Tag Archives: chicago cubs affiliates’ ballparks

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  While the Vonachen name has been replaced by the corporate O’Brien Field (for Peoria’s O’Brien Motors) there are two nice traces of Vonachen that endure.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.

Memorial Stadium, Boise, Idaho

Memorial Stadium, Boise, IDAHO

Number of states: 2
States to go: 48
Number of games: 2
First game:  July 5, 2003 (Tri-City Dust Devils 6, Boise Hawks 4)
Most recent game:  June 28, 2013 (Boise Hawks 5, Eugene Emeralds 4, 10 innings)

After attending my first game in Spokane, I had a bit of a problem.  How did I know whether the first minor league park on my trip was a good one or a not-so-good one?  Well,

all it took was a trip to Boise and I knew.  Spokane has a good ballpark.  Boise’s?  Not so good.

There were a number of problems, but (and I’m sorry, Idahoans) the primary problem was with the raucousness of the fans.  It was like a library in there!  I could have gotten some good studying done–or maybe written some music–while you sat not cheering at the game.  And it’s not just that you weren’t cheering. You weren’t even speaking.

Not making any noise at all!  Normally, during the quiet moments of a ballgame, I’ll hear the low hum of a few thousand conversations.  Not here. Yeah, it was a little hot–in the upper ’80s–but I know this is a problem with the fans and not the heat.  How do I know?  As we observed moments of silence around each

pitch, I heard the following priceless utterance from the high-school aged guy behind me:  “Do they let you shout while the pitcher’s pitching?”  Come on!  These guys aren’t Tiger Woods; they can handle the noise.  Politeness is nice–it’s an aspect of life that’s falling from favor.  And I suppose I’d rather have polite folks who are quiet at ballparks than rude folks who are loud.  But still, REV IT UP a bit!

Game management wasn’t all it could have been.  After ball three to the first or second batter of the game, our PA guy went ahead and announced the next hitter.  The home plate umpire turned around and gave the PA guy this look–and beneath that look I could see his thought–“It’s going to be a long, long day.”  If you can’t trust the PA guy to follow the pitch count, can you trust him to give all the scoring information when it’s more difficult?  Also, there was another blunder–there was several simultaneous sounds that melded together into an indecipherable muddle.  For example:  We had songs over the PA while a fairly cool bluegrass band was playing.  Two competing sounds were not enough for the Boise Hawks people, I guess, because

while these songs competed with each other, they’d be doing a promotion on the field–where a guy had a microphone.  Apparently they didn’t want that guy to be even that easy to hear, because his microphone kept fritzing out.  What a mess.  How can I enjoy music or promotions I can’t hear?  There was a particularly stupid scoreboard graphic too.  Immediately after Dust Devils pitcher Brian Lynch delivered low and outside on his first pitch to a batter I don’t remember, they put the numbers one through four on the screen, and put a check mark over the number one.  That’s right…they had a wacky scoreboard graphic for ball one! How desperate do you have to be for graphics to invent a ball one graphic?

To be sure, there were some positives.  The ballpark had a lovely panorama past the outfield, and therefore did fairly well in the “is there any question where you are” test.  And the bluegrass band was a good idea, even though I couldn’t hear it.  I also liked the way they rounded up every kid in the stands and brought them onto the field to sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” for the seventh-inning stretch.

The mascot joined them, as did the bluegrass band and a couple of creepy clowns. Also, there was another “only in the minors” moment: apparently the amenities aren’t all they should be in the home locker room, as thirty minutes before his start, I spotted Boise’s starting pitcher that day, Rich Hill, stepping outside the locker room to get some cellphone reception!

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  7.5/10
Some nice hills beyond the outfield ratchet up the score here.

Charm:  3/5
For whatever reason, this stadium did nothing for me in this area.

Spectacle: 2.5/5
I simply couldn’t hear a lot of what was going on.  Would have been better to do none at all.

Team mascot/name:  3.5/5

Humphrey the Hawk and me.  Kinda ugly, but not bad.  (Need I say I’m referring to Humphrey and not me?)

Aesthetics:  4/5
Can’t beat the view.  The ballpark itself isn’t too attractive, however.

Pavilion area:  3/5

Scoreability:  2/5

Fans:  1.5/5

Intangibles:  3/5
Maybe it was just a bad game or a rough day (drove 8 hours to get there), but there wasn’t much exciting to me.  The heat might have also gotten to me a bit.  By the way, if you’re planning on going to a game at Boise Memorial Stadium, the third-base side is the shady side.

TOTAL:  30/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Boise’s Rich Hill struck out 10 in six innings, but took the loss.  Sandy Almonte and Tony McQuade homered.

The 2013 star was the Hawks’ Rony Rodriguez, who hit a pinch-hit, two-out, two-strike game-tying home run in the bottom of the 9th.  Two singles and two walks before an out in the 10th won it, culminating with the walk-off single by Jacob Rogers.