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Official Review by Stephen Schmidt, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
When it comes to its athletic facilities, the University of Central Arkansas certainly is not afraid to dance to its own beat. The school’s purple-and-gray-striped gridiron at Estes Stadium is Exhibit 1A. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially when it comes to Bear Stadium. The venue was built around a previously established baseball field to match the program’s rise in stature to Division I competition as a member of the Southland Conference.
These welcomed oddities include a solid black outfield wall with not one single advertisement on it (the only ads are located on the scoreboard) for a nice clean look and an expansive picnic area along the first base side, in which kids can play catch and dogs can roam (on leashes).
The picnic area also features a line of trees that provide shade on a sunny day while offering a fairly decent view of the action from a lawn chair. “I can’t really see the batter, but I can see everything else,” said Glenda Owens, while two of her grandkids sat beside her. “It’s really fan friendly. This is just the best… Nice shady place. The kids can play but I can still see what goes on.” Owens also had her radio nearby to hear the action on UCA radio (Her son, Steve, is the voice of Bears baseball on 93.1 KUCA).
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".
The stadium has one concession stand near the front gate that sells standard items ($2.50 for popcorn, $2 for nachos) with Pepsi products -- although that is scheduled to change to Coke next semester. There is a sign that says no outside food or drink is allowed in the park, but that rule does not pertain to a family picnic area long the first base side. Many fans opt to take advantage of the picnic tables that are located behind the visitor's dugout. On the day I was there, a group consisting mostly of parents of UCA players had a whole spread covering a picnic table with bratwursts and various versions of the Cajun delicacy boudain on a large grill. "It's hard to imagine what the park looked like before this," said Clay Rougeau, who was in charge of the operation and has a son, Nick, on the team. "Everything has been improved since Coach [Allen] Gum got here."
With a lack of signage on the outfield walls, one's eye drifts to the giant American flag sitting slightly to the left of dead center. Porches are located in the left and right field corners that provide a unique view of the action. Fans can rent out the porches, but they also are accessible without paying admission at the main gate. There are a few trees in the outfield, but most of the view from the grandstands consists of parking lots and residential areas. The purple scoreboard in left field features an old-fashioned clock for a nice touch.
When looking at the field, it might take you a minute to figure out that the infield and home plate dirt is actually painted on the GeoGreen artificial surface. The only real infield dirt can be found on the pitcher's mound. Real grass begins about a foot north of the painted-on dirt. Although it's a bit odd, it's not that distracting during a game.
Close to 90 percent of the stands are covered by an overhang, so most fans can keep the sunscreen in their cars. Those who have to face the sun are primarily picnic area participants who are not underneath the row of trees. There are no issues with sightlines in the grandstand itself, except for a row of bleachers at the top of the concourse where poles to support the roof are located. The one down side to the grandstand, though, is that fans have no choice but to view the game through netting.
The neighborhood is pleasant and safe, but there's not much going on when the students are away (the Shell station was closed when I was there) -- and Conway is in a dry county. There's one known pizza place, Bear's Den Pizza at 235 Farris Road, which sits across the street from the campus and has some UCA paraphernalia on the walls. Be warned: The place does not open until 3 p.m. daily.
One popular restaurant for townies and visitors alike is Stoby's, located a 5-minute drive at 805 Donaghey Ave. The place serves an addictive award-winning cheese dip with tortilla chips and a variety of sandwiches. During lunchtime, it's best to go through the drive thru, but you must call your order in ahead of time. Definitely worth the stop. Downtown Conway is also a quick drive from the stadium down Caldwell Street, which features more shopping and eateries.
There are number of popular hotels along I-40, including a large colony of them about a 10-minute drive from the UCA campus along. The La Quinta Inn & Suites (2350 Sanders St.), Fairfield Inn & Suites (2260 Sanders St.), Microtel Inn & Suites (2475 Sanders St.) and Candlewood Suites (2360 Sanders St.) all sit next to each other and receive high marks.
The fans, a majority of whom dress in either Bears' gear or colors of purple and black, are very knowledgeable and friendly -- and engaged in the action. In fact, at one point, a middle-aged female fan came up to the press box to get a better understanding on a controversial interference call on a play. Patrons are vocal when they want to be. When the Bears are doing well, don't be surprised to hear a couple of cowbells ringing in the stands. Given that most students had left campus a week ago from when the game took place that I attended (in spring 2013), it was impressive to see how full the stands were.
The stadium is located at the northern end of the UCA campus, which features the same dark brick theme. Bear Stadium shares a parking lot with the Farris Center basketball venue, but also has a number of parking lots all around the park. All nearby parking is free. There are only one set of bathrooms, but they are fairly large with circular trough-like sinks. There was never a line to use the restrooms. An elevator behind the home plate area provides easy handicap access to the wide concourses at the top of the grandstand.
At $6 for general admission and $8 for reserve chair back seats, a game at Bear Stadium remains a fairly good value -- especially on a hot and sunny day, given the large overhang roof and the line of trees in the picnic area to keep fans cool. Season ticket holders take up a majority of the 100-plus chair backs, but there's usually a few remaining on a walk-up basis. They are very wide and comfortable and worth the $2 splurge.
One point is awarded for having a souvenir table ($10 for T-shirts, $18 for tank tops, $20 for hats), a rarity in these parts at comparable schools.
One point is given for having no ads in the outfield. The black metal wall is a refreshing change and a hitter's dream.
One point is awarded for very friendly staff and fans. Everyone is very welcoming to out-of-towners.
One point is given for the shady grove and picnic area along the first base side -- and for allowing (leashed) pets inside.
Member Review by joshuca on Jan 07, 2015
The new stadium in very nice, and they are still adding on to make it even better.
235 Farris Rd
Conway, AR 72034
2350 Sanders St
Conway, AR 72032
2260 Sanders St
Conway, AR 72032
2465 Sanders Rd
Conway, AR 72032
2360 Sanders St
Conway, AR 72032