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Official Review by Brandon Gee, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
New for 2013 is Bart Kaufman Field, a structure built to replace the outdated Sembower Field and bring Hoosier baseball into a new era. While Indiana has always been a basketball school in this basketball-crazy state, Kaufman Field is helping to raise the profile of the baseball program as it enters into a new level of competition.
While Sembower was a functional facility, it lacked modern training areas and didn’t have much character. Kaufman is state of the art with its own indoor training facility and is constructed of Indiana’s iconic limestone, tying it in architecturally with the rest of campus. It is a new home that’s fitting for Hoosier baseball as the program fights for Big Ten titles.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There's only one concession stand, on the first base side, but with two checkout terminals it can serve even a packed crowd efficiently. The menu is just your basic stadium food: hot dogs ($4), popcorn, hamburgers, etc.
A 32oz. pop is $4 with a Hoosier sports souvenir cup. There's also a Dippin' Dots cart next to the stand, serving up the odd treat of ice cream mix that's flash frozen into tiny spheres. So the menu's basic, but you won't break the bank if you actually want to eat and drink while taking in a game.
In general, college baseball doesn't hold the same stature in the Midwest like it does down south or for schools out west. Perhaps it is the new ballpark that's helped to engage people in the Hoosiers baseball team, but fans are out in full force to support at Bart Kaufman Field. Of course, it helps that at the time of this visit in May of 2013, Indiana was closing in on clinching a first place finish in the Big Ten's regular season for the first time since 1949.
Aided by the metal bleachers, fans can make a nice amount of noise to cheer the team on. If you don't feel like sitting in the stands, there is plenty of room on the concourses along the 1st and 3rd base sides to mill about and chat while you watch the game. Also, in the right field corner there's a grass berm to relax on, an elevated patio area and behind the right field fence is an area to hangout and if you're lucky, maybe catch a home run ball.
Kaufman sits on the northern edge of Indiana University's collection of sports facilities north of the rest of the campus. The stadium sits right next to the new softball facility, Andy Mohr Field, and is close to Memorial Stadium as well as the indoor training complex, Mellencamp Pavilion (yes, it's named after the musician, who donated funds. He's an Indiana native with a home just outside of town).
There's not much in the way of dining in immediate walking distance of the area, but it's just a short drive south to Bloomington's downtown area centered around N. College St. and N. Walnut. There are plenty of independent restaurants, bars and interesting shopping to keep you entertained. If you happen to be a fan of stand-up comedy, you have to check the calendar at The Comedy Attic (123 S. Walnut Ave.). They've been booking top comedy talent and have earned a great reputation amongst comics.
Additionally, there are two commercial areas geared more towards chain restaurants. You can follow the 45/46 Bypass east to the area around its intersection with East 3rd Street. Also, you can go the other way on 45/46, then go south on 37 for a few miles to, oddly enough, the area around its intersection with West 3rd Street that has some familiar places like Olive Garden and Cracker Barrel.
The downside of watching college baseball up north is it is still winter, at least the first month of the season. This of course drags down attendance numbers heavily. Looking over the attendance numbers here in Kaufman Field's first season, you can notice the sharp increase in attendance once both the weather turned to spring and about the same time Indiana faced the Big Ten part of its schedule. In 2013, the Hoosiers saw an average attendance of around 1,100 fans per game, an increase of more than 250 fans over the 2012 average in their old home, Sembower Field. To their credit, from the end of March, you know, actual baseball weather, the average was closer to 1,350 a game.
Kaufman Field sits near the rest of Indiana University's sports facilities on the northern edge of campus. The stadium sits just to the right of the large parking lots north of Memorial Stadium and Assembly Hall, sitting right next to the 45/46 Bypass.
Currently, there is no interstate highway access to Bloomington. State Route 37 is the major route through the town, but is slowly being overtaken by I-69, which will connect the already constructed portion from Michigan through the northeast part of the state to Indianapolis' beltway I-465. The southern portion of I-69 originates in Evansville and will overtake the S.R. 37 on the way to connecting to 465 on Indy's southside. The Bloomington portion is expected to open no earlier than 2014 so be aware of construction delays if going this route.
I headed to the area from the east. Again, this route also lacks major highway access to Bloomington but has some other benefits if you don't mind spending more time on your drive. My route, I-74 to S.R. 46 in Greensburg weaves you through some picturesque areas of rural Indiana.
If you have time, you may be interested in a stop in Columbus, Indiana (45 minutes east of Bloomington). Columbus, a city of only 44,000, boasts a world-class collection of amazing architecture. Under a program run by leadership of the major local employer, diesel engine manufacturer Cummins, Inc, big-name architects like Cesar Pelli, I.M. Pei, both Eliel Saarinen and his son Eero (who also designed the St. Louis Arch) along with many others all have buildings in the area. You can find more information on the buildings and public art in the area, plus options for self-guided or guided tours on Columbus' Convention and Visitors Bureau site.
Another place to see along S.R. 46 is the town of Nashville, Indiana (25 mins from Bloomington), which is the next small town between Columbus and Bloomington. It's an arts enclave with some shops, a good number of independent restaurants and a number of Bed and Breakfasts. There are a couple large state parks along the route, as well, offering a number of outdoor recreational options.
This is a great ballpark featuring a team that is finishing the season atop the Big Ten in 2013, and seems to be on the rise. It's a pretty good deal to see adult tickets only $5 and kids for $3. With a park this cozy, there's not a bad seat in the house and since seats are general admission, you can get as close as you want.
Concessions aren't awful, with nothing more than around $4. Parking is free with plenty of spaces right next to the stadium. All and all, this shiny new ballpark is a great place to see Big Ten baseball, whether as a fan of the Hoosiers or traveling to follow your visiting team.
One point for the stadium's exterior being made out of Indiana limestone. The epicenter of Indiana limestone is the area around Bloomington and fits in well with the rest of the Indiana campus.
One point for Bloomington. It's a bustling college town with its own character and it is a great place to spend the day.
One point for Indiana investing in its non-revenue sports. That money could have easily just gone to basketball or football but instead the school created two new venues that can compete with facilities from around the nation.
One point for the competitiveness of the program. After my visit, the team officially claimed the 2013 Big Ten title. Hopefully this is just the start of a new era for Indiana baseball where they're factors in the Big Ten as well as the national postseason.
Kaufman Field is a beautiful result of Indiana committing to raise the profile of all its athletic programs. It's become one of the nicest ballparks in the Big Ten and should continue to help the program recruit top talent. Additionally, Bloomington is a great college town with a lot to offer, making a trip out for an Indiana baseball game a worthwhile journey.
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