Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rollin' solo at Fifth-Third Park

Traveling for work has its ups and downs, but one of the perks is the ability to check out the scene in other cities during your down time.  This week found me on the beautiful west coast of Michigan with a free evening.  I've meant to hit up a West Michigan Whitecaps (Tigers Single A affiliate) game for about 2 years now, as I travel to Michigan for work pretty regularly, but the Whitecaps and my schedule never seemed to line up until this Wednesday.  So I made the short drive from my hotel up to Comstock Park, MI (a small town just north of Grand Rapids) to Fifth-Third Ballpark.  Now, I haven't been to a lot of different Single A ballgames, but I am very familiar with the Beloit Snappers (formerly Brewers, now Twins Single A affiliate).  The Snappers game experience is generally good, cheap food/beer, cheap seats, modest crowds, a fun dancing turtle mascot, etc.  Relative to that, I was not prepared for weeknight Whitecap baseball.

As I approached the exit ramp to get to the stadium, I thought I was pulling up behind an accident.  The ramp was backed up well onto the US-131 - but nope, no fender-bending jackasses impeded me.  It was 'game-day' traffic!  My mind immediately panicked with the thought that I might have to pay for parking.  I only had $5 in my wallet, and had planned on getting raked for a $3 service charge at one of the many Fifth-Third ATMs I would surely find throughout the Park.  How much could they possibly charge for parking at a Single A baseball game?  Five bucks exactly, apparently.  Whatever, a five-spot seemed a little steep (considering how far away I ended up) - but now I was intrigued, what with the crowd this team was drawing on a Wednesday evening.  10 minutes later, I'm up to the Box office, and had nabbed a padded seat behind homeplate for $13.

Pleased with my accomodations, I ran back up to the concession stand for a brat and a beer - my usual starter for an eve at the ballpark.  I see they have two beer sizes, regular and 'Huge' - and being from Wisconsin, of course I go for the 'Huge' for $6.75, thinking this will be the usual equivalent of the Miller Park 24 oz. 'large' beer.  Wrong.  Near as I could tell, for just shy of 7 bucks, I now had 44 oz of beer in my lap.  So back to my seat and time to settle in, as the top of the second was just about to close.  First off, I notice how busy this place was for a Wednesday evening.  I estimated there were about 4,000 fans there - far more than I've ever seen at a Snappers game, even on a weekend, complete with a Don Money bobblehead giveaway and post-game fireworks.  No giveaways for the Whitecaps on this night, just great weather and, apparently, beers that could drown a basking shark.  However, the coming Saturday was scheduled to be Larry Herndon bobble head night, a great draw for any of us who were fans of that magnificant '84 squad.  Wish I could be around to make it for that one.
To my right, I realize I'm sitting next to the scout seats (always a good sign that your vantage will be excellent), as several fellows sat with their radar guns and laptops, charting every pitch.  The Whitecaps were playing Appleton's own Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Brewers Single A Low affiliate) this night, with righty and 2008 5th round pick, Maverick Lasker getting the start.  He stood out right away (and not just because of his excellent baseball name), as he was dominating the 'Caps early with a low 90s fastball, and a nice breaking pitch (see vid below I shot of him chewing thru the Whitecaps in the bottom of the 5th). If you're a Brewers fan, this is worth the 2 minutes to watch, he seems to have pretty good stuff.  There's also a freaking gigantic flagpole out in centerfield worth seeing at about 0:50, too.

All game the Baby Tigers seemed to have very poor plate discipline, frequently first pitch swinging into popups and soft groundouts.  But Lasker was real good too.  Just a first impression, but given the Brew Crew's pitching woes, I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see this kid tossing in Miller Park in a couple years.

At any rate, as the game progressed I found myself really enjoying the relaxed crowd, my spacious padded seat, and even the mediocre brat.  What an excellent little corner of Americana I had found here.  After the 7th, I took a little walk around the stadium, to see what my other food choices were.  Again, I was not disappointed.  BBQ, wraps, taco salad, and even elephant ears were all there for the taking, in addition to the now-famous 'Fifth-Third Burger'.  If you haven't heard of this thing, do yourself a favor and locate the episode of 'Man vs. Food' where my guru, Adam Richman, takes that behemoth down.  His pic is up there on the wall, so its all legit.  For $20 you get 4,900 calories, and only 300 grams of fat.  Talk about value - I saw a group of 6 or 7 kids a few rows down from me get one to split.  That's probably the way to go.

So, in the end my Tigers in Training lost to the Rattlers, 3-1.  But I have to say, I had a hell of a time, especially for flying solo.  While I spent more money than I had expected for Single A ball, I had a much better time than expected too.  It was nice to sit amongst fans who largely all adorned the Olde English D, and just wanted to enjoy some summer baseball.  Grand Rapids has a good thing going with this team/stadium - so check it out if you're in the area.

One last interesting piece of info about the West Michigan Whitecaps - they used to be the Madison Muskies.  In fact, they were selling old Muskies caps in the gift shop for $15.  Cool, huh?


  1. Soooo did you pick up a Muskie's cap or not?

    Nice recap, thanks

  2. Nice review, but I don't think any ballpark review is complete without discussion of the ballpark pretzel options.

  3. Shame on me for neglecting to explore the realm of pretzeled bread. I got all excited when they had a smokehouse down the left field line, and completely forgot to provide this invaluable piece of info.

    Oh, and no - I didn't get the Muskies Cap. There were too many good Whitecap hat options, and I look terrible in green and gold.

  4. Hey anonymous, thanks for stopping, Gopher looks like you and I arn't the only two that still hate our jobs enough to check in on this dead site daily.

    Side note followed the link on the burger, how about the Gateway Grizzlies Baseball's Best Burger? That sounds amazing, I think I might have to make that myself for lunch.

  5. That thing sounds excellent. Sweet and salty are a superior taste combo, so I have no reason to believe that the donut burger wouldn't rule all. I think that burger, along with the 5/3 Burger and the 'Homewrecker' hotdog, were all featured on the same 'Man vs. Food' episode. Definitely worth a watch if you haven't seen it already.