Tag Archives: midwest league

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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A New Ballpark in Beloit?

— Matt Nelson

In Beloit they want (and need) a new ballpark to replace Pohlman Field. They’ve done some research to see what area residents think, and here you’ll find some of the results:

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Classic Park – Eastlake, Ohio

— Matt Nelson

Classic Park in Eastlake, Ohio, home of the Lake County Captains, is where it belongs. In the Midwest League.

Prior to 2010 the Captains played in the South Atlantic League and considering Classic Park is about two miles from Lake Erie, it’s good that this instance of “Ballpark Geography Inaccuracy” has been resolved. Now if we can just figure out a better league name for the AAA teams in Memphis, Nashville, Des Moines, Omaha and Round Rock. “Pacific Coast” they most certainly are not.

Classic Park opened when the franchise moved from Columbus, Georgia, to Eastlake in 2003 and seats more than 7,000 fans. Interestingly enough, the other new Midwest League team, Bowling Green, also relocated to its present city from Columbus, Georgia (in 2009).

Although it is a suburban ballpark surrounded by the usual parking lots, it’s not “new” suburbia, which is what one might expect. The area it is in is older than the ballpark itself.

Speaking of those parking lots, one thing that isn’t found at other Midwest League ballparks is a pedestrian bridge to get fans from surrounding parking lots, over a busy highway, and into the ballpark safely. There’s also a bus stop built into the ballpark and the Lake County Tourism Office. The name, Classic Park, comes from the naming rights deal with a local group of car dealers, Classic Automotive Group.

Inside the ballpark the lighthouse in Center Field stands out…like a lighthouse is supposed to! Captain Tony greets fans to the park, and then stations himself on guard to sound sirens and light the lamp for Captains home runs.

The Captains are an Indians affiliate, as evidenced by the t-shirts available in the gift shop, the Cargo Hold, of course. While some teams in the Midwest League are many miles from their parent club (Cedar Rapids is 1,800 miles from Anaheim), the Captains play just 18 miles from where they hope to play in a few years, Progressive Field in downtown Cleveland.

On the night I visited Classic Park, the fans were busy worrying about a Cleveland superstar in a different sport, LeBron James. July 1, 2010, was the opening of NBA Free Agency and the Captains got into the pitch to keep LeBron with the Cavaliers.

“Please Stay LeBron Night” included the Captains renaming themselves the LeLake LeCounty LeCaptains, taking the field under a cloud of baby powder (like LeBron does), a slam dunk contest on a Nerf hoop, full page ads from a local newspaper being displayed to state their plea, the team employees wearing James-esque headbands, and many more unique efforts. In the end, it didn’t work and LeBron left for Miami, but it did make for a fantastic promotion that the crowd really got involved with.

Classic Park is a pleasant place to watch a baseball game in a major metropolitan area. It offers fans the chance to watch future players for their favorite big league team a few years before they arrive in “The Show.”

Be sure to check out the video coverage of Classic Park and Progressive Field!

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Pohlman Field – Beloit, Wisconsin

— Matt Nelson

Well, one thing you can say about Beloit’s Pohlman Field when comparing it to the others in the Midwest League, “It’s different.”

Pohlman Field opened in 1982 when the Beloit Snappers joined the MWL as an expansion team. A longtime Brewers affiliate, Beloit has been a Twins affiliate since 2005. 

The facility is located in a park on the north side of Beloit and is really the only “neighborhood ballpark” in the league. Right across the street from the main entrance are residential areas. In fact some streets have signs that read “No Parking During Ball Games.” It almost reminds a fan of street parking near Wrigley Field. Almost.

Pohlman Field needs to be replaced. The team will openly tell you that and they are hoping to get a new stadium built at an interstate location on the city’s eastside. That project is currently awaiting the results of feasibility studies.

Many fans could argue that Pohlman Field isn’t much more than a high school field. The seating area is small, the exterior doesn’t really stand out, and it lacks many amenities that fans and players have to come to expect these days.

However Pohlman Field does serve as a good example of what many minor league ballparks were like prior to the 1990’s building boom. Simple and small. And simple and small leads to one of the best opportunities for fans in all of the Midwest League.

At Pohlman Field the players must walk through the concourse with the fans in order to get from the clubhouse to the dugout. Nope. No ramps from the dugout to a locker room underneath the stands in Beloit. This provides unparalleled access to the players and coaches. It’s an autograph collector’s dream.

It’s a tough situation for the Beloit Snappers to keep things going. The crowds are often small, and the team lacks revenue sources such as suite money and parking profits. However, General Manager Jeff Vohs says the club has been “in the black” for the last seven years. It’s a no frills operation in the small front office, but they get the job done and put on a good show for the Snapper fans.

While Beloit’s Pohlman Field doesn’t usually rank on “Must See Minor League Ballpark” lists, it is a unique facility these days, and the access that fans have to the players is something rarely found. 

Be sure to check out the video reports on Pohlman Field as well as the Midwest League Offices, which are located in Beloit!

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Fox Cities Stadium – Grand Chute, Wisconsin

— Matt Nelson

Snow. It was snowing. That’s right. May 7 in the Appleton, Wisconsin, area, and that’s what the weather was like. The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers are the northernmost team in the Midwest League, so maybe that was just very appropriate for my tour of the ballparks in the league. Thankfully the snow was melting as soon as it hit the ground, and 12 hours later at game time, it was long gone.

Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium opened in 1995 and is located in Grand Chute, Wisconsin, which is just west of Appleton. The ballpark is nice, but lacks some of the ammentities of newer parks. Within the Midwest League it is probably the most comparable to Coveleski Stadium in South Bend. It has a mostly open concourse with a small press box at concourse level behind home plate. The exterior is ok, but doesn’t necessarily standout. The location of the ballpark is near a shopping mall and a major highway meaning it’s easy to get to and there is plenty to do near the park, but the fact remains that the stadium is pretty much just surrounded by parking lots.

Give the Timber Rattlers organization a lot of credit though, they’ve put in some very nice features. There’s a restaurant/bar, plenty of group seating options throughout the park, and a new addition, there’s a giant sand box in right-center field, much like what Petco Park in San Diego has. So although the ballpark isn’t the newest, flashiest, park in the league, it’s clear that the club has made efforts to give fans a great night of entertainment.

It’s also clear that the fans in the Fox River Valley enjoy coming out and supporting the team. Part of that is probably due to the switch at the beginning of the 2009 season from being the longtime Mariners affiliate in the Midwest League, to having an affiliation with the in-state Brewers. They’re also tough fans. It was 46 degrees at first pitch on the day I was in Grand Chute, and there was a very good crowd who didn’t seem to mind the weather…probably because they have years of experience toughing out much worse weather 30 miles north in Green Bay at Lambeau Field. The team gets credit for having plenty of heaters placed throughout the concourse so fans can easily warm up for a few minutes by them.

One other thing of note for college sports fans…Fox Cities Stadium has hosted the NCAA Divison III World Series for many years now. Clearly the NCAA likes this ballpark and Grand Chute, or they wouldn’t keep the tournament coming back year after year.

Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium is not a great park of the league, but it’s a venue that has had some money invested in it, and the fans really come out and support their club. That’s worth some serious points right there.

Be sure to check out the video reports for Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium here.

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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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Midwest League Offices – Beloit, Wisconsin

 

Midwest League President George Spelius works at his desk in the Beloit, Wisconsin, offices of the Midwest League

— Matt Nelson

On the road to Milwaukee a couple of weeks ago I stopped in Beloit to interview Midwest League President George Spelius. He’s the guy with his signature on every Midwest League baseball after all.

The interview with Spelius will be part of the coverage of the Beloit Snappers in July, but here are some photos of the Midwest League Office. It’s in an unmarked building shared with an insurance company just down the street from the ballpark the Beloit Snappers play in.

This sequence shows Marty Foster, son-in-law of George Spelius, ejecting Yankees Manager Joe Girardi in 2009.

Albert Pujols was the 2000 MWL MVP. Spelius fined him $25 one time for arguing balls and strikes.

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