Monday, May 28, 2012

Boomers Stadium , Schaumburg IL

Basic Information:
Team: Schaumburg Boomers (Frontier League)
Game: Boomers vs Florence Freedom-5/26/2012
Team Website: www.boomersbaseball.com
Ticket Information: (847) 461-3696 or www.boomersbaseball.com
Tourism Information: (800) 847-4849 or www.chicagonorthwest.com
Online Broadcasts: WRMN-AM 1410 www.wrmn.com
Local Newspaper: Chicago Daily Herald www.dailyherald.com

Team Information: The Schaumburg Boomers are in their first season as a member of the independent Frontier League. The Boomers replaced the Schaumburg Flyers, who played in the Northern League from 1999 through 2010. At the end of the 2010 season, the ownership of the Flyers was stripped of the franchise by the league and in February 2011, lost their lease. Soon after, the rights to the team were sold to the owner of the neareby Joliet Slammers, Alan Oremus. Oremus subsequently sold the team to local attorney Pat Salvi, who also owns the Gary South Shore Railcats of the American Association. Salvi transferred the new team from the Northern League to the Frontier League where he would have an immediate rivalry with nearby teams in Joliet and Crestwood.
Stadium Capacity: Boomers Stadium has a total capacity of 7365, which includes berm seating.

How About That Name (And Some History): Opened on May 27, 1999, the home of the Schaumbug Boomers was designed to be a miniature version of Chicago's famed Wrigley Field.  The park, which was originally called Alexian Field after the nearby Alexian Brothers Medical Center, cost $19 million to construct, and was completed in just under a year. For the 2012 season, the park was renamed Boomers Stadium.

On The Town: One of the larger suburbs of Chicago, Schaumburg is located approximately 30 miles west of the "Windy City", and is ten miles west of O'Hare International Aiport. Schaumburg has a population of 75,386 according to the 2000 census.
The original inhabitants in what is now Schaumburg were the Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo, and Potawatomi Native American tribes. By the mid-1830's, the area began to be settled by Germany and the eastern United States. One of the earliest settlers was German-born Johann Sunderlage, who was a member of the survey team that mapped out what is now Cook County around 1833. He reportedly liked the area so much, that he returned to Germany, and brought his family and friends to settle the area. The town was originally named Sarah's Grove after three sisters with the same name that lived in the town. In 1850, after some heated discussion, the township was renamed Schaumburg, after the town where many of the original German settlers came from.

Schaumburg is the home of the worldwide headquarters of Motorola Electronics, and is also the home of Woodfield Mall, the ninth largest shopping mall in the United States.

Other Tenants: None

Getting There: (From Chicago): Take I-290 west to I-294 north (exit 15B). Take I-294 North to Thorndale Ave (exit 5). Turn left onto Thorndale Ave, and follow towards the Elgin-O'Hare Expresseway west. Take the expressway to Irving Park Rd (IL-19). Follow to South Springinsguth Rd.  Ballpark will be on the left and parking will be on the right.
Nearby Airport: O'Hare International Airport is ten miles west of O'Hare International Airport.

What To Do: I didn't get much chance to sight see in the area on this trip, so I would check with the local convention and visitors bureau for more information.

Where To Eat Before The Game: Honestly, I didn't see a lot of restaurants in the immediate area of the ballpark.

Where To Stay: On this trip, I stayed at the Red Roof Inn in Naperville, which is approximately half an hour south of Boomers Stadium. I chose this location as it was virtually equidistant from my two stops on this trip. This hotel was recently renovated, with updated interiors, which included new flooring, fixtures, and a large flat-screen TV. For more information, call (800) THE-ROOF or visit www.redroof.com.
Ticket Prices: The Boomers have two ticket price levels for single game tickets: $10.00 (box seats) and $7.00 (lawn seating).
Parking: There is a large lot across the street from the ballpark, with free parking.

Getting In: There are two main entrances to Boomers Stadium, one on the first base side and one on the third base side. Both gates are located up a flight of stairs from the ground level. The box office and main souvenir store are located on the ground floor behind home plate.

The Good Seats: The main grandstand extends from first base to third base with all individual seats. The lawn seating extends from the end of the grandstand to the foul poles along both lines.

Stadium Food: The home of the Boomers, like most of the "newer" minor-league parks, have placed a high priority on having top flight concessions sold. While Boomers Stadium might not have a huge concession lineup, they do have three "signature" items.

The first is the Brat-A-Boom, a new item this season, The sandwich consists of a 24 inch long bratwurst, which is served with a sauerkraut, bacon, a "beer cheese", and onion strings and is served on a large pretzel roll. The Brat-A-Boom, which probably could serve at least three people, costs $18.00. At the game I attended, legendary competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi made an apperance and set a record for fastest consumption of the Brat-A-Boom.

The next item is the Schaumburger, which consists of a 1/3rd pound ground beef patty served on a pretzel roll with "beer cheese", bacon, lettuce, tomato, and pickle.

The third specialty item was the "Hoosier Daddy" barbecue, which is sold at a special stand on the first base side. The stand serves barbecued pork, brisket, and chicken sandwiches as well as barbecued turkey legs.

To start off my eating, I sampled the ballpark hot dog, which although it was pre-made, was served hot. The bun was a little mangled and slightly soggy, but the wiener itself was fairly tasty and had a bit of a spicy kick.

Secondly, I  tried the pulled pork sandwich from the Hoosier Daddy stand. The sandwich was of a good size, served very hot on a fresh kaiser bun. It was fresh from the smoker, and was coated in a fairly sweet sauce with a bit of a bite to it. For $8.00, it wasn't a bad deal.

Here are some of the other concession items sold at Boomers Stadium:

Hot Dog: $4.50   Cheeseburger: $8.75   Nachos: $6.50   Bottled Beer: $5.00   Pretzel: $3.00   Large Soda: $3.75   French Fries: $3.50   Pizza Slice: $4.75

Soft Drinks: Pepsi products are sold at Boomers Stadium.

ATM: I didn't notice that the park had an ATM on site.

Souvenirs: There is a small souvenir store located on the ground floor of the park just inside the home plate entrance. This store had a small line of items, which I'm sure will get larger as the season goes on. There is an auxiliary stand located at the end of the concourse on the first base side.

Restrooms: Plentiful, clean, and well stocked.

Mascot: "Coop" the Prairie Chicken circulates throughout the park and is very involved with the fans and the in-game promotions.

Dance Team: None

Program: The Boomers present a large, full-color program to all fans as they enter the ballpark.
Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: One of the improvements team ownership undertook when they moved into Boomers Stadium is the addition of a new scoreboard. The new board, located in left center field, features an area for displaying the line score and other pertinent game information and a 28' x 15' HD video screen. The new video screen provides a crystal clear image, and is used throughout the game for game information, promotions, and other videos.

The park's PA system is good, and the announcer and music are of a good quality as well.

Stadium Staff: Everyone was smiling and helpful.

Atmosphere: While the crowd was on the intimate side (the team drew over six thousand for their opener the night before), everyone seemed to be engaged in the game and having a good time. Once the team "grows some legs" in Schaumburg, I'm sure there will be a larger turnout on a regular basis.

Overall Rating: Boomers Stadium is a top-flight minor league stadium. With the inexpensive tickets, free parking and large free game program, I find a Boomers game to be a terrific entertainment value, which I'm sure will catch on with the area fans.



Monday, May 14, 2012

Cooley Law School Stadium, Lansing MI

Basic Information
Team: Lansing Lugnuts (Midwest League)
Game: Lugnuts vs West Michigan Whitecaps-5/5/2012
Team Website: www.lansinglugnuts.com
Ticket Information: (517) 485-4500 or www.lansinglugnuts.com
Tourism Information: (888) 252-6746 or www.lansing.org
Online Broadcasts: WQTX-FM 92.1 www.big921.com
Local Newspaper: Lansing State Journal www.lansingstatejournal.com


Team Information: After stops in Lafayette, IN, Waterloo, IA, and Springfield, IL, professional baseball returned to Lansing in 1996 after a 54 year absence. The new team, christened the Lugnuts, were owned by Tom Dickson and Sherrie Myers, became a fixture in south central Michigan in short order, drawing over a half million fans in their first season.
Affiliation: The Lugnuts have been affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays since 2005.
Stadium Capacity: Cooley Law School Stadium has a total seating capacity of 11,000, making it the largest stadium in Single-A baseball. The park has 7,300 seats in the seating bowl area, with the remainder of the capacity being taken up by the loges and berm seating.
How About That Name (And Some History): Constructed in exactly one year, the home of the Lansing Lugnuts opened officially on April 3, 1996 with a game between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. The stadium, which is located blocks from the Michigan state capital building, originally called Oldsmobile Park, cost $12.8 million to build. In 2010, the naming rights to the home of the Lugnuts were sold to Cooley Law School.
Other Tenants: Michigan State University has played games at Cooley Law School Stadium.
Getting There: From I-96, take I-496 west towards downtown Lansing (exit 106B). Take I-496 to Pennsylvania Ave (Exit 7). Follow to the Larch St ramp. Make a right onto South Larch St. Follow for a half mile, then make a left onto East Michigan Ave. The ballpark will be on your right.
On The Town: In the winter of 1847, the lawmakers of the state of Michigan were looking to move the state capital out of Detroit. Supporters of many of the state’s leading cities, including ann Arbor, Jackson, and Marshall, lobbied hard to bring the state house to their constituents. However,  after much wrangling, a decision couldn’t be made. In a private session, the state’s House of Representatives selected Lansing, which at the time was a small township of two dozen people. Two months later, Governor William Greely signed into law the act which made this village arguably the most important city in the state.
Located in the central part of Michigan, Lansing is located approximately seventy miles east of Grand Rapids and ninety miles west of Detroit. The city has a population of 114,297, and is the only state capital that is not a county seat (Ingham county, which Lansing is a part of, has its seat in Mason.
What is now Lansing was originally surveyed by Hugh Howard, who while exploring the Grand River, investigated and explored the area in 1790, which was on a flood plain and was under water most of the year. In 1835, two brothers from New York came to where Howard surveyed, and decided to set up a new town on that site. They went back to their home state, and sold plots for their new development, which despite what the brothers told their prospective landowners, did not exist. Sixteen men bought plots for the fictitious “Biddle City”, and upon arriving, found out that they actually were sold wilderness. Most of those who came decided to stay, and they called their new home Lansing, after Lansing, New York.
In 1897, Ransom Olds founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company after driving his first automobile down a Lansing street. Nine years later, that company would join Henry Ford’s General Motors and for seventy years, would be based in Lansing producing the famous Oldsmobile line of cars.
Since 1855, Michigan State University has been a cornerstone of Lansing. It was originally named the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan.
Notable Lansing natives include NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, CNN news anchor Suzanne Malveaux, film director John Hughes, and professional wrestler Ed Farhat (better known as the original Sheik).
Nearby Airport: Capital City International Airport is located approximately three miles northwest of Cooley Law School Stadium.  
What To Do: Not far from the downtown area is the Michigan Historical Museum and Library. the large facility gives an overview of the history of the Wolverine State from prehistoric times to the late seventies. Visitors are greeted by a two story high relief map of Michigan and acts as a gateway to an easily walkable journey through, amongst other things, the first capital building of Michigan, an Upper Peninsula copper mine, a lumber baron's mansion, the 1957 Detroit Auto Show (including a gorgeous 1957 Corvette), and a recreational log cabin near one of Michigan's many lakes and forests. For more information, call (517) 373-3559 or visit www.michigan.gov/museum.
Where To Eat Before The Game: There are several restaurants on East Michigan Ave within a short walk from the ballpark.
Where To Stay: On this trip, I stayed at the Red Roof Inn-Lansing West location. Located just off  I-96 and about ten minutes from the ballpark, it has clean, comfortable rooms at an affordable price. For more information, call (800) THE-ROOF or visit www.redroof.com.
Ticket Prices: Lugnuts tickets are priced as follows: $20.00 (The Clubhouse-limited availability), $10.00 (box seats), $9.00 (reserved seats), and $8.00 (lawn seating).
Parking: There are several lots within a short walk of Cooley Law School Stadium. I parked in a city-owned lot just across the street from the ballpark. This was a good value, as for $5.00, you're a two minute walk to the park entrance, and have easy exit onto East Michigan Ave once the game is over.
Getting In: The main entrance to the home of the Lugnuts is behind home plate on East Michigan Ave. This entrance also hosts the box office and entrance to the team offices and the "Nuts and Bolts" merchandise store.
The Good Seats: The main grandstand extends from approximately three quarters of the way down the left foul line to the same position along the right field line. The reserved seating features individual plastic seats, with the remainder of the seating consisting of metal bleachers. There is some standing area on the concourse and substantials lawn berms in right center and left center fields.

Stadium Food: To be honest, with all the great food that I had at Cooley Law School Stadium and the night before in Comstock Park, I'm surprised that I didn't come home weighing 300 lbs!
Although the baseball season is just over a month old, I think that I might have had the 2012 "Hot Dog of the Year" at the home of the Lugnuts. A recent addition to Cooley is a "gourmet" hot dog stand called Franx, which advertises "Dogs with the Worx". My friends, they aren't kidding. This new stand features five different specialty hot dogs, and a sixth which will be rotated on a monthly basis. Amongst the offerings at Franx was the "Fiesta Dog", the "Firecracker Dog", the "Cheesy Mac", the "Chicago Dog", and my choice for the evening, the "Porker". My choice started out with a quarter pound all-beef wiener served on a pretzel bun. On top of that was a liberal serving of fresh pulled pork and a sweet barbeuce sauce (the dog also comes with cole slaw, but since I'm not a fan, I ordered without). It was served very hot, and although the pulled pork and sauce made it more difficult to navigate than your average hot dog, it was well worth the extra effort (and half a dozen napkins). Amazingly I finished the dog without wearing any of it, although some of the pulled pork did hit my glasses, which were stuck in the front of my shirt. The dog costs $5.75, which is not a price I would normally pay for a hot dog, but the Porker was well worth the extra few bucks, and was a meal in itself.
In addition to the normal concession stands, Cooley also boasts several specialty carts parked throughout the concourse. The products sold from the carts include: cheese steak sandwiches, barbecued turkey legs, funnel cakes, lemonade, sausages, and Mexican food.
Here is a selection of the concession prices at Cooley Law School Stadium:
Hot Dog: $3.75   Hamburger: $7.50   Nachos: $4.75   Draft Beer: $6.00   Pretzel: $3.75   Large Soda: $4.75   Ice Cream (Dippin' Dots): $4.75   French Fries: $3.75   Pizza Slice: $4.00
Soft Drinks: Pepsi products are the soft drinks of choice at the home of the Lugnuts.
ATM: There is a "no-brand" ATM located on the third base side of the concourse near the souvenir shop.
Souvenirs: The "Nuts and Bolts" souvenir shop is located on the third base side concourse. While a little on the cramped side, the store has a very good sized line of merchandise at agreeable prices.
Restrooms: Located on each side of the concourse, all are clean and well stocked.
Mascot: "Big Lug" is a large, yet friendly purple and red dinosaur with big sliver lugnuts for nostrils.
Dance Team: None
Program: The Lugnuts sell a good-sized, full color program at the park which gives updates on Lugnut players, what's new at the park, and more. The program costs $3.00 and is sold in the souvenir stand and in the concourse.
Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: Cooley Law School Stadium has a standard sized scoreboard in right center field. The board has the normal line score information, a small message center below, and a video screen above the line score. The main board is assisted by two smaller scoreboards which overhang the luxury boxes and two boards mounted in the outfield fence which report the time of day and the pitch speed.
The music and public address announcer are pretty much standard, good quality and decent acoustics.

Stadium Staff: Friendly, helpful and engaging.

Atmosphere: With the six thousand or so in attendance, I felt that there could have been a bit more "zip" in the atmosphere at the game. While the Lugnuts staff do a terrific job in their game production, there seemed to be something lacking from those in the stands.

Overall Rating: The city of Lansing should be fortunate to have such a fine ballpark in Cooley Law School Stadium. In their history, the team has drawn over five million fans, which proves that having a fine park, in addition to having progressive ownership will ensure that the people of Lansing will be well serviced for a long time by Cooley Law School Stadium.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Fifth Third Ballpark, Comstock Park MI

Basic Information
Team: West Michigan Whitecaps (Midwest League)
Game: Whitecaps vs Fort Wayne Tincaps-5/4/2012
Team Website: www.whitecapsbaseball.com
Ticket Information: (616) 784-4131 or www.whitecapsbaseball.com
Tourism Information: (800) 678-9859 or www.experiencegr.com
Online Broadcasts: WBBL-FM 107.3 www.wbbl.com
Local Newspaper: Grand Rapids Press www.mlive.com/grand-rapids

Team Information: One of the Midwest League's first forays into "larger" markets, the West Michigan Whitecaps have been a smashing success since Lew Chamberlain and Dennis Baxter moved the Madison (WI) Muskies to the Grand Rapids suburb of Comstock Park in 1994. In addtion to winning the MWL league championship on five occasions (1996, 1998, 2004, 2006, and 2007), the Whitecaps have been a "hit" at the box office as well, drawing over seven million fans to Fifth Third Park in eighteen years.

Fifth Thid Park was featured in a September 30, 2009 episode of the Travel Channel's "Man Vs Food", when host Adam Richman devoured an entire five pound, 4800 calorie Fifth Third Burger.  He won a t-shirt and placement on the park's "Wall of Fame" for his accomplishment.

Affiliation: The Whitecaps have been the single-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers since 1997.

Stadium Capacity: Fifth Third Ballpark has a listed capacity of 10,051, making it the second largest ballpark in the Midwest League. The park has over eight thousand chairback seats, with the remainder of the seating being taken up by the party decks, berm seating, and loges.
How About That Name (And Some History): After reading a 1980 newspaper article asking why Grand Rapids could not support a Triple-A baseball team, businessman Lew Chamberlain got the idea to bring a baseball team to the Grand Rapids area. Chamberlain, along with another local businessman, Dennis Baxter each were independently seeking to bring a team to the area, but after the two met in 1996, they decided to combine their efforts. After several unsuccessful starts, the two finally got the go ahead to build a 5,700 seat stadium in Comstock Park, a suburb of Grand Rapids. Opened in 1994, the stadium was originally called Old Kent Park, with the naming rights having been bought by Old Kent Bank. In October 2001, Fifth Third Bank purchased Old Kent, and the park was renamed Fifth Third Ballpark.

The park has been renovated and expanded on three occasions, doubling the original seating capacity.
Other Tenants: Fifth Third Ballpark has hosted college baseball and high school and college football.

Getting There: From I-96 west, exit at US-131 north towards Comstock Park. Take US-131 to West River Dr (exit 92). At the bottom of the ramp, go straight through the traffic light to the ballpark parking lot entrance.

On The Town: Located seven miles due north of downtown Grand Rapids, the town of Comstock Park has a population of approximately 11,000. Founded in 1838, the town was called North Park after founder Daniel North. It recieved it's current name in 1906, when it was renamed in honor of Charles Comstock, a former United States Congressman who represented the area.

Comstock Park is located at the confluence of Interstate 96 and US Route 131. I-96 is one of the major east-west thoroughfares in the state of Michigan, running from Detroit to Muskegon. US-131 is a major north-south route, starting at the Indiana Toll Road, and running northward to Petoskey in the extreme northern part of the state.

Nearby Airport: Gerald R Ford International Airport is located seventeen miles southeast of Fifth Third Ballpark.

What To Do: This was another "in and outer" for me, so I didn't have the chance to so any sightseeing in the area. However, I did pick up a brochure for a place that I would like to check out on my next trip to the area. Located in his home town, the Gerald R Ford Presidential Museum is a testament to the short tenure of the nation's 38th president. In the museum, there are exhibits which range the entire history of Ford's life, from his beginnings in Grand Rapids, his time as a football star at the University of Michigan, his Naval career in World War II, and his rise through the halls of Washington. The museum also includes a replica of the Oval Office in the White House during his three year tenure as president. For more information, call (616)-254-0400 or visit www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov.
Where To Eat Before The Game: Other than a McDonalds across the street, there really isn't a lot food-wise in the vicinity of Fifth Third Ballpark. I would check with your lodging choice for some suggestions, or just do what I did and eat at the park.

Where To Stay: On this trip I stayed in Lansing, but most major chains are represented in the Grand Rapids area.

Ticket Prices: Whitecaps single game tickets are priced as follows: $14.00 (Premium Box), $12.00 (Box Seats), $10.20 (Reserved Seats), $10.00 (Vitale's Victory Zone), and $6.00 (Lawn).

Parking: The only real choice is the large lot which surrounds the ballpark. The only problem with parking in the lot, which costs $5.00, is that there is only one exit out onto West River Rd and US-131. This can make things a little sticky if there is a large crowd.

Getting In: The main entrance to Fifth Third Park is up a flight of stairs from the parking lot level to behind home plate. The main entrance is also the home of the box office and will call windows. There is also an auxiliary entrance in center field behind the party deck.
The Good Seats: The main grandstand extends from just past first base all the way around to the exact same spot on the third base side. The lower level consists of 10 rows of seats, and the upper level consists of 14 rows of metal bleachers with backs. All give a very good view of the field. Ther is lawn seating down the foul lines in right and left field.

Stadium Food: Two words are appropos here. Holy Cow! Fifth Third Ballpark has some of the top food in the minors in both quality and quantity.

I really can't do the amount of concessions justice in such a short space, so you might want to check out the 2012 concessions list on the team's official website. There is also a map of concessions in the team's gameday program so you can plan your "eating attack" thusly.

Being a native New Yorker, I was incredibly happy to see that one of the hot dog stands in the concourse sold Hebrew National hot dogs, a staple in the Big Apple. The dog was grilled to perfection and served on a fresh bun. The only thing missing was a liberal slap of Gulden's Spicy Brown Mustard to make it a true New York dog, but I guess you can't have everything. For $3.75, it was well worth the "taste of home". I also sampled the pulled chicken sandwich sold at the "Sweet Meat's Smokehouse" along the third base line. The six dollar sandwich was served hot and fresh on a kaiser bun. When liberally doused with a combination of Sweet Baby Ray's sweet barbecue sauce and a Carolina vinegar-based sauce, it was almost a meal in itself.

Here is a list of a sampling of the concession prices at Fifth Third Ballpark:

Hot Dog: $3.75   Hamburger: $4.00   Nachos:  $3.75   Draft Beer: $7.00 (24 oz)   Pretzel: $3.50   Souvenir Soda: $4.50   Ice Cream: $4.00 (served in a helmet)   French Fries: $3.00   Pizza Slice: $3.00 (Little Caesar's)
Soft Drinks: Pepsi products are served at Fifth Third Ballpark.

ATM: To no one's surprise, a Fifth Third ATM is located near home plate on the concourse.

Souvenirs: There is a smallish store along the third base side which has a fairly good sized line of merchandise. There is a seperate stand on the right field side which has a small selection of souvenirs.

Restrooms: There are several fairly large restrooms along the main concourse which are clean and well stocked.

Mascots: The Whitecaps have two mascots: Crash the River Rascal (a beaver) and Franky the Swimming Pig (named after a former menu item). While they participate in most of the on-field promotions, they really didn't spend a lot of time circulating in the stands.

Dance Team: None.

Program: "The Wave" is one of the largest free programs I have ever seen distributed at a ball park. The 96 page program is updated for each homestand and is chock full of information about the Whitecaps and the ballpark.
Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: For the 2012 season, the Whitecaps added two new scoreboards. The first is a large HD video screen in center field. This board handles all of the replays, promotions, entertainment, and in-game replays. In left center, the team placed a more traditional hand-operated scoreboard which handles the majority of the game data. The public address announcer and the "in-game" hosts do a good job in their respective positions, adding to the game but not overpowering it.

Stadium Staff: Outstanding. Everyone was incredibly helpful, outgoing, and very customer-oriented.

Atmosphere: While the park was only half full (the weather was dicey all day), the people there were definitely into the game. I'm sure the place would rock on a warm summer night with a full house.

Overall Rating: Fifth Third Ballpark is most definitely a "Triple-A" caliber park in every sense of the word. It's easy to see how the Whitecaps became one of the top draws in all of the minors. The Grand Rapids area might just be the top minor league sports market of all of the ones I have visited. To me, Fifth Third is a a "must see", and should be on any ballpark travelers list of places to visit.