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This blog is no longer regularly updated (although it all remains intact, so please browse around as you wish), but midwest ballpark coverage continues as always on KCRG.com.

Ballpark visits continue on KCRG.com!!

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Lewis and Clark Park – Sioux City, Iowa

– Matt Nelson

There is one professional baseball team in Iowa that is not affiliated with a major league club. The Sioux City Explorers. Commonly referred to as “The X’s,” the team plays in the independent American Association.

The home ballpark for the X’s is Lewis and Clark Park which is located at the intersection of Stadium Drive and Line Drive on Sioux City’s Southside. It’s  just off of U.S. Highway 20…and near a bowling alley and a soap box derby track of all things.

The ballpark opened in 1993 and seats more than 3,600 fans. It includes a few suites at the top of the stadium, and true box seats as well. The stadium opened just before the “open concourse” designs became all the rage, so unfortunately, fans can’t see the action while they order food from the concession stands.

The most popular thing at Lewis and Clark Park on the night of my July 2010 visit? The “Beer Batter.” The designated Beer Batter for the night struck out in each of his first two at-bats, resulting in discounted beverages and a mad dash for X’s fans to the aforementioned concession stands.

Although it is nothing flashy, Lewis and Clark Park is a serviceable ballpark that provides baseball fans in western Iowa a place to watch professional baseball without having to drive to other states, or make long drives within the state.

All of Matt’s “Ballparks of the Midwest” visits are available here, including video!

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Elfstrom Stadium – Geneva, Illinois

In the far western suburbs of Chicago they have a new ballpark. Well, not really, but that’s the sense you get walking around Philip B. Elfstrom Stadium in Geneva, Illinois.

The home of the Kane County Cougars, the Oakland Athletics affiliate in the Midwest League, underwent a $10.5 million renovation prior to 2009. This project was highlighted by the addition of a suite level (to see what the park looked like prior to 2009, look at the photos here from DigitalBallparks.com). There were also new team offices constructed and all of this work means that “The Elf” is now a year-round facility capable of hosting events besides Cougar baseball.

The Cougars moved into brand new Elfstrom Stadium in 1991 after moving to Geneva from Wausau, Wisconsin. For many years the landfill just south of the ballpark parking lots was open and active with garbage truck traffic. Today that landfill is closed and is nothing more than some large heaps of earth.

When the club arrived in the suburbs there was some question as to just how successful of an experiment the Cougars would be. With regular attendance of more than 6,000, the Cougars are regularly second in the Midwest League in attendance.

Although the team is in the Chicago area, you don’t really get a sense of “the city” when you’re near the ballpark. So it’s actually pretty appropriate that one of the staple food items at Cougars games is the fresh roasted sweet corn. The corn is roasted outdoors on a roaster that cooks for 20 minutes. On busy nights in peak-corn-season the stand will shell out upwards of 400 ears of the yellow vegetable.

In Chicagoland it’s obvious there are plenty of fans to support baseball, not only at the Major League level, but also at the minor league level. It’s also obvious that in many cases there’s no need to build a stadium or move a team, at least not when you can invest money into an existing ballpark and significantly improve it.

Check out the video reports from Kane County by clicking here.

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Fifth Third Field – Dayton, Ohio

– Matt Nelson

Dayton’s Fifth Third Field is the Midwest League stadium that most resembles a Major League park. It has two decks of seating, and it’s got huge crowds. The number of fans who come to Dragons games each night totals about 8,500, and that always leads the Midwest League. It means every seat is sold every night.

At the end of the 2010 season Dayton expects to have 774 consecutive sellouts. On a given day, fans who arrive at Fifth Third Field may still find some seats available through the box office, but there is also ample standing room and grass seating available, so there’s always a way into the park.

Fifth Third Field, not to be confused with Toledo’s Fifth Third Field or Comstock Park, Michigan’s, Fifth Third Park, is a brick covered park that fits its neighborhood on the eastside of downtown Dayton. Wedged between existing streets and structures, the park opened in 2000 after the franchise moved to Ohio from Rockford, Illinois. It’s been a key to revitalizing downtown Dayton. The architects and the city really did a nice job of incorporating this stadium into the neighborhood. It feels like it fits the location, and there is an urban feel as baseball fans watch the Cincinnati Reds affiliate in the Midwest League.

The between-innings entertainment at Dayton is second to none. The Dragons have crews out rehearsing the routines several hours before gametime and it shows. The club pulls out all of the stops to keep the entertainment at the ballpark going, even when the action on the field is halted.

A large scoreboard dominates the left field side of the facility. Visitors to Dayton should pay special attention to the Dragons on the scoreboard as they periodically breath smoke throughout the course of the game.

In the Midwest League there are many parks that offer a traditional, small-town, no-frills, minor league baseball experience. It’s fun to visit those parks. At the same time Dayton’s ballpark is a large park with all of the amentities fans have come to expect in the ballpark experience these days. It gives you an urban feel, with well-planned entertainment, and gives Dragons fans a feel that is closer to the big league level, than can be found anywhere else in the Midwest League. It is a stadium that ranks near the very top of the Midwest League.

Be sure to check out the video reports from Dayton by clicking here!!

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A New Ballpark in Beloit?

– Matt Nelson

In Beloit they want (and need) a new ballpark to replace Pohlman Field. They’ve done some research to see what area residents think, and here you’ll find some of the results:

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Classic Park – Eastlake, Ohio

– Matt Nelson

Classic Park in Eastlake, Ohio, home of the Lake County Captains, is where it belongs. In the Midwest League.

Prior to 2010 the Captains played in the South Atlantic League and considering Classic Park is about two miles from Lake Erie, it’s good that this instance of “Ballpark Geography Inaccuracy” has been resolved. Now if we can just figure out a better league name for the AAA teams in Memphis, Nashville, Des Moines, Omaha and Round Rock. “Pacific Coast” they most certainly are not.

Classic Park opened when the franchise moved from Columbus, Georgia, to Eastlake in 2003 and seats more than 7,000 fans. Interestingly enough, the other new Midwest League team, Bowling Green, also relocated to its present city from Columbus, Georgia (in 2009).

Although it is a suburban ballpark surrounded by the usual parking lots, it’s not “new” suburbia, which is what one might expect. The area it is in is older than the ballpark itself.

Speaking of those parking lots, one thing that isn’t found at other Midwest League ballparks is a pedestrian bridge to get fans from surrounding parking lots, over a busy highway, and into the ballpark safely. There’s also a bus stop built into the ballpark and the Lake County Tourism Office. The name, Classic Park, comes from the naming rights deal with a local group of car dealers, Classic Automotive Group.

Inside the ballpark the lighthouse in Center Field stands out…like a lighthouse is supposed to! Captain Tony greets fans to the park, and then stations himself on guard to sound sirens and light the lamp for Captains home runs.

The Captains are an Indians affiliate, as evidenced by the t-shirts available in the gift shop, the Cargo Hold, of course. While some teams in the Midwest League are many miles from their parent club (Cedar Rapids is 1,800 miles from Anaheim), the Captains play just 18 miles from where they hope to play in a few years, Progressive Field in downtown Cleveland.

On the night I visited Classic Park, the fans were busy worrying about a Cleveland superstar in a different sport, LeBron James. July 1, 2010, was the opening of NBA Free Agency and the Captains got into the pitch to keep LeBron with the Cavaliers.

“Please Stay LeBron Night” included the Captains renaming themselves the LeLake LeCounty LeCaptains, taking the field under a cloud of baby powder (like LeBron does), a slam dunk contest on a Nerf hoop, full page ads from a local newspaper being displayed to state their plea, the team employees wearing James-esque headbands, and many more unique efforts. In the end, it didn’t work and LeBron left for Miami, but it did make for a fantastic promotion that the crowd really got involved with.

Classic Park is a pleasant place to watch a baseball game in a major metropolitan area. It offers fans the chance to watch future players for their favorite big league team a few years before they arrive in “The Show.”

Be sure to check out the video coverage of Classic Park and Progressive Field!

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Pohlman Field – Beloit, Wisconsin

– Matt Nelson

Well, one thing you can say about Beloit’s Pohlman Field when comparing it to the others in the Midwest League, “It’s different.”

Pohlman Field opened in 1982 when the Beloit Snappers joined the MWL as an expansion team. A longtime Brewers affiliate, Beloit has been a Twins affiliate since 2005. 

The facility is located in a park on the north side of Beloit and is really the only “neighborhood ballpark” in the league. Right across the street from the main entrance are residential areas. In fact some streets have signs that read “No Parking During Ball Games.” It almost reminds a fan of street parking near Wrigley Field. Almost.

Pohlman Field needs to be replaced. The team will openly tell you that and they are hoping to get a new stadium built at an interstate location on the city’s eastside. That project is currently awaiting the results of feasibility studies.

Many fans could argue that Pohlman Field isn’t much more than a high school field. The seating area is small, the exterior doesn’t really stand out, and it lacks many amenities that fans and players have to come to expect these days.

However Pohlman Field does serve as a good example of what many minor league ballparks were like prior to the 1990’s building boom. Simple and small. And simple and small leads to one of the best opportunities for fans in all of the Midwest League.

At Pohlman Field the players must walk through the concourse with the fans in order to get from the clubhouse to the dugout. Nope. No ramps from the dugout to a locker room underneath the stands in Beloit. This provides unparalleled access to the players and coaches. It’s an autograph collector’s dream.

It’s a tough situation for the Beloit Snappers to keep things going. The crowds are often small, and the team lacks revenue sources such as suite money and parking profits. However, General Manager Jeff Vohs says the club has been “in the black” for the last seven years. It’s a no frills operation in the small front office, but they get the job done and put on a good show for the Snapper fans.

While Beloit’s Pohlman Field doesn’t usually rank on “Must See Minor League Ballpark” lists, it is a unique facility these days, and the access that fans have to the players is something rarely found. 

Be sure to check out the video reports on Pohlman Field as well as the Midwest League Offices, which are located in Beloit!

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