O’Brien Field, Peoria, Illinois

O’Brien Field, Peoria, ILLINOIS

Number of states:  20
States to go:  30

Number of games: 1
First game:  July 31, 2006 (Dayton Dragons 3, Peoria Chiefs 1)

(Click on any image to view a larger version.)

I’ve got to give a shout out to my Uncle Ed.  At sixty years old, he found it in him to sit through a Chiefs game in triple-digit temperatures.  Triple digits…and I’m not positive the first digit was a one.  (Okay, it was, as the thermometer at right attests.  100 degrees at first pitch.)  He stuck it out all the way to the end.  What a nice man–to get me two rows behind home plate, and not to beg off due to the

horrendous heat.  Alas, as much as I like him, I can’t say the same (in the way of endurance) for my young, robust cousin Luke, who fled after about five innings.  He was studying for his GREs.  I spent part of the day helping him memorize vocabulary words that begin with the letters A through D.  Right there in the midst of the baseball game, Luke suddenly announced that he could not recall the definition of the word “aver,” and fled for home.  No sweat there.  I would like to aver that his eventual endodontic practice will not be impacted by his knowledge, or lack thereof, of that word.

My first visit to O’Brien Field was not my first visit to a Peoria Chiefs game. I went to a game there in 1994, as I stopped to visit my Peoria-based grandmother as I moved to Pittsburgh.  Another cousin, Rick, and I sat in the second row behind the Madison Hatters’ dugout and lightly heckled players (I was younger and stupider then) whose names we thought were stupid.  “YMCA” subsequently played, and the mascot (some ursine creature) noticed that I was singing along to the verses and not merely

to the chorus. He dragged me up for my first (and, to date, only) dance atop a dugout.  Let’s just say I gave the mascot a bit more than he might have bargained for in the dance department.

Twelve years later, I passed through again. Very little remains from my first visit.  Pete Vonachen Stadium has gone the way of the dodo–its former location is now the site of Bradley University’s soccer fields.  While the Vonachen name has been replaced by the corporate O’Brien Field (for Peoria’s O’Brien Motors) there are two nice traces of Vonachen that endure.  First of all, the ballpark is on Pete Vonachen Way.  Second is a lovely sculpture which greets spectators as they approach the seating bowl from the home plate entrance.  In it, Vonachen talks to a young fan, and the sculpture is quite lovely in portraying the emotion of two people of two generations who clearly love baseball.

This trip saw me paying another visit to the Peoria-based grandmother,

although not nearly as happy a visit, as, while she continues to breathe and eat, she no longer has any memory of anyone in the world except for my host, Uncle Ed. I never went to a ballgame with her, I’m afraid. She was always a Cub fan…never a very knowledgeable one, but enough of one to understand the futility of it.

Perhaps because of that day’s visit with my grandmother, I was quite impressed to see that the Chiefs, in addition to the usual Little Leaguers running out to greet the players at their positions, had residents from local retirement homes out there as well. That, quite simply, was sweet, and I bet the elderly folks enjoyed it every bit as much as the kids did, albeit in a different way.  Kudos to both Uncle Ed and the Chiefs for taking care of the elderly in Central

Illinois.

There’s a lot going for O’Brien Field as a place to see a ballgame.  The view opens out to downtown Peoria.  In the “is there any question where you are in the world” department, there’s a massive building for Caterpillar Tractors, one of the cornerstones of the Peoria economy, right beyond the left-field wall.  The seventh-inning stretch singing was led by a video of Harry Caray, thus playing into both the fact that the Chiefs are a Cubs affiliate and, more importantly, that we’re in Illinois.  I’d imagine that actual Peorians are divided between Cubs and Cardinals fans, but Caray announced for both during his career, and fans of any team can’t help but sing along.  The architecture is fairly typical for recent minor-league ballparks, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since it means the lovely views and loads of places to picnic.

Quite simply, O’Brien Field is a winner.  Since family gatherings will likely take me back to Central Illinois with some frequency, I’ll likely be back there, and I’m glad about that.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  8.5/10
Very good, with downtown, Caterpillar, and Harry Caray.

Charm:  4/5
I’m taken by Pete Vonachen’s smiling statue.

Spectacle: 4.5/5
Very good–lots going on pre-game and between innings.

Team mascot/name:  2/5

Homer–a dalmatian representing the Chiefs…get it?  Why the heck are they the “Chiefs,” anyway, and isn’t Homer a bit like the “Smith” of baseball mascot names?

Aesthetics:  4.5/5
Lovely views and a nice ballpark.

Pavilion area:  3.5/5
Pretty good, but I failed in my effort to circumnavigate the stadium.

Scoreability:  3.5/5

Fans:  5/5
Hey–they’re my relatives.  How do you expect me to score this?

Intangibles:  3/5
A good game, a fun night, and damn, damn, damn hot.

TOTAL:  38.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Wade Miller (at right) makes a rehab start for the Chiefs.  He pitches four shutout innings, and is followed up by Joel Santo, who looks pretty darned strong too for four-plus.

The Chiefs take a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning.  Santo starts to falter, and Bo Lanier comes on for the save.  They get the Dragons down to their final out–and, if I recall, to their final strike–when Craig Tatum comes through with a two-run double.  He then scores on Adam Rosales’ single for the final margin.

Peoria threatens with a leadoff walk in the ninth, but Dayton center fielder B.J. Szymanski’s splendid catch of Alberto Garcia’s liner helps preserve the 3-1 final.

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