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Official Review by Paul Donaldson, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Baylor Ballpark has been home to the Baylor University Bears baseball team since 1999. Located on the campus of Baylor University in the city of Waco, Texas, Baylor Ballpark has served as home to Bears Baseball for the past 14 seasons (1999 – 2012). During that time span, Baylor has participated in NCAA Division I postseason competition in 12 of the 14 seasons at the ballpark, hosting four regionals and three Super Regionals.
Whether it’s taking in some quality college baseball action from one of the top Division I teams over the past decade, sipping Dr. Pepper in the soft drink’s birthplace, or eating some the best Texas BBQ you’ll ever have, Baylor Ballpark and the city of Waco should be on your short list for a future family visit.
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Baylor Ballpark has the standard fare expected at a collegiate sports venue. The main concession stand was located in the central concourse under the stadium. This stand was overwhelmed with customers early on and blocked stadium through traffic.
As the game progressed, the lines shortened and remained short. Another concession stand was available behind the third baseline bleachers and the line was very short. Both stands offered bottled drinks, hot dogs (AKA Bear dogs), candy and peanuts for $3. Considering that Waco is the birthplace of Dr. Pepper and Big Red, both drinks were options at the ballpark.
Nachos were $5, and though that price was a little steep, they piled cheese and toppings on top to somewhat justify the cost. Popcorn was also available for $2.
One of the bigger attractions were the two Kona Ice stands (one on each baseline) which offered flavored shaved ice cones ranging from $3 for a kiddie size to $6 for a Kawabunga size. Considering this visit took place on a hot June day in Central Texas, long lines for the icy treats made sense. There were also corn dog stands in the main concourse and along the third baseline which offered corn dogs, funnel cakes and lemon chill for $5.
Baylor Ballpark is certainly one of the better NCAA Division I baseball stadiums to take in a game. Constructed in 1999, there isn't quite as much historical reverence considering its young age, but the overall atmosphere is still strong. The announced attendance during my visit was 5,007, an at-capacity crowd. A large grassy berm was full along the first baseline. Fans were free to throw a blanket for the family or set out lawn chairs along the berm. The third baseline bleachers were also at capacity.
The seating behind the plate wrapped from first base to third base. There were several access points to this area which included 3,200 chairbacks covered by an awning. Nothing helps the atmosphere in hot Central Texas more than covered chairbacks. The scoreboard included a small (13'x16') video replay screen.
The stadium was architecturally pleasing, just like the surrounding campus. From the first baseline berm, several campus buildings were within view behind third base and the gold dome atop the Ferrell Center (home of Baylor basketball) was within sight behind first base.
Just beyond the outfield fence lays the Brazos River. You could see several kayakers and small boats pass along throughout the game. The stadium's brick structure was also pleasant as well as the iron fencing which surrounds the stadium. There were also two bear statues near the stadium main entrance which were great photo opportunities for fans.
Though there is not much within walking distance of Baylor Ballpark, there are certainly family friendly attractions in the city of Waco. Waco is the hometown of two popular soft drinks: Dr. Pepper and Big Red. If you are traveling with the family or an antique/soft drink enthusiast, the Dr. Pepper Museum is a great visit. Be sure to grab a Dr. Pepper float at the soda fountain on the first floor.
Another family friendly option is the Texas Ranger Museum. The Texas Rangers are a national treasure and this museum does an excellent job of chronicling their history. The gift shop has plenty of fun items for the kids, from Ranger badges to toy shotguns.
A short drive from downtown, you'll find the Waco Mammoth Site. This site is a recreation of an on-site mammoth dig. The Brazos River Park area is certainly a great hangout spot for families. Whether you breathe in some fresh air along the river at Cameron Park or take a stroll through the Cameron Park Zoo, the family is sure to have a great time.
And finally, a must see attraction on the campus of Baylor University is the Bear Habitat. This exhibit is home to Joy and Lady, Baylor's two live black bear mascots.
If you are looking for an active nightlife, you may be left a little disappointed. If you are a BBQ enthusiast, however, your disappointment will soon turn into satisfaction. Vitek's and Rudy's are both a must while you're in Waco. Vitek's BBQ is a Waco original and boasts the "Gut Pak" on its menu. This item offers up Fritos topped with cheese, chopped beef, beans, and sausage. Personally, I opted for the BBQ plate and selected Vitek's homemade original sausage and half chicken; hands-down some of the best BBQ in Texas.
Rudy's BBQ is a growing chain and is a great alternative to Vitek's. I recommend a chopped turkey sandwich with a side of their famous cream corn.
Though the atmosphere may have been a little heightened due to this review taking place during a Super Regional matchup, the Baylor fans made the atmosphere one of the best in the country. Fans were loud right from the start and kept up the excitement throughout most of the game. Though the fan involvement waned some late in the game, this was likely due to a padded lead and 92 degree heat exhausting even the most diehard of fans. They quickly picked back up the noise in the eighth and ninth innings as the Bears closed out the win.
Baylor fans were also rather accepting of the opposing team fans. I didn't overhear a single argument or heckle. One unique fan created chant was "Feed the Beaver". Legend holds that Baylor Ballpark is home to a Brazos River resident beaver. T-shirts, signs, and chants encourage Baylor batters to "feed the beaver" by hitting a homerun into the Brazos, the beaver's home, which is just beyond the outfield fence. The run chant was a rather unoriginal "B.U., clap clap." Though unoriginal, most fans chimed in when runs scored.
Baylor Ballpark was one of the most accessible stadiums I've ever attended. Arriving within the hour of first pitch, parking was available and free. I'll say that again, for one of the top attendance per game baseball stadiums in the NCAA, parking was free.
As I made my way to stadium, the will-call line was almost non-existent. I was able to pick up my ticket and quickly walked in to the stadium. You might think that this would mean Baylor fans were late arrivers to the game, but that's not so. At first pitch, the stadium was already near capacity.
I only noticed one set of bathrooms in the main concourse and expected this to be an issue. But the men's bathroom was large and without a line for the entire game. Though clearly I didn't visit the women's bathroom, it must have also been very spacious to avoid long lines during an at-capacity game.
Ticket prices for the Super Regional game were $15 for reserved and $10 for general admission. Though this is a little pricey for an NCAA baseball game, it's not a bad deal considering the atmosphere. Baylor has had one of the better teams in Division I recently, boasting postseason berths in 11 of the past 13 seasons including a College World Series berth in 2005. Considering that you're likely to see some high quality college baseball, sit amongst great fans in an active environment, with a great view of the Baylor campus and Brazos River, you will definitely get your money's worth.
I have to give a bonus point for the grassy berm along the first baseline. Personally, nothing makes for a better family atmosphere than being able to throw a blanket and take in a great baseball game. If you have kids with a short attention span and plenty of energy (99% of kids), the back side of the berm is a great place for running, playing, and chasing foul balls.
I also have to give a bonus point to an amazing young fan. With a foul ball heading his way, he quickly borrowed the hat off his friend's head and snatched up the foul ball in the hat with one smooth movement. It seems Baylor is growing future Bears right in their own backyard.
Baylor Ballpark is certainly a great place to take in some college baseball action. The ballpark is very accessible, the atmosphere is energetic (even in 90+ degree weather) and the fans are respectful and consistently in the game. Both Baylor Ballpark and Waco combine to make a family friendly environment. Be sure to make a stop for some BBQ at Vitek's and visit a few museums in the area during your stay.
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