Tag Archives: Ballparks of the Midwest

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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Filed under Midwest League Ballparks

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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Filed under Other Minor League Ballparks

Bowling Green Ballpark – Bowling Green, Kentucky

— Matt Nelson

They’re still getting used to this whole “baseball thing” in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The franchise now known as the Bowling Green Hot Rods moved from Columbus, Georgia, prior to the 2009 season, and into a brand new ballpark near downtown, Bowling Green Ballpark. The fans have been turning out at a rate of about 3,000 fans per game in 2010, but the Hot Rods have been working to increase that.

Just days before my visit to Bowling Green the team hosted “Super-Mega-Prize-A-Thon.” This giveaway involved giving away random items in large quantities. One person took home (well actually, they distributed them to fellow fans) 1,000 popsicles. Another took home live hissing cockroaches. All in an attempt to catch people’s attention and get them down to the ballpark.

My visit to the home of the Hot Rods came during a 13 game home stand. It also came during a 13 game campout. Kyle Hanrahan, who runs the team store, “The Body Shop,” is also the Hot Rods Community Affairs Dude. Yes, that is his actual title, it’s on his business card. He decided since he’d be at the park so much during that home stand that he’d just camp out and raise money for charity, namely the Hospitality House. Hanrahan says it’s along the lines of a Ronald McDonald House. His tent was set up on the first base concourse, complete with a view of the video board in right field. Hanrahan noted that it’s tough to get sleep at the ballpark. The cleaning crews wrap up their duties around 2am and by 4am the birds are chirping.

As for the ballpark itself, Bowling Green Ballpark is a nice new park to watch a game in, but it doesn’t break any new ground. The park has a nice brick exterior and the interior is similar to the design of most new ballparks. There is a gap in the outfield though so fans can’t walk all of the way around the inside of the park.

The outfield is pretty unique. The team clubhouses are in Center Field so fans can watch the players enter the field from out there, kind of like the Giants and their opponents used to do at the old Polo Grounds in New York. Also, the Right Field fence curves in towards the field because it runs so close to the street that is just beyond it.

One thing that members of the media take note of is the location of the press box. At Bowling Green Ballpark it’s actually down the third baseline which is a little different. The suite/press box level of the ballpark includes a bar/restaurant as well as suites and other group seating areas. I visited on a Tuesday night, but it was a pleasant Tuesday night in June, and that level was really being underutilized for that game.

The Hot Rods nickname comes from the fact that Bowling Green is home to the General Motors plant that makes the Corvette, and there is also a drag race track in the area. The Corvette is the official sports car for Kentucky.

Now the question can be asked, “How is Bowling Green part of the Midwest?” Well, it’s not, really, but the team moved over to the Midwest League in 2010 (as did Lake County) from the South Atlantic League. Bowling Green’s nearest league opponent is Dayton, and that’s still more than 250 miles to the north.

South Atlantic. Midwest. It doesn’t matter to Hot Rods fans and Bowling Green. They’re just happy to have a minor league baseball to watch.

Be sure to check out the video report from Bowling Green!

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Filed under Midwest League Ballparks

Community Field – Burlington, Iowa

— Matt Nelson

Community Field in Burlington, Iowa, is the home of the Burlington Bees, the Kansas City Royals affiliate in the Midwest League. It is the ballpark in the smallest community in the country with full season, affiliated, minor league baseball. That is something to be proud of for fans in Burlington. It’s not easy to keep a team going these days in a city as small as Burlington (population: 26,839 in the 2000 census).

The problem that results is that the attendance ranks near the bottom of the league. The Bees only average about 800 fans per game. However, those fans are very loyal. The most well-known of those fans is “Dancin’ Bobby.” He can be found near the dugouts…dancing of course. Any music that gets played during the course of a game, and he’s likely to be seen dancing to it. Dancin’ Bobby is an institution at Community Field.

Another group of die-hard fans don’t have reserved seats at Community Field, but rather, reserved standing room-only spaces down the left field line. It’s a pretty cool thing to see first names on nice looking signs reserving spots for the locals to stand during the games. You won’t find that at many parks.

Community Field opened in 1947. It burned in the early 1970’s and was rebuilt. Then in 2004-05 the ballpark underwent a significant amount of renovation, due in part to Vision Iowa money. New offices, concession stands, and team store, plus a very interesting overhang that gives the stadium a unique visual look, as well as providing shelter from the sun or from rain.

Beyond that, the ballpark has an older feel that isn’t found in many ballparks these days. It’s kind of nice to be in that setting as it feels more like minor league ballparks did in the 1980’s before the new wave of ballparks. There is no open concourse, they have some classic light towers, there’s still a lot of bleacher seating, the outfield wall is not padded, it’s just wood with advertising. While it’s not glamorous, there’s something to be said for a ballpark that doesn’t feel like many others still in use today.

A trip to Community Field in Burlington doesn’t cost much, and the seats are close to the action. Chances are you won’t have to fight a crowd in the parking lot or in the concessions lines. The thing to remember is that somehow, some way, affiliated minor league baseball lives on in this small town and this small, somewhat old-fashioned ballpark.

Check out the full Burlington report, including video and more photos, by clicking here.

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Filed under Midwest League Ballparks

Coming Wednesday…

— Matt Nelson

Season 2 of KCRG-TV9’s Ballparks of the Midwest kicks off Wednesday, June 30, with a visit to Communtity Field in Burlington, Iowa, as well as a Midwest League commuter bus trip with the Cedar Rapids Kernels! Check it out on the KCRG-TV9 News at 6, 10, and at the website.

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Filed under Project Updates

Three down, Five to Go

Shooting the Kernels and Rattlers at Miller Park in Milwaukee on May 7, 2010

— Matt Nelson

I am currently in edit mode! After a couple of weeks of busy ballpark shooting in Burlington, Davenport, and Appleton, I’m busy writing and editing the stories on those ballparks and cities that will air on KCRG-TV9’s Ballparks of the Midwest starting June 30.

I also was fortunate to cover the Cedar Rapids Kernels-Wisconsin Timer Rattlers game at Miller Park on Friday, May 7. It was quite the experience for the fans, players…and the media too!

Back to the editing…

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Filed under Major League Ballparks, Midwest League Ballparks, Project Updates

Underway in 2010!

— Matt Nelson

Although the new segments of Ballparks of the Midwest won’t air on KCRG-TV9 until late June and then through August, I’ve started working on them!

Saturday I rode the Cedar Rapids Kernels team bus down to Burlington for a matinée against the Bees. Look for the story on Community Field and also what the road trips are like for minor leaguers this summer!

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Filed under Midwest League Ballparks, Project Updates