— Matt Nelson
(Click here to watch the video reports from Comstock Park!)
Don’t confuse Fifth Third Ballpark with Fifth Third Field in Toledo, Ohio (I was there this summer on vacation). Or with Fifth Third Field in Dayton, Ohio (a 2010 Ballparks of the Midwest visit). Fifth Third Ballpark is the home of the West Michigan Whitecaps, the Detroit Tigers affiliate in the Midwest League.
The ballpark was built in 1994 when the team moved to town from Madison, Wisconsin, and is located in the suburb of Comstock Park, which is about 5 miles north of Grand Rapids. While the location is easy to get to, just off a major highway, there isn’t much atmosphere surrounding the park. Just parking lots and a go-kart track. It’s too bad that they didn’t build downtown, but the organization says the owners ran into several roadblocks when they tried to do just that. The ballpark was privately built, so give them credit for that.
On the exterior Fifth Third Ballpark doesn’t necessarily stand out, but the field is at street level. Most parks built today have the field level below street level meaning you usually walk right in at street level. However at Fifth Third Ballpark the street level field means a climb to get up and into the ballpark from behind home plate.
Once inside the ballpark, fans find themselves in one of the largest Midwest League stadiums. Seating capacity is about 10,000 people. With the addition of a Stadium Club and other outfield specialty seating the capacity has actually dropped a little bit from what it was.
Easily the coolest historical feature of the ballpark is the set of four Tiger Stadium seats about 10 rows behind home plate. These were added in 2008 and can be bought specifically (click here for the info). The seats do not have numbers, but instead are named for legendary Tiger names: Cobb, Gibson, Kaline, and Harwell. What a great idea to make use of some historical artifacts, and appeal to all of those Tiger fans in the western parts of Michigan!
They like their foodin the Grand Rapids area. The team has been well known for its “swimming pig” sandwich. That was a pork chop covered in barbecue sauce, onions and other stuff. In fact, one of the mascots is…Franky…a swimming pig. (The original mascot is “Crash” who has never won the mascot race, quite the losing streak Crash has, going back to 1994)
However in 2009 the Whitecaps outdid themselves and the swimming pig. The FifthThird Burger has taken the minors by storm. Nearly 5,000 calories including five burger patties, it costs $20 and is available down the third baseline. The burger is also topped with Fritos and chili. It is a monster.
Many people choose (wisely) to share the burger. Others take it on by themselves. For those who eat the burger during the game, a referee awards them a “Call 911 I ate the Fifth Third Burger” t-shirt, and a photo for the wall of winners. When I was there the Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food had just been in town. The record for eating the burger at the time I visited Comstock Park was 13 minutes!! No, I didn’t try it, but the video is very entertaining, I promise. Be sure to check it out!
On the field, the Whitecaps have been very successful during their time in Grand Rapids. Five Midwest League Championships between 1996 and 2007!
Fifth Third Ballpark is a nice facility, but there aren’t too many things that really stand out about it. The one that does, is the team’s commitment to making sure that no one goes home hungry. They love their food at Whitecaps games!
(Click here to watch the video reports from Fifth Third Ballpark)
A few miscellaneous Grand Rapids notes…
– If you’re in the area be sure to visit the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum (he’s buried there too). It’s located right downtown and provides a lot of interesting info and artifacts on the 38th President and his short White House tenure, but longtime connections to Grand Rapids. Plus for sports fans, he was an All-American football player at Michigan.
– Did you know that one Major League Baseball game has been played in Grand Rapids? It was on May 24, 1903 at Ramona Park in East Grand Rapids and the Detroit Tigers were the home team. You can find the site today near a lake on the east side of town, a very nice part of the city over there. Grand Rapids has also been host to Negro League games through the years as well as the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Grand Rapids Chicks.