand Rapids. The first was in 2005. Since that time they have added the Pepsi Stadium Club, and the Miller Lite House deck in the outfield. It really adds to the stadium. I am going to change up how I do these a little. I decided that maybe a little more info on the stadium is needed. These will constantly be a work in progress I am guessing.
The park was built in 1994 in Comstock Park, Michigan. This is just north of Grand Rapids, and is very easy to get to. A quick trip through town on 131, and once get off on exit 91 you just have to cross the street to be in the parking lot. The original name for the Stadium was Old Kent Park, but was changed for the 2002 season when Fifth Third Bank bought Old Kent Bank. After the 2005 season the stadium underwent another renovation when the Pepsi Stadium Club and the Miller Lite House Deck was installed in the outfield. They have an entrance and ticket office outside of centerfield, but the preferred entry to the stadium for me is at the home plate entrance.
Here are some of my thoughts on the stadium. This is a nice park overall. The two additions to the outfield seating area provide extra seating, as well as give the park a bigger look. Even though it is plastered with an advertisement the lighthouse in right center is a nice touch as well. With a team like name like the Whitecaps you need something like this in your stadium. This was also part of the renovation after the 2005 season. One major drawback as a person who enjoys taking pictures are the wires that come down from the backstop screen. They really get in the way of seeing the batter for most of the baseline. This is a minor point that really does not affect my overall feeling of the park. One great thing about the park is the trumpet player that goes throughout the stadium playing the music between pitches. He is constantly trying to get the crowd to yell charge, or get them fired up some other way. This is another little quirk that is just different enough to be cool. No weird sound bytes, just a man, a trumpet, and a vast array of song knowledge. The team also invites back former Tiger players to help boost attendance. This year they are having Tiger Fridays where a former Tiger player appears every Friday. In 2005 they were celebrating the 1968 team by wearing throwback jerseys, and inviting back former Tigers. They really have some nice promotions to draw the fans in.
The scoreboard in center is not flashy, but very functional. This stadium does a great job of updating pitchers and changes in the lineup which is important for someone who keeps score. I have started to take rosters for the teams because of the way some stadiums treat pitching changes. Here they have an old school board in center with a newer video board in left. Both of these are used well to add to the overall enjoyment of the game. The plunger that you see to the left of the board is an advertisement that will move up and down and light up during breaks in the game. It is not the home run apple in New York by any stretch, but the little quirks of each park is what makes them interesting.
I started these with a good idea, but then turned it into a project so big that it was taking way too long to finish. I will just take a simple look at stadiums that I have been to, and give my opinion on some of the key factors that would make it worth going to. I think the best one to re-launch this feature on would be Fifth Third Field in Toledo, Ohio.
After attending yesterday’s game I decided to do a stadium guide for Coveleski Stadium. I have been attending games here since 1988. In 2000 I probably hit my peak as far as games attended. I originally loved this team because they were the farm team of my White Sox. That has since changed, but I would still try and make it to see the Sox farm team when they came to town. Now the Sox have no representation in the Midwest League. I still manage to get to a few games every year.
Location B-: The stadium is very easy to get to. It is right off of Western Avenue which is Indiana Highway 2. The problem is that like most minor league parks it is in a bad area of town. It is right on the fringe of that bad area, but if you are coming in from the west you go right through it. I guess it makes sense that the land needed to build a stadium would be cheaper in a bad neighborhood.
Parking C: There is a small lot next to the stadium that fans can park in for $3. It is very small, and fills up quickly. For the purposes of this guide I paid the money to park for the first time ever yesterday. I then spent the next three hours panicking about my car getting hit with a foul ball. It seems like that lot is a magnet for foul balls. I never noticed it before, but the ushers would call down to the sections what make and model car was just hit. I probably never cared so I tuned it out in the past. Yesterday I was listening intently. The next available option is to park on the streets surrounding the stadium. See the location section for reasons why this is not the optimal situation. It is free and if you do it right you can get out easy.
Tradition A: Any talk of tradition in a stadium that opened in 1988 would have to begin with championships. In left field they have banners on the wall commemorating the championships won by the South Bend team. I can’t say the Silverhawks because some of these titles were won when the team was the South Bend White Sox. I still think they would draw more fans if people knew that some of these guys could make it to Chicago. Once the guys move up it is hard to follow them. In 2000 I met Lyle Overbay and Chris Capuano. I really did not know that they would make it to the show, but I had a couple cool pictures of them that I wanted signed. From then on I have been following their careers. This is part of the fun of watching minor league baseball.
Here are some players that played for South Bend over the years: Tony Pena Jr., Dan Uggla, Lyle Overbay, Chris Capuano, Brad Penny, Jason Bere, David Dellucci, Scott Radinsky, and Carlton Fisk. Okay I guess Carlton really doesn’t count. He came here as part of a rehab stint when the Silverhawks were actually a Sox farm team. Right now Justin Upton is having a great start to the season. He was the #1 pick of the Diamondbacks, and spent most of the 2006 season with the Hawks. He may end up being the best talent to come out of South Bend.
Concessions A-: Right off the bat I want to explain why this gets a minus. No roaming vendors. On nights that they think they will draw a crowd you might see one guy coming around with cotton candy, but for the most part it is a self serve stadium. I am not so lazy that I can’t get my own. Far from it in fact. I just don’t want to miss any of the game. Anyone who knows me knows that I rarely leave my seat during the game. The good about the concessions can be summed up very easily. Dollar hot dogs on Monday nights. They also have small pops for a dollar on Monday’s as well. On any other day the prices are very reasonable. They also have the Budweiser Patio in left field where you can buy beer and freshly grilled food. The prices are a little more out there, but you get what you pay for.
Bathrooms A: This one is hard to grade. The bathrooms seem to be sufficient, but then again the stadium is rarely at capacity. Fairly spacious bathrooms are on each side of the stadium. They are clean bathrooms that get the job done. Not much else can be said here.
Playing Field B+: The field was in pretty good shape considering the winter we just recently finished. The Kentucky Bluegrass was in pretty good shape considering. I was actually surprised at how green it was. They really must have been working hard to get the field up to speed.
Stadium Design D: This stadium looks exactly like almost any other minor league stadium that I have been to. I know that cost is the reason, but come on make something different. Add a corner or two in the outfield. The outfield dimensions are 336, 405, 336. You can’t get much more symmetrical then that. The stadium seats 5,000, and does the job it was intended to do. I just think that you could add something to the equation. Oldsmobile Park in Lansing is a great example of this. They at least attempted to break the cookie cutter mold.
Tickets A+: Most days you can walk up to the window the day of the game and sit anywhere you want. The prices are not that bad either. A reserved seat is $7, and a general admission seat is $5. On Monday’s you can get in for a dollar. Needless to say dollar Monday’s are usually the most crowded days at the park. If you check the promotions on the Silverhawk web site you will see sponsors for most games. They will usually be giving away free tickets. Sometimes in front of the park. Yesterday a gentlemen had free ticket vouchers, and everyone in line at the time I was got one.
Fans C: The game that I went to yesterday was the first nice day of the year that coincided with a Silverhawk game. The first two games were played in cool damp weather. This game only managed to draw 1,000 fans. For some reason the community will not come out and support this team. The fans that are at the game for the most part are not their to watch baseball. They may catch a play every now and then, but that is just to fill the breaks in the conversation. If you go on dollar Monday it is even worse.
Family Atmosphere A-: They try really hard to make it fun for the kids. They have the kids zone in left field. They also have Swoop the mascot to entertain the kids. They even let a local kid dress up in costume to be Swoop’s sidekick during the summer. Kids can get on the field for promotions during the game as well. If the kids are feeling energetic they can even run the bases and play catch in the outfield after the games on Sunday.
Overall B+: This is a typical low A ball stadium. They are hoping that you enjoy everything else so much that you forget the stadium is blah. I have been lucky enough to have been to a few stadiums in the Midwest League, and this is the worst that I have been to. I love the stadium and the team, but the other stadiums put it to shame. That being said I was panicking when talk of the team moving surfaced a couple of years ago.
Interesting Fact: The stadium is named after Stanley Coveleski who moved to South Bend after his professional days were over. The stadium is known as ‘The Cove’ to many now. Another interesting fact is due to community pressure the team stopped serving beers for a dollar on dollar night in 2005.