Lansing, Michigan joined the Midwest League in 1996 when a ball club moved to town from Springfield, Illinois. That Springfield club was actually in Waterloo as the Diamonds through 1993. I find this to be a piece of my childhood as my first introduction to the Midwest League was going to Waterloo Diamonds games at Municipal Stadium as a kid in the late 1980’s and early ’90’s. (Click here for the 1990’s MWL Franchises)
Oldsmobile Park opened in ’96 and is the largest ballpark in the Midwest League with a seating capacity of about 11,000. At one time Fifth Third Ballpark in Grand Rapids was right in the same ballpark (pun intended) with regards to capacity, but the Whitecaps have actually reduced capacity in recent years.
Just a few blocks down Michigan Avenue from the state capitol is where you’ll find Oldsmobile Park. You can see the Michigan State Capitol among the other downtown buildings from inside the ballpark. It should be noted that this is the only state capital city in the Midwest League.
A very nice fountain and some even nicer statues greet visitors to the ballpark. The entrance is impressive and is even on the cover of the 2009 Great Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau Guide.
Also on the Lansing skyline…a giant lugnut. Yep, that’s right, a giant lugnut. It sits across the street from the ballpark on an old smokestack and is certainly a signature to this stadium, even if it’s not in the stadium. What a great way to draw attention to the team and make a visit to Oldsmobile Park unique!
The playing field has a few quirks at Oldsmobile Park. The left and right field lines are short to the foul pole at just 305 feet each. The outfield wall then angles out with a very high wall down the line making homers a bit more difficult if hit directly down the line. The deepest part of the park is out in right center field where the depth gets as great as 412 feet. I’m told the ball can really fly out of the ballpark, but of course on the night I was there, it was a pitcher’s duel!
The thing that really stands out about Lansing is the Lugnuts name. Before each game they play the Lugnuts song (yes, you can download it from the team right here, no iPod is complete without it, right?). Fans love dancing to it, and it’s clear some of them dance to it every night.
A retail store with the great name, “Nuts and Bolts,” does big business. I stopped in twice on my visit and the place was crammed with people. The Lugnuts are annually in the top 20 in all of Minor League Baseball in retail sales. As retail manager Matt Hicks told me, “It’s not a bird, it’s not a bear, it’s not a dog. We have a car part.”
Lansing is of course the Lugnuts because of the area’s huge automotive industry. Obviously in recent times, that industry has struggled…big time. More than 14 million Oldsmobiles were made in Lansing until production ceased in 2004. General Motors kept paying the naming rights for Oldsmobile Park, but with the corporation’s bankruptcy, the park will have a new name for 2010.
Oldsmobile Park is a very nice ballpark that holds the big crowds the Lugnuts draw. Newer parks have gone bigger and better than the one in Lansing, but Oldsmobile Park is kept up well and is a perfectly good place to watch a ball game in a downtown setting.
While the Lugnuts name will likely live on for years due to its immense popularity, it’s too bad the region has been hit hard by the automotive struggles, and that the ballpark will soon have a new name on its gates.
Also, Lansing area resident Joel Dinda runs an absolutely fantastic Midwest League site called “A Fan’s Guide to the Midwest League.” He puts 20 hours a week into the site and it has tons of information. I talked to him while I was in Lansing and you can find that as one of the two video reports from Lansing. You can find Dinda’s site here.