Tuesday, June 09, 2009

On visiting Beloit and Appleton

Because of the double-header, it was late when we got home from our day in Appleton, so I didn’t really elaborate, but I want to say some things about the minor league games.

We went to the Border Battle the Timber Rattlers played at Miller Park and was pretty impressed with the level of play. I wasn’t sure what to expect of low-A ball and while you could see that the players didn’t have the range we were used to, the pitching was still solid and there were enough hits to keep it interesting. Rattler Brock Kjelgaard hit a home run at MP, which was pretty impressive at the time, but became more so when we were in Beloit and no one did better than a single. Of course, there were like 22 of them in that game.

In so many ways the experience at Appleton was better than in Beloit.

First things first, it was so much easier to access Appleton and the whole process was just more simple. When we decided to go to Beloit, it turned out I had to be in the city on Saturday morning, so I called on Friday to see if I could buy tickets that morning for the game on Memorial Day and they said yes. Of course, when I got there, I followed the signs to the parking lot and it turns out that’s nowhere near where I needed to be. I had to go out and around, through a neighborhood and finally found the front office, which was locked.

We did tailgate in Beloit, but we were the only ones, which we thought was weird on Memorial Day. The parking lot is off to the first base side-ish and you have to walk a little ways through a park to get over to the stadium.

The story goes that the Brewers left Beloit when they pushed for a new stadium and the city wouldn’t help with funding. That was five years ago and it’s not hard to see why the Crew wanted new facilities. It’s not as though it’s crumbling to pieces or anything, but it’s old and outdated.

The biggest thing for the players, I’d think, is that the dugouts are just concrete shells set on the field. If the stands and field are the inner circle, then the concourse is a middle circle and there’s a smaller building the curves behind home plate that’s the outer circle. This outer circle is where the offices and locker rooms are, so the teams have to walk through the fans and stands to get to and from the field.

The first few rows of seats behind home plate could best be described as fast food booster seats. They’re hard, molded plastic and kind of weird to sit in. The day we were there, it rained and those seats aren’t covered, so we shifted back to some bleachers underneath an overhang and were fine.

There is a small closet of a gift shop with an ATM that had a small selection of shirts and sweatshirts, but a pretty big full wall of hats, though I didn’t see anything Twins related. There appeared to be three concession stands, though we never went looking for the other two, which were presumably down the base lines. There was one stand directly behind home plate serving Miller products and your standard fare. The best part was that it was Monday, so small beers were $1.

Considering it was a holiday and the Brewers had a day home game, there were still more than a handful of people there, which was cool. There was a guy keeping tracking of strikeouts, hanging K’s on a railing and he had made his own shirt. There were plenty of autograph seekers.

The thing was, the game was kind of crap. There were errors galore and that was with the extreme generosity of the official scorer. There was single after single and just poor, poor fielding and decisions.

In Appleton, however, despite the wind blowing in, we saw about a half dozen doubles in the two games. We saw a successful suicide squeeze. The overall standard of play was just better, so I’m sure that helps in the overall impression of the experience, but the truth is that Appleton’s stadium is just so far above Beloit’s. I haven’t been to many minor league stadiums, so I’m not sure which team’s facilities are closer to what most teams play in, but I can see why teams lust after Fox Cities Stadium. It was as nice as the few AAA stadiums I’ve seen and I think that really says something.

Many families were tailgating as we pulled up a little more than an hour before the game. There was a giveaway to the first 1,000 folks, so we wanted to get in early and didn’t linger outside, but despite that and the drizzles and 50 degree weather, there were plenty of people grilling.

The weirdest quick we saw was the large amount of foul territory which was compounded by the bullpens right down the baselines. There were at least five outs recorded against the TimberRattlers with foul balls popped up into the bullpen area that would have been in the stands in other parks.

The selection of beers was awesome. Tons of sizes available as well as Miller Products, Leinie’s and I think one or two other micro brews. There were also some girly malted beverages and Jack Daniels mixers.

There was a huge selection of food, from your regular fare to Cousin’s subs to pizza to veggie trays from the local grocery store. There was also tons of extras like cheese fries in a Rattlers mini helmet, bags of potato chips, tons of candy choices and ice cream.

The souvenir shop was bigger than the one behind home plate on the Terrace level at Miller Park and offered Brewers and Rattlers gear galore, some throwback Appleton gear as well as hats from some of the other teams in the league. They also had the equipment for adding names and numbers or personalization to pretty much anything they sold, which was inexpensive and I’m sure a hit with children.

The worst thing fan-wise was that Associated Bank hands out a little voucher when you walk in promising you a free gift and the table is set up directly behind home plate and right as you walk into the stadium. Everyone stands in line for this and blocks pretty much the entire entrance as well as the only concourse, so if you’re walking from first base to third, you’re meeting a mob in the area behind home plate.

Either way, both games were good times and you can’t beat the prices. I think we spent $7 a ticket to sit in the front row behind home plate in Beloit. The boyfriend bought me a package for Appleton for Christmas where we got four vouchers and a hat, so I’m not sure what he paid, but walking up we were still able to sit one row behind their dugout and I think the prices were about $8 a ticket.

Additionally, Sundays are Brewers-themed days where they wear Brewers themed jerseys and after the game they all come out and sign autographs, so it couldn’t have been easier to get top Brewers’ prospect Brett Lawrie’s autograph on the days’ Lawrie baseball giveaway.

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