Peoria’s O’Brien Field is a nice place to catch a Peoria Chiefs game, especially if you’re a Cubs fan. More on that later.
O’Brien Field is located just south of downtown Peoria and offers a nice view of downtown from many of its seats. Opened in 2002 it has the typical style of most of the ballparks built since the mid-1990’s. An open concourse that goes most, but not quite all, of the way around the park. It is crammed in between some city streets and so there are nets along the sides so that balls don’t hit cars. There are sidewalks in those areas as well, so people can get very nice “knothole” views from those locations.
The naming rights situation is pretty interesting in Peoria. O’Brien Field was named for a regional group of car dealerships that bought the rights. However those dealerships have been sold, and the naming rights haven’t been resold. The Chiefs have been trying to get a deal done, but it hasn’t happened. So for 2009 fans or businesses can pay (a significant amount) to have the Field renamed whatever they want it to be for that night. The idea hasn’t gone over quite as well as the Chiefs had hoped, but they have sold it on a night-by-night basis a few times.
When fans enter the ballpark through the main gate they will immediately see a great statue featuring Pete Vonachen, the “Father of Peoria Baseball.” This statue really stands out on the concourse behind home plate and depicts Vonachen giving a baseball to a young boy.
What O’Brien Field has really become known for is the set of 9 palm trees in left field. That’s right…palm trees…in Peoria. The Florida State League this is not. The idea apparently started when one of the team’s owners suggested palm trees for the park, much like those at AT&T Park in San Francisco (which is an awesome park in its own right by the way). They figured out how to make it work, unfortunately that means bringing in new palm trees every year because the other ones die during the Peoria winter.
One thing that really gets people out to the ballpark is the Chiefs affiliation with the Chicago Cubs. There was no shortage of fans wearing Cubs stuff. It’s clear that one reason fans flock to the ballpark is the chance to see future Cubbies without having to fight Chicago traffic to see the big-league guys. Certainly Wrigley Field draws fans from this area, but you can’t beat convenience and cheap prices sometimes!
Peoria is 133 miles from Wrigley Field. It is 146 miles from Busch Stadium in St. Louis. From 1995-2004 the Peoria franchise (Started in ’84 as a Cubs affiliate) was a Cardinals affiliate. Most notably, Albert Pujols played most of his minor league career as a member of the Chiefs in 2000.The next year he was the NL Rookie of the Year. The guy hit .324 with 17 dingers in 109 games in Peoria and was Midwest League MVP!
Peoria used to have a Native American themed logo for its Chiefs name (see that logo here). That changed a long time ago and the club currently features a Dalmatian with a fire chief’s helmet as its mascot. His name is Homer. What’s funny is that they do have the foam Atlanta Braves Tomahawks available in the souvenir stand, except that it functions nicely as a fire ax for the Peoria Chiefs! Politically correct.
The night I was at O’Brien Field there were some interesting sightings. Former Major League player and manager (including leading the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks to the World Series Title) and current Cubs television analyst Bob Brenly was in attendance to watch his son Michael catch for the Chiefs. Another son of a former Major Leaguer was playing for the Great Lakes Loons, Matt Wallach, son of Tim Wallach.
As a big Minnesota Twins fan I was excited to see that because O’Brien Field is also home to the Bradley University Braves Baseball Team, the ballpark has a small section on the concourse with retired Braves numbers and a Hall of Fame. Kirby Puckett played a very short time for Bradley before transferring closer to his home in Chicago and attending junior college.
Peoria’s O’Brien Field is a very nice park. Is it a great park? Probably not. But you have to give the club lots of credit for having a signature at the ballpark, and that signature is those wacky palm trees that call Central Illinois home.