Category Archives: Other Minor League Ballparks

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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Rickwood Field – Birmingham, Alabama

— Matt Nelson

“America’s Oldest Baseball Park.” For a “Ballpark Nerd” or a “Ballpark Chaser” it’s one of the toughest to catch. Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama. Sure, you can stop by most any time and take a stroll through the park that opened on August, 18, 1910. But to find a minor league game being played at the old green facility on the westside of Birmingham, you have to be there on one specific day on the calendar.

In 1910 businessman Rick Woodward needed a new home for his baseball team, the Birmingham Barons. He built one that still stands. Modeled after early concrete and steel big league parks Shibe Park (Philadelphia) and Forbes Field (Pittsburgh), Woodward’s park hosted many teams for many years.

Rickwood Field was the home to the minor league Birmingham Barons for all but two seasons from 1910 through the 1987 season. That’s when the club moved to a new park in the nearby suburb of Hoover. The Birmingham Black Barons of the negro leagues played at Rickwood for many years. In its early days Rickwood was hosted spring training games for a couple of big league clubs. It’s hosted countless “barnstorming games” that included players like Babe Ruth. College baseball games. High school baseball games. Heck, it’s hosted college football.

June 2, 2010, marked the 15th Annual Rickwood Classic. That is the one game each season that the Barons return to Rickwood Field. It’s really a big undertaking. There are a lot of logistical issues to work out to get everything ready for a park that usually doesn’t handle crowds close to 10,000 like The Classic often draws. However, the Barons and the non-profit group “Friends of Rickwood” do a great job with the event.

In fact, the “Friends of Rickwood” do a great job with the park year round. The park is owned by the city of Birmingham but the funding for the park these days comes from whatever the friends can get. They’ve done a nice job of fixing up things that must be fixed, but leaving whatever they can, as it is. That’s the difference between Rickwood and Fenway Park (1912) and Wrigley Field (1914). The Red Sox and Cubs have put lots and lots of money into their facilities. That makes for a great fan experience day in and day out, but they’re not as historically accurate to the old days as Rickwood Field.

Everywhere at Rickwood there is something historical. On the exterior there are fantastic old signs that read, “Home of Barons Baseball” or “Barons Offices Upstairs.” Signs that look like they haven’t been touched in 40 years. The old outfield wall still stands. It was 478 feet to center field from home plate! The old concrete wall is a long distance behind the current fence. The dugouts are tiny. The lights are something you won’t find anywhere else. Same for the recreated press box on the roof. The “No Betting In This Park” signs are simply classic.

These old features are the reason that movies like “Cobb” have been filmed at Rickwood. You could build a Hollywood set, but why build a set when you have an old ballpark that fits many old eras of baseball?

It’s clear that playing at Rickwood is not just another game in the course of a long season to the handful of minor league players who have the opportunity to play at Rickwood each year. During batting practice some of them had their own cameras and were taking photos. Current Barons skipper and former Cedar Rapids Kernels Manager Ever Magallanes was clearly excited to manage his team in the Rickwood Classic for a second year in a row.

Willie Mays. Reggie Jackson. Rollie Fingers. Dizzy Dean. The list of big name baseball players who’ve played at Rickwood is very long. It’s one of the reasons that “Ballpark Nerds” and “Ballpark Chasers” love Rickwood Field. And why they flock to Birmingham for that one chance each year to see professional baseball at the 100-year-old place known as “America’s Oldest Baseball Park.” It is a trip worth any length of drive, for any big baseball fan.

Be sure to check out the video report from Rickwood!

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Principal Park and State Baseball

Principal Park 1— Matt Nelson

Wednesday I made the trip over to Des Moines to cover the Iowa State Baseball Tournament for KCRG-TV9. A triple-header of 3A games involving area teams no less!!

Check out my report on Norwalk’s win over Decorah here.

View highlights of Vinton-Shellsburg’s game, and Benton Community’s game here.

Principal Park 4The state tournament moved to Principal Park (formerly Sec Taylor Stadium II) in 2005. Previously it’d been held in Marshalltown and Carroll. Principal Park is the home of the AAA Iowa Cubs.

The ballpark opened in 1992 and hasn’t changed a great deal since then. In right field they have added bleacher seating as well as a newer scoreboard and a nice fountain the right field corner as well.

Principal Park 5The ballpark offers a spectacular view of the Iowa State Capitol from behind home plate. From the first base line fans have a nice view of the downtown Des Moines skyline as well.

Marshalltown and Carroll were great hosts to the state baseball tournament. But with a central loacation the state tournament seems to be doing well in Principal Park. The crowds don’t fill the stadium, but it has to be a thrill for those high schoolers who get to play in a AAA stadium.

Principal Park 6Maybe sometime in the future after I visit all of the ballparks in the Midwest League, the “Ballparks of the Midwest” project for TV9 will have to expand to include other parks in the Midwest like Principal Park or the new Omaha Royals ballpark set to open in 2011. Hmmm… 🙂

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Fifth Third Field (Well, One of Them Anyway)

100_8923— Matt Nelson

In 2010 I will travel to Dayton to profile Fifth Third Field as part of KCRG-TV9’s Ballparks of the Midwest League. Of course there’s also Fifth Third Ballpark in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. We’ll visit that later this summer. And then there’s the other Fifth Third Field in Toledo. Confusing, huh?

100_8937Fifth Third Field in Toledo is home to the AAA Toledo Mud Hens of the International League. Built in 2002 it is crammed into a downtown Toledo block. In fact two of the corners of the block are filled by new businesses that moved into the old buildings that were left in place. It really gives the ballpark a sense of history when you walk around the outside.

100_8918The outside includes what might be the best statue I’ve seen at a ballpark. Check out the kids peering through the Knothole to watch the game. What’s interesting is that anybody can stroll by the exterior of Fifth Third Park and watch the game. It’s easily visible from Right, Center and Left Fields from the surrounding streets through a black iron fence.

100_8932Inside the park the seats provide a nice view of downtown Toledo. The seats in the Right Field corner look cool, but don’t provide much of a view for evening games. “The Roost” is a triangular section of seats built into the corner of an old building. It looks great, but for night games people in those seats stare directly into the sun for a couple of hours.

100_8938I’ve been to several AAA ballparks and Toledo’s Fifth Third Field is right at the top of the list. I absolutely love Louisville Slugger Field in Louisville, Kentucky, but Toledo’s yard is just a little more unique. It is well worth a visit if you find yourself on Interstate 80 in Western Ohio.

100_8950

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