Sunday, June 26, 2011

United States Steel Steel Yard, Gary IN

Basic Information
Team: Gary Southshore Railcats (American Association)
Game: Railcats vs St. Paul Saints-6/18/2011
Team Website: http://www.railcatsbaseball.com/
Ticket Information: (219) 882-2255 or http://www.railcatsbaseball.com/
Tourism Information: City of Gary website: http://www.gary.in.us/visit_region.asp
Online Broadcasts: WLPR 89.1FM http://www.thelakeshorefm.com/
Local Newspaper: Northwest Indiana Times http://www.nwitimes.com/

Team History: The Gary Southshore Railcats first came into existance in February 2001, when Northwest Sports Ventures LLC was granted an expansion franchise to play in the Northern League for the 2002 campaign. Ground was broken for a new stadium to house the team in June 2001, with the expectation that it would be ready in time for 2002. However, in October, the city of Gary, along with architects HOK, determined that the new park would not be ready in time, so it was agreed that the new Railcats would play all their games on the road in 2002, and would finally move into their new home in 2003. That first season, the 'Cats would win an unlikely 35 of 90 games, and manager Joe Calfapietra was named the league's manager of the year.

After moving into their new home, the Railcats won the Northern League championship in 2005 and 2007. The team joined the American Association in 2011.

Stadium Capacity: The Steel Yard has a total capacity of 6,139.

How About That Name (And Some History): In May 2003, just before the Railcats would open their first season in Gary, the team signed a ten year naming agreement with United States Steel, naming the park the US Steel Steel Yard. The world-famous steel manufacturer has a large factory not far from the site of the park.

On The Town: The history of Gary, IN has been always tied to the fortunes of the steel industry. Founded in 1906 when United States Steel selected this area to be the home of it's newest manufacturing plant. It was named aftger Elbert Gary, the founder and chairman of United States
Steel.

Gary has a population of just under 81,000, making it the seventh largest city in the state of Indiana. It is located less than a half hour from downtown Chicago, and is serviced by Interstate 80/90, also known as the Indiana Toll Road.

Gary was one of the first cities in the country to have an African-American mayor, Richard Hatcher, who took office on January 1, 1968.

Probably the best known celebrities to come our of Gary was the Jackson family, who lived in a house, ironically enough, on Jackson St. All nine Jackson children, including Michael, were born and raised in Gary. Other notable natives of Gary include former astronaut Frank Borman, NFL legend Alex Karras, and actor Avery Brooks, known for his role as Benjamin Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space 9.

Getting There: From the Toll Road westbound, exit at US 12/20-Dunes Hwy (exit 17). Follow Dunes Hwy west, and the ballpark will be on the left. You can also exit at the Broadway exit, make a right onto Broadway towards downtown Gary. Take Broadway to Fifth Ave, making a left onto Fifth Ave. Follow Fifth Ave to the ballpark, which will be on your left.
The park really is easy to find, as it's a chip shot from the Toll Road. There is also a large sign broadcasting the location of the park, which is visible from the interstate just before the Broadway exit.

Nearby Airport: Gary/Chicago International Aiport is located not far from downtown Gary, but I'm not exactly sure how many airlines fly into it. Your best bet would be to fly directly into Chicago, and make your way to Gary from there,

What To Do Before The Game: As far as I'm aware, there really isn't a lot to do in Gary proper. However, not far from Gary is the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and approximately fifteen minutes west towards Chicago is Hammond, which is the home of serveral casinos, including the Ameristar, the Horseshoe, and the Majestic Star. In Michigan City, a half hour east is the home of the recently renovated and expanded Blue Chip Casino.

Where To Eat Before The Game: I didn't have a lot of time to explore dining in Gary, and since the area isn't exactly the best, I would recommend eating near your hotel or waiting to select from the concessions at the ballpark.
Where To Stay: For this trip, I stayed at the Red Roof Inn in Michigan City, IN. Located six miles north of the toll road, it is located about 25 miles from Gary. The Michigan City Red Roof is fairly inexpensive, and has access to several restaurants within walking distance of the facility. For more information, call (800) THE-ROOF, or visit http://www.redroof.com/.

Ticket Prices: Railcats tickets are priced as follows: $10.00 (box seats), $9.00 (reserved), and $7.00 (outfield terrace).

Parking: There are several lots adjacent to the ballpark. The lot I chose was across the street on the third base side, and parking there was $5.00.
The Good Seats: The Steel Yard is designed in the traditional "V" or wishbone shape, with seating running from approximately halfway down the left field line to about the same spot in right. There is also a small seating area in right field, a grass berm in right center, and a standing area along the left field "Cat Walk", which runs along the fence. There is also a large picnic area along the left field line. All of the views in the seating areas I sampled were pretty good, but if I was designing the park, I would have made the angle of the seating bowl a little steeper.

Getting In: The main entrance is behind home plate at the intersection of Fifth Ave and Stadium Place. There is a VIP entrance along the third base side near the team offices.

Stadium Food: While most of the concessions sold at the Steel Yard are your basic "ballpark fare", what they sold was pretty good. I sampled the ballpark hotdog, the "Chicago Red Hot". I found the dog to be a little smaller than most "jumbo" hot dogs, but it was hot and quite tasty. The bun, however, was slightly on the soggy side, which I reasoned to be due to the fact that it was pre-made and was sitting in a hot box until served.
Along the main concourse, there were three main stands, as well as carts serving specialty items such as tacos, burritos, grilled sausages, steak sandwiches, and Dippin' Dots.

My only complaint was that the food service was on the slow side, taking almost a half inning to get served.

Here are some of the concession prices at the United States Steel Steel Yard:

Hot Dog:  $3.75   Cheeseburger: $4.00   Nachos: $4.25   Draft Beer: $5.75   Pretzel: $2.75    Large Soda: $4.25   Ice Cream: $3.75   French Fries: $3.75   Pizza Slice: $4.25

Soft Drinks: Pepsi products are served at the Steel Yard.

ATM: A "no brand" ATM is located in the Railcats' souvenir store.
Souvenirs: The Railcats have a large, airy souvenir store, the "Southshore Depot", on the concourse near the main entrance. The store sells a fairly good line of merchandise.
Restrooms: There are restrooms located along the concourse, all of which are better than average in cleanliness.
Mascots: Two large, friendly cats, named Rusty and Rascal, prowl the stands, greeting fans and giving high fives anbd hugs to the kids.

Dance Team: None

Program: The Railcats' attractive full color program contains a game day insert, and is a good value at $3.00.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: The Steel Yard has a large scoreboard located in left center, which has a good sized video board, which I thought didn't get as much use as I would assume, until I was informed that the message area, which would normally be used to provide player statistics and other text, was out of service at the game that I was at.
The PA voice was average at best. Apparently, he is a local DJ, but his delivery was hard to understand at times. I can't blame that on the ballpark's acoustics, which I thought were pretty good when the music was being played or in-game host was on the mike.

Stadium Staff: All of the team staff was very helpful, but the actual ballpark staff wasn't quite as friendly or approachable.

Atmosphere: Although the park was about 2/3rds full, the fans there really didn't make much of a difference, atmosphere wise. It was "skateboard night", and all of the kids attending got a free team-themed skateboard (without wheels), but the kids really didn't make that much noise, and it was pretty sedate all around.

Stadium Features: The Steel Yard has it's own bar/nightclub located in right center field . The "Diamond Club" has a full bar, and has live music on game nights.

Overall Rating: While the city of Gary is not a place that you would normally consider making a stop at, the United States Steel Steel Yard is a first class ballpark in just about all facets and is worth a visit if you're traveling along the Toll Road.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Coca-Cola Field, Buffalo NY

Basic Information
Team: Buffalo Bisons (International League)
Game: Bisons vs Columbus Clippers-6/11/2011
Team Website: http://www.bisons.com/
Ticket Information: (716) THE-HERD or http://www.bisons.com/
Tourism Information: (800) BUFFALO or http://www.visitbuffaloniagara.com/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.bisons.com/
Local Newspaper: Buffalo News http://www.buffalonews.com/

Team History: Baseball has a long a proud history in Buffalo, with teams known as the Bisons played in the Nickle City all the way back to 1879 in the National League. In 1886, they joined the International League, where they would play until stadium issues and low attendance forced the team to move to Winnipeg in 1970. In 1979, the Rich family, owners of a Buffalo-based food company, purchased the Jersey City team in the double A Eastern League and moved them to the venerable War Memorial Stadium, better known as "the Rockpile". In 1985, the Rich family purchased the Wichita Aeros, of the triple A Amerrican Association, and transferred that team to Buffalo, taking over the Bisons name. In 1997, the American Association dissolved, and the Bisons moved to the International League.

Team Affiliation: The Bisons ahave been the top affiliate of the New York Mets since 2009.

Stadium Capacity: Coca-Cola Field has a capacity of 18,205, making it the largest stadium in the minors.
How About That Name (And Some History): The first of the new "retro" downtown ballparks, Coca-Cola Field (then known as Pilot Field) was built with the future in mind. The park, designed by famed architects HOK (now known as Populous), was constructed so that if the major leagues awarded a team to Buffalo, an additional deck could be added which would bring the seating capacity to forty thousand.

Coca-Cola Park has had several names in it's twenty two year history. It had the name of Pilot Field from 1988-1994, then was called North Americare Park from 1995-1998, and from 1999 through 2008 it was called Dunn Tire Park, beforee Coca-Cola purchased the naming rights prior to the 2009 season.

On The Town: Once the home of Native American tribes, the city of Buffalo is now the second largest city in the state of New York, with a population of over 1.2 million in the greater metropolitan area.
Originally the home of a band of Natives called the Neutral Nation, the area now known as greater Buffalo was settled by the Iroquois Confederation after couquering the Neutrals. In 1789, a small trading post was founded, but once the Erie Canal was completed in 1825, the area boomed, as Buffalo served as the western terminal for the waterway. Buffalo was now became a major shipping hub for products destined for Ohio and the midwest.

With it's proximity to Canada. Buffalo was the final stop for many escaped slaves who traveled from the south via the Underground Railroad, with many of those slaves crossing the Niagara River to Fort Erie, Ontario and freedom.

Before inhabiting the White House as the 22nd President of the United States, Grover Cleveland was mayor of Buffalo in 1882. Nineteen years later, the 25th President, William McKinley, was shot and mortally wounded in Buffalo while attending the Pan American Exhibition. Eight days after he was shot, Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency.

Getting There: From I-90, eixt onto I-190 towards downtown Buffalo. Once on I-190, exit onto Elm St (exit 6). At the first traffic light, make a left onto Swan St. Follow Swan St for approximately a half mile, and the ball park and parking will be on your left.

Nearby Airport: Buffalo-Niagara International Airport is approximately ten miles north east of Coca-Cola Field.
What To Do Before The Game: Unfortunately, time for sightseeing was at a premium on this trip, so I would consider contacting the Convention and Visitors Bureau for more information.

Where To Eat Before The Game: Downtown Buffalo has many different choices for pre-game grazing. We stayed in suburban Amherst, and within a five minute drive of our hotel on Niagara Falls Blvd, there was a wide selection of retaurants, including Buffalo staples, Bill Gray's cheeseburgers (highly recommended), Ted's Hot Dogs (also recommended), and Mighty Taco.

Where To Stay: On this trip, the girls and I stayed at the Sleep Inn in Amherst, which is approximately 15 minutes north of downtown and twenty minutes or so from Niagara Falls. This hotel had very comfortable sleeping rooms, a business center, an indoor swimming pool, and free continental breakfast. For more information, call (800) 4-CHOICE or visit http://www.sleepinn.com/.

Ticket Prices: Bisons tickets are priced as follows: $11.50 (special reserved), $10.50 (reserved), $8.50 (general admission), and $5.50 (youth and senior general admission):

Parking: There are several public lots within a short walk of Coca-Cola Field. We parked at a lot on Swan St, about a three minute walk from the ballpark. Access was fairly easy both in and out, and parking at this lot cost $5.00.
The Good Seats: As I mentioned earlier, Coca-Cola Field is the largest minor league park in the United States, and that allows the fan a good selection of potential seating choices. The park is double decked from foul pole to foul pole. and the sight lines are good from just about every section.

While the different seating choices allow good views, the seats themselves are another story. More than a few seats had dried bird droppings and the cup holders at our seats had some manner of dried filth on them. The entire seating bowl could have used a good power washing.

Getting In: There are several entrances to Coca-Cola Field is behind home plate which is at the intersection of Swan and Washington Streets. The box office is located on the Swan St (thrid base) side of the park. In addition, there is an entrance on Washington St down near the right field foul pole.

Stadium Food: Coca-Cola Field has a larger than average line of food choices throughout the park. Some of the more unique offerings include Baby Spuds, Green Bean Fries, Fried Dough Nuggets, and that Buffalo standby, Fried Bologna Sandwiches.
Coca-Cola Field also has the usual ballpark standards, which I decided to sample pre-game. I ordered two foot long hot dogs, french fries, and a large Coke. The hot dogs, which were grilled, tasted OK, but I think they needed some Cleveland Stadium mustard to liven the taste a little. The fries were OK, but in nmy opinion, needed more salt.

The service at the stands was incredibly slow. Joan noticed that the only stand that didn't have a slow moving line was the "healthy options" stand.

One good thing was that the concession stands accepted credit cards.

Here is a selection of the prices for concessions at Coca-Cola Field:

Hot Dog (Foot Long): $5.25   Nachos: $3.75   Draft Beer: $5.50   Pretzel: $3.00    Large Soda: $4.00   French Fries: $3.50   Pizza Slice: $3.50

Soft Drinks: As you might assume, Coca-Cola products are served at Coca-Cola Field.
ATMs: Evans Bank has two ATMs set up in the main concourse.

Restrooms: The restrooms at the ballpark, are large enough, but, like several other features of the park, could use a good cleaning and possibly an upgrading.

Mascots: The Bisons have three mascots Buster, Chip, and Belle. While they participate in on-field promotions, as far as I could tell they didn't make any appearances in the stands.

Dance Team: None

Program: The Bisons' program, which apparently is updated on a regular basis, costs $2.00.
Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: For 2011, Coca-Cola Park unvieled an unbelieveable new video board, which reportedly is the largest in the minors. With dimensions of 80 feet wide and 34 feet tall, the new board is over three times the size of the park's previous board. As you might assume, it gets a lot of work, showing video replays, advertisements, promotional information, as well as showing the necessary game information. There are two smaller boards along the facings of the upper deck which used to show the scores, but for some reason, now only show a message welcoming you to the park.

The music selectrion is good, and the public address announcer does a good job as well.

Stadium Staff: As I had mentioned, the food service staff was ridiculously slow, but everyone else I dealt with seemed fairly pleasant.

Atmosphere: Well, the team did draw a crowd of over thirteen thousand for the game we attended, but sad to say, they really weren't into the game. It was "Star Wars" night, and the vast majority in the crowd were children and families, and the kids were more interested in parading around in costume, and waving their light sabers, which the team sold at the game.
Stadium Features: If you look over into the parking lot behind right field, you can see some spray painted circles and captions on the pavement. Those circles indicate where some of the longest home runs in team history have landed.

Overall Rating: Coca-Cola Field, in many ways, is one of the finest ballparks in either the minors or majors. However, in other ways, it is starting to fray around the edges. Nevertheless, it's definitely worth a stop to see the "grandfather" of the new era of retro, downtown ballparks.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Louisville Slugger Field, Louisville KY

Basic Information
Team: Louisville Bats (International League)
Game: Bats vs Scranton/Wilkes Barre Yankees-5/29/2011
Team Website: http://www.batsbaseball.com/
Ticket Information: (502) 212-2287 or http://www.batsbaseball.com/
Tourism Information: (888) 568-4784 or http://www.gotolouisville.com/
Online Broadcasts: WKRD 790AM http://www.mysportsradio790.com/
Local Newspaper: Louisville Courier-Journal http://www.courierjournal.com/

Team History: While professional baseball has been played in Louisville since the 19th century, the story of the current Louisville Bats franchise starts in 1982, when A. Ray Smith, owner of the Springfield Redbirds moved his framchise from Missouri to Louisville, where they would take up residence at the 30,000 seat Cardinal Stadium, located on the Kentucky State Fairgounds. The new Louisville Redbirds became an instant hit, when in 1983, they became the first team in minor league baseball history to draw over a million fans in a single season. After the Cardinals moved their Triple A affiliation to Memphis in 1998, the Milwaukee Brewers became the "big club" for the newly christened Louis River Bats. In 2000, the Brewers moved out, and the Cincinnati Reds moved in just in time for the opening of the new Louisville Slugger Field, located in downtown Louisville, and in 2002, the team changed it's name again, this time to the short and easy to remember Louisville Bats.
Team Affiliation: The Bats are the top minor league affilate of the Cincinnati Reds.

Stadium Capacity: Louisville Slugger Field holds 13,131 fans.

How About That Name (And Some History): Opened on April 12, 2000, the new home of baseball in Louisville has always had the name of Louisville Slugger Field, as Hillerich and Bradsby, the makers of the world famous Louisville Slugger baseball bat, helped finance the construction of the park, and in return, purchased the naming rights to the new yard.

On The Town: The largest city in the state of Kentucky and the seventeenth largest in the United States, Louisville has a population of just under a quarter million. The city sits on the banks of the Ohio River, on the extreme northern edge of the state. The Louisville metropolitan area also includes several counties in Indiana, so the area is generally referred to as "Kentuckyana".
The city was founded in 1780 by George Rogers Clark, and was named for Louis XVI, the king of France. That legacy is handed down to this day, as the modern-day city flag has the fleru de lis as a major part of its design.
The early growth of the city was due to its location on the Ohio River, which made it a major port for commerce heading towards St. Louis and other western outposts. Unfortunately, much of that commerce came in the slave trade. With that being said, Louisville was also a major point of escape for slaves, and became an important stop on the Underground Railroad, with many escaped slaves heading for Indiana, which was a "free" state.
During the Civil War, Louisville was also a major garrison for Union troops, which kept the state as a member of the United States.

In 1875, a horse race was held at the Louisville Jockey Club. This race, which was the brainchild of Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr, the grandson of William Clark, better known as half of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition of 1803. This race, which was won by a horse named Aristedes, grew in popularity, and is now the probably the most famous horse race in the world, the Kentucky Derby.

Getting There: From I-71, exit at Zorn Ave (Exit 2) toward River Rd. Turn left onto River Rd. Take River Rd to Witherspoon St. Make a left onto Witherspoon, then another left onto Preston St. The ballpark will be on the left.

Nearby Airport: Louisville International Airport is approximately six miles south of Louisville Slugger Field.

What To Do Before The Game: Well, if you've got a few hours to kill, and you're jonesing for baseball, you can always visit the Lousville Slugger Museum and Factory, located within walking distance of Louisville Slugger Field. The Museum is easy to find, just look for the worlds largest bat, which leans up against the building. Inside, there are many interactive exhibits about the history of Hillerich and Bradsby, the legendary players who used their priducts, as well as a forty minute tour of the factory in which the bats for your favorite players are constructed. In addition, there is also a twenty minute movie which celebrates the game of baseball, and is narrated by Terrence Mann himself, the great James Earl Jones. For more information, call (502) 588-7228 or visit http://www.sluggermuseum.com/.
Where To Eat Before The Game: We headed right into Louisville for the ballgame, so we didn't have time to find anything for a pregame meal. I would consult with either your hotel or the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau for more information.

Where To Stay:  We stayed at the La Quinta Louisville Airport, which was about ten minutes south of downtown and the ballpark. The girls and I were quite happy with the lodgings there, and would recommend staying there to anyone who is traveling to the area. It has an outdoor pool, a business center, a fitness center, and free breakfasts. For more information, call (800) SLEEP-LQ or visit http://www.lq.com/.

Ticket Prices: Bats tickets are priced as follows: $11.00 (club and premium seating), $10.00 (select), and $7.00 (field reserved, bleacher, and lawn seating).

Parking: There are several lots in the area of the stadiuTm. We parked at what seemed to be the closest, which was next to the ballpark across from the right field party deck. Parking in that lot cost $5.00.

The Good Seats: The main seating area runs from just along the outfield side of the foul pole to the opposite place on the other foul pole, closely following the contours of the field., The grandstand is double decked from first base to third base, and there is beacher and lawn seating in the outfield. All of the seating gives a very good view of the action, but if you aren't into getting the sun beat down on you,. I recommend getting the upper deck tickets on the third base side.

Getting In: The main entrance of Louisville Slugger Field was created from the former train shed that stood on the property. The large warehouse now serves as the box office, entrance to the gift shop, as well as an area with inflatable games and rides for kids.

Stadium Food: As you  might expect with a new state of the art park, fan comfort and concessions were made a prime concern during construction. There are many permanent concession stands all along the main concourse, as well as smaller carts just in front of the seating bowl. There is a large stand located in dead center field adjacent to the bleacher seats which services the fans who are in the outfield areas.
While perusing the food choices, Linda noticed that one of the smaller carts sold sausages and something called the "Grand Slam Hot Dog". She inquired as to what it was, and discovered that it was your standard dog, but just a little larger. Like three times larger. The SIXTEEN INCH all beef dog was grilled at the stand, and was surprisingly good. We felt it was probably the best value in the park, as the monster weiner fed Linda, Joan, and I for just $5.25! We thought the dog was very good, hot, and served on a fresh bun.

In addition, the Bats have a special "all you can drink" soft drink cup. The 32 oz cup, which costs $9.00, gets you free refills of your favorite soda all day.

The prices for the concessions at Louisville Slugger Field are as follows:

Hot Dog (Standard Size): $4.25   Hamburger: $4.75   Nachos: $5.00   Draft Beer: $5.25   Pretzel: $4.00   Large Soda (Standard Size) $4.50   Ice Cream: $4.50   French Fries: $3.75   Personal Pizza: $7.00

The ice cream stand is serviced by "the Comfy Cow", which apparently is a well known Louisville ice cream company.

Soft Drinks: Pepsi products are served at Louisville Slugger Field.

ATM's: A BB&T Bank ATM is located in the warehouse. Souvenirs: The "Bat Cave" is an average sized store which sells an average sized line of merchandise.
Restrooms: Located throughout the ballpark, they are clean and of an appropriate size.

Mascot: Buddy the Bat participates on most of the on-field promotions, but I didn't seem him spend much time in the stands.

Dance Team: None

Program: "Wings and Things" is sold throughtout the stadium for $2.00.
Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: The Bats have the luxury of three large scoreboards. The first scoreboard is located in right center field behind the bleachers, and is used to post the lineups and pitching information. The second board is lcated between straightaway center and the power alley in right field, and is a smaller board with the main game information (linescore, balls and strikes, etc) posted on it. The third board is in left field and gets the most use. "Pepsi Vision" is a large, high quality video board which is used throughtout the game for highlights, advertising, and promotions.

The PA voice for Louisville Slugger Park is pretty good, and the music is of an accepatble tupe. The team also has a live organist, who plays interspersed with the recorded music.

Stadium Staff: I didn't interact much with the team staff, but the ones I dealt with were helpful. When the girls and I bought out tickets for the game a few months ago, we didn't take into consideration that there was a possiblitiy that it was going to be hot. Well, it was over 90 degrees when we got there, and our seats would have had us bake. I decided to see if I could exchange them for something in the shade. I went to the box office, and I explained that I was from out of town and didn't realize that my seats would be right in the middle of the sun. He pleasantly helped me exchange them for something that was a bit more in the shade.
Atmosphere: While it wasn't particularly "lively", the people at the park were enthusiastic about the team, making for a pleasant experience.

Overall Rating: Louisville Slugger Park is simply, a "must see" for those who admire excellent ballparks. It has everything in its favor, and will contiunue to serve the people of Louisville for years to come.