In a word, awesome. That’s how I’d describe my May 27 visit to Fort Wayne, IN, to watch the Midwest League’s TinCaps take on the Great Lakes Loons at beautiful Parkview Field. A few days previous, I’d watched the Loons play at Dow Diamond, and had a great time.
My visit to Fort Wayne, however, was off the charts. No, I didn’t get any foul balls, and no, I didn’t chase players for autographs. My experience was even better.
I got to Fort Wayne in the evening after a morning Mud Hens game in Toledo, and the drive was awful. Heavy rainfalls and flooding meant huge delays and scenes like this one:
When I finally arrived at my hotel, I checked in, ate dinner and got some work done. The TinCaps weren’t playing that night, so I’d have to wait 24 hours. Twenty-four hours later, I drove 14 minutes from my hotel to downtown Fort Wayne, and found $3 parking a block away from Parkview Field. The TinCaps do parking the right way; parking at Minor League facilities shouldn’t cost a lot, so the team does graduated parking. If you want to park next to the stadium, it’ll cost you more than a spot, say, one minutes’ walk away. Smart.
Anyway, I parked in the cheapest lot and had a very short walk through a couple other lots until I reached the stadium:
When I got there, I saw the Loons’ bus parked beside a loading area:
Parkview Field has an amazing pavilion in front of it. On this day, the trees were decorated with pink ribbons as it was breast cancer awareness day at the park:
There’s a team store, The Orchard, located to the left of the main gates:
The ticket office is over to the right, and I walked up and bought one in section 106:
With 15 minutes until the gates opened, I had time to take my usual walk around the ballpark. The team’s offices are located along the left side of the facility, when eventually opens up into a ramp that vehicles use to access the field:
The main street beyond left field, West Jefferson Boulevard, has a couple fast-foot joints, and there’s a large pit just over the outfield fence:
Later, I learned that a building housing condominiums, retail and a gym will be going into this area as part of the stadium and city’s downtown face-lift efforts. Pretty nice. There’s another gate in center field, which has an open concourse area:
Eventually, I toured back to the home plate gate and waited for the gates to open. A super nice detail about Parkview Field is that the gates open 1:15 before game time. Virtually every other MiLB ballpark’s gates open one hour early, and by the time you get in, all the players are gone. When I got in, batting practice was still on, and some infield drills followed. When they did, I ran in and found a spot in right field to take a panorama during BP:
From my spot, I had a good view of the cage:
As I said, I didn’t get a ball, unfortunately. One bounced off the wall on the fly directly below me, but it was too low to reach. After BP wrapped up, I moved down to the first base-side bullpen area to watch infield drills and keep my fingers crossed that an errant ball would come my way. No luck again. I did, however, take a field-level panorama from the bullpen area:
Already, I could see that Parkview Field had a ton of places to sit. I love ballparks that have multiple seating options. I’ll often watch an inning or two from my actual seat, then watch the rest of the innings from different locations. As you can see in my first panorama above, there are large picnic areas down both base lines. These are reserved, but in the outfield, there are a ton of areas to sit and watch:
A subsequent walk around the concourse yielded lots of neat things to see, including, from top to bottom: TinCaps-themed garbage and recycling cans (nice to see a team with a green focus, as I’m a recycling freak); The Orchard and a giant Johnny Appleseed bobblehead (the real Johnny Appleseed is buried just outside Fort Wayne); the team’s 2009 Midwest League championship trophy and other assorted honors; and a giant kids’ play area in the left field corner, complete with a rock climbing wall:
Here’s a panorama from the left field corner that shows not only Parkview Field, but the other downtown developments that was part of the stadium package:
The beige structure on the left is a 249-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel and the brick building behind the scoreboard is a convention center and parking garage. Oh, and it’s got one of the coolest seating sections in the Minors, but we’ll get to that later.
There’s a catch to the large centerfield pavilion area. It’s more than just a place for kids to run around during the ballgame. At 7 a.m. daily, the stadium gates are opened and this area, as well as the entire concourse of the stadium, is used as a walking path for local walking groups. Talk about a community facility:
Pretty soon, the concourse started to fill up:
And I came across one of the neatest features I’ve seen at any ballpark. Along the first base concourse, there’s a batting cage that’s used by the players before the game and open to fans during the game. It’s encased with garage door-style roll-up doors, so my pictures weren’t perfect, but I hope you get the idea:
I got a photo when the teams came out for the national anthem:
(The TinCaps were wearing pink jerseys tonight.) I went behind home plate to take a panorama of the Caps warming up …
… and snapped a picture of some great, close-to-the-action seats:
Parkview Field has an impressive concessions menu, including barbecued turkey legs:
Their prices are also among the best I’ve seen, and I opted for a couple plain, ol’ hot dogs. I found a standing spot behind the fence in right-center, and started shooting the breeze with one of the TinCaps ushers. Actually, I found that numerous ushers were super friendly, but this usher and I had a great time talking about baseball and baseball roadtrips, and I told him about my website. My usher friend didn’t give me permission to use his name, so I’ll keep him anonymous, but it’s always great to meet another baseball fan with whom you can converse. I spent a few innings talking to him, and eventually he disappeared to make his rounds. When I was taking this picture …
… I felt someone come up and stand beside me. I thought it was just another fan, so I kept looking through my camera, then stopped and glanced over at him.
“Hi, I’m Mike. I’m the GM of the TinCaps. I heard about you and your website. Would you like a tour of Parkview Field?” he asked.
Uhh, yes!! (Double exclamation marks are seldom warranted, but they are here.)
My usher friend had tracked down GM Mike Nutter, told him about my site, told him where to find me, and in the middle of the game, he devoted a good half hour to touring me around privately. You can take guided, behind-the-scenes tours at plenty of MLB and MiLB facilities, but a private tour from the GM? This definitely goes down as a huge highlight of my trip.
He took me up behind home plate in the suite areas, which contain a giant dining room and all sorts of good food:
Then we went into a suite that was empty on this night, where I took this shot:
I should say, I’m not a suite guy. I like being down near the field and really experiencing the game. But these suites were a great combination of business and pleasure. You can open the sliding glass doors and sit in box seats in a private ledge area to enjoy the game. It doesn’t get any better.
Following the suite tour, it was through the pressbox and into the booth from which the team controls all aspects of the production of a game. The stadium announcer sits here, as do the guys who control the music, scoreboard and other aspects of the stadium. They were great, too, taking time in the middle of the game to talk to me about my website and my roadtrip.
Mike asked if I wanted to see the clubhouse, and I imagine you know my answer. We walked through the doors, which contain a warning to media and and breakdown of Minor League Baseball rule 6.02(d), which requires batters to keep one foot in the box throughout the entire at-bat. I imagine this is to encourage fast play and nip any future Nomars in the bud:
The clubhouse itself was amazing (and extra messy because the TinCaps had just returned from a roadtrip, Mike assured me):
Here’s a close-up to show the San Diego Padres duffel bags, the TinCaps chairs, the uniforms and the bats:
After the clubhouse, we saw the trainers’ room, the team lounge (complete with Guitar Hero) and a room in which the team eats its post-game meals. (Sorry, no photos of these.)
Remember the ultra-close seats just behind the on-deck circle? Our tour trumped these, and we watched part of an inning from the tunnel at the end of the TinCaps dugout:
Eventually, our tour took us to the convention center, which is the brick building beyond right field that houses that rooftop party deck reminiscent of Wrigley Field. This is a look back toward the field from the lobby of the conference center:
The seating area up there is called The Treetops, and it’s reserved groups only. Why? Because it’s all-you-can-eat up there, and the menu is impressive. Best of all, it changes every three innings!
If you’re keeping score, tonight’s fare was burgers and hot dogs, grilled chicken breasts and chicken wings, pulled pork and smoked rib tips and apple crisp for dessert. As sides dishes, you could eat as much as you wanted of Parmesan and cracked pepper potato chips, fresh fruit, baked beans with smoked pork, pasta salad, mac and cheese and soft drinks. Surely, a ticket in this section has to be one of the best tickets in the Minors.
Oh, and the view is perfect, too:
I thanked Mike for the tour after seeing The Treetops, and went and found my usher friend to thank him for setting it up. And, upon seeing that apple crisp was on the Treetops menu, set off to find some for myself. Because of the Johnny Appleseed connection, there’s an entire concession stand at Parkview Field dedicated to apples. Heck, you can even buy a plain ol’ apple here:
I, however, found my apple crisp to satisfy my sweet tooth, and enjoyed it in a TinCaps helmet cup:
After the game, I stuck around to watch the fireworks show …
… then headed back to my hotel after a very satisfying experience.
Thanks to Mike Nutter, my usher friend and all the TinCaps ushers and staff members I dealt with for a great time.