For baseball fans living in the Eastern Iowa/Western Illinois area, it’s not always very easy to jump in the car and go see a game in any of the close Major League Baseball stadiums. Fortunately for us, there is a big league experience just down the road from us in the form of the several minor league ballparks in the area, you might surprise yourself with how much fun you can have. The Quad City area boasts several teams full of MLB hopefuls right in your backyard, and although the players aren’t household names just yet, there are other differences that makes the experience better than the big league parks.
When you take your family to a Major League stadium, it’s not uncommon for a family to easily spend a couple of hundred dollars between gas, parking, tickets, food and merchandise. While at their minor league counterparts, the whole family can enjoy the experience for a far lower price. Parking is usually free, and it’s pretty easy to get a ticket for the game for as little as five dollars, and that’s for a seat that is hundreds of feet closer to the action than the cheapest ticket you could get in Chicago, St. Louis or Milwaukee.
While the names aren’t as familiar, the chance to see these players try and realize their dream is an experience that shouldn’t be taken for granted. The players are far more accessable and many are being asked for autographs for the first time and are usually more than happy to oblige. Besides, although they aren’t superstars yet, you never know just who will be playing for your favorite team in the near future.
So many current big league stars have played in the Midwest League that it would take days to list them all. Just for the two closest teams, Clinton and Quad City, such stars as Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Ian Kinsler, and Brett Wallace have played here in recent years. Even future hall of famers like Albert Pujols got his start just down the road in Peoria and Alex Rodriguez got his first hit as a professional in Davenport’s John O’Donnell Stadium.
While the Major League’s have multi-million dollar stadiums, the venues around the Midwest League offer their own unique vantage points that set them apart. John O’Donnell stadium in Davenport has one of the greatest views at any level of baseball. The ballpark sits just feet from the banks of the Mississippi River, close enough for it to catch a home run ball or two over the years. Add the Centennial bridge that crosses over the river, and you have a view that would be in the top five of any list of greatest scenes to watch a game.
Just up the road in Clinton sits Alliant Energy Field. The staff with the Lumberkings has been in place for some time now and they have done a tremendous job in the last few years remodeling the ballpark and turning it into one of the jewels of the Midwest League. A recently-added berm and picnic shelter beyond the left field wall enhance the view and make for a very relaxing spot to catch the game, and if you have the kids with you the kids area just next to the shelter give the little ones a great spot to burn off some energy while you enjoy the action on the field. If you can’t get a spot in left field, then the lumber lounge in right field is a perfect spot to watch from.
Food at a game can take a big hit on the wallet as well, but minor league parks offer some great dining at considerably lower costs. Not only are the prices great but the smells that swirl around throughout the smaller parks are enough to get your mouth watering. One nice thing is when you go to get something from one of the concession stands, it doesn’t take you away from the action on the field for an inning or more like it does at bigger stadiums. Most of the stands allow you to continue to watch the game while you wait in line and that wait is usually a very short one before you are back on your way to your seat with snacks in hand, or mouth.
The Quad Cities River Bandits even have an app that allows smartphone users to order from their seat and receive a text message when their order is ready. Every place has their own spin on tradional ballpark favorites to eat but if you are at a Bandits game, the foot-long brat is a must-have while in Clinton, the “garbage pail” is so good you will wish you could get one even when the team is on the road.
Everyone likes to get stuff for free, and the giveaways and promotions that minor league parks offer and as unique as they are often. You won’t see the Major League teams offering season tickets to any fan that gets a tattoo of the teams logo, or hover a helicopter over the field and drop a giant amount of candy on the field for kids to scramble after and collect. Bobbleheads are a common giveaway seemingly on a nightly basis at some ballpark in the league, ranging from hall of fame players, local college football stars, even presidential candidates. Many teams will even wear special jerseys for certain theme nights then auction them off after the game for charity and you can usually get one for a great price.
While going to a big league ballgame is no question a great time and experience, it’s equally as much fun to support our local clubs while saving both time and money for an experience that can be just as memorable as seeing your favorite Major League player hit a game-winning home run. After all, some of the players you will see down on the farm, may just hit that homer for your favorite team someday.