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Official Review by David Burns, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The Armin Wolf Arena is the home of the Buchbinder Regensburg Legionäre of the German Baseball Bundesliga 1. The Legionäre have grown into a powerhouse in the German Bundesliga over the past decade, winning the last four championships from 2010-2013. Regensburg functions as a semi-pro team with a handful of imports with minor league experience.
Built in 1996, the stadium has hosted a number of international events including the 2013 WBC qualifier. Regarded as one of the top baseball parks in Europe, the Armin Wolf Arena has a capacity of 4,600 with expansion work to host more currently under way. Extra stands were constructed to host up to 10,000 for the WBC qualifier and the Baseball World Cup preliminary rounds in 2009.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
After visiting a number of so called "stadiums" in Germany and Austria over the year, I have come to not expect much with regards to food and beverage. If there is a concession stand, often you are limited to Frankfurters, Käsekrainer, or if you are lucky, a greasy hamburger. Therefore, it is a very pleasant surprise to find a large variety of food and beverage at the Legionäre game, much like you would at a stadium of a professional club in the US.
During my visit, the theme was "Mexican Day," offering an assortment of traditional Mexican dishes complementing the standard choices of hot dogs, hamburgers, etc. Throw a cold German beer into the mix and I was one happy camper.
On top of that, the prices are very reasonable and the food is good. I brought along some of my own food in anticipation of potentially starving, something that is also welcome at the park for those that want to stick to a tighter budget.
The positioning of the concession stands are dead smack at the center of the concourse overlooking the game. This enables fans to enjoy the action while waiting for your food. The concessions are well staffed and professional with very little wait time. You can choose to eat at your seat, at the standing bar tables, at picnic tables or at the grassy knoll, all of which have a clear view of the game.
A visit to a Legionäre game will make you feel like you're in the United States at a professional ball game. That is saying a lot when talking about going to a ballgame in Europe. The combination of the music, food, decent crowd and good baseball allowed me to escape the fact that I am a permanent EU resident for about two and a half hours. That is of course until I went to order a beer and had to speak in German. Everything from the fanshop, to the mascot, to the smell of the bbq gave it that real ballgame feel.
The professional aspect of the whole organization also adds to that feel. Pre-game I had a peek in the dressing rooms which were fully equipped including a massage table and German masseuse. The dressing rooms lead to the dugout which are major league size and equipped. Even the way they cut the grass and maintained the field is professional and top notch.
The fan shop has everything you can think of with regards to memorabilia, supplemented with an assortment of baseball equipment. I couldn't help but pick up their sweet New Era Regensburg cap that resembles the "D" on the Detroit Tigers cap but with an "R" and black.
As far as keeping the crowd entertained and informed they are bang on. The commentator is on point with the baseball tunes and commentary while the inhouse live TV is rolling for those that couldn't make it out to the park that day.
They even have their own German thick-accented rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 7th inning stretch. On top of that, next to our picnic table was their own tour guide explaining the game of baseball to a group of German visitors that obviously had no clue about the game of baseball.
The scoreboard is easily visible from the left center fence but unfortunately does not include a jumbotron monitor.
The stadium is on the east end of Regensburg which does not have much around, but is right next to the Danube River, which can serve as a nice pre or post game sightseeing bonus. Next to the stadium is a large recreational park but other than that, there isn't much within walking distance.
Only 125 km from Munich, Regensburg is a beautiful mid-sized city with a population hovering around 140,000. The Regensburg Cathedral is the dominant skyline fixture with its Germanic Gothic architecture.
For those that have visited sporting events in Europe, they would understand that fans are a little different than those at a sporting event in the United States. Stereotypical thoughts that come to mind when thinking of a European sporting atmosphere would be chanting and whistling (the European hilarious equivalent form of booing). If those are your initial thoughts, you are typically correct. Until this visit to Armin Wolf Arena, that has been my experience. I have found that fans in Europe are louder, and well... so fanatical about their team that their behaviour is more extreme compared to the average North American fan. However, my experience has been limited to hockey and soccer games since living in Europe.
When it comes to baseball in Europe, fans are a rare commodity. In fact, at the typical baseball game in Europe you will find mostly friends and family of the players and the occasional confused passerby that is trying to figure out what weird sport is being played.
At a Regensburg game, the scene is completely different. First of all they have fans, about 500 of them during my recent visit which isn't too shabby for an early post season game. When they make it to the final, which is very likely that they will again in 2014, you can expect about 2,500. This is an unbelievable feat for a baseball game in Europe. On top of that, the fans seem more North American than I have seen in Europe. Meaning that they support their team by wearing the gear and clapping along to the typical baseball songs and are out for a nice, relaxing day at the ball game. They cheer when their team makes a nice play, gets a hit or scores but what they don't do is chant or sing constantly, which is a nice relief for once.
Thank god for GPS is all I have to say. Either I am blind or this is the one area that needs huge improvement from the perspective of a first time visitor to the Armin Wolf Arena. Approaching Regensburg from the southeast (Deggensdorf) by car, I saw absolutely no signs en route to the park. From the Autobahn turn off (Regensburg Öst) to the doorstep, I was completely at the mercy of a functioning GPS. Even when the park was in clear site as I viewed it from a highway overpass, I still had difficulty finding where the entrance was. Even as I write this, I am not sure where the main entrance is. I found my way to a dirt parking lot behind the outfield fence, but I believe there is another parking area behind the arena that I am not aware of.
However, from the nearby roads to the outside of the stadium by foot, I found it quite confusing. I realized after the fact that I ended up entering the stadium via the players and staff entrance and basically inadvertently snuck in avoiding the entrance fee.
After much deliberation when planning the trip, I cheaped out and drove as opposed to taking the train. This was totally the wrong decision as not only finding the place was challenging, my experience with the traffic on the German autobahn in the past 10 years is a nightmare of congestion.
Of course it is common knowledge that in July and August everyone in Europe is driving south for holidays, however it has been my experience that any time of the year when travelling south from Germany you will come across traffic jams. My advice, buck up for the train and the 10 minute taxi ride to the park and save yourself the headache if you're visiting from out of town.
The ROI on this ballpark is good, especially considering the unique experience of going to a quality baseball game in Europe. The ticket price is very affordable at under €10 for an adult and the cost of the food and beverages is not going to force you to take out a second mortgage on your home.
Of course, the major question most visitors to German baseball would want answered is if the price of admission is worth the level of play. My answer to this is yes, but do your research and if possible catch a game against one of the top clubs in Germany because there is quite a wide spectrum in level of play from the top to the bottom of the league. However, even if the timing is bad and they happen to be playing a cellar dwelling team while you are there, I think the whole experience of going to a game at this beautiful park would be worth the price of admission.
From the baseball players perspective, this park has lots of extras. From the large, covered batting cages, to the professional dressing rooms and dugouts, the baseball amenities at the Armin Wolf Arena is everything a professional or college player would come to expect; something that is not easily found in Europe. From the fans perspective, there is nothing that you can call "extra" or over and above most parks, but there is also nothing missing.
If you are a baseball fan and you want to catch a quality game while in Europe and at the same time find the atmosphere of a professional or college game back home, your options are limited to the Netherlands, Italy and only a few parks in Germany, France or the Czech Republic. The quality of play, the park, and the beer in Regensburg is right up there with the best in Europe, but the atmosphere would be difficult to match elsewhere in Europe.
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