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Official Review by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
St. Louis has long been regarded as one of the best baseball towns in America. Names such as Sportsman’s Park, Busch Stadium, Stan the Man, Jack Buck, KMOX, the St. Louis Browns and the St. Louis Cardinals all have a prominent place in the baseball history books. Yet there is another baseball team headquartered just a few miles down the street from Busch Stadium that is a little bit lesser known, the St. Louis University (SLU) Billikens.
St. Louis University is a Jesuit university just west of downtown, with a student body of more than 13,000 students. Its history is closely tied to the city of St. Louis, as it was founded in 1818 as part of the Great Western Expansion, and was the first university west of the Mississippi River. More recently it has undergone a massive expansion, funding more than $850 million in campus improvements.
The athletic teams of the university are known as the Billikens. What, you may ask, is a Billiken? It depends on who you ask. Some say he is a cartoon creation, others a mythical creature or a good luck charm. Physically, a Billiken resembles an alien creature from Area 51 with Smurf-type highlights. Whatever it is, it is unique in the mascot world.
The baseball Billikens have had a very impressive record over the years. They have made seven NCAA Tournament appearances, won five Missouri Valley Conference Championships and three Atlantic 10 Conference Championships. They are the westernmost member of the Atlantic 10 Conference, which includes schools such as Davidson, Rhode Island, LaSalle, UMass, Virginia Commonwealth, George Washington and St. Joseph’s.
Home field for the Billikens is the Billikens Sports Center. The stadium opened in 1990 and has a capacity of 500 permanent seats. The on campus field underwent massive renovations in 2011, taking up the artificial turf and replacing it with natural grass.
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 food and beverage offerings at Billikens games are minimal and are served from a portable tent set up behind the bleachers. Offerings include sodas for $3, water for $2, hot dogs for $2.25 and candy for $1.25. There are numerous fast food restaurants nearby and many fans bring their own food to the games.
For an on campus stadium, there is little to suggest that the stadium is a part of the university. The only reminders are the Billiken name on the scoreboard and the presence of the massive Chaifetz Arena which dominates the entire backdrop beyond the outfield walls.The remainder of the SLU campus has dozens of statues of everyday people placed all around campus, yet there is no signage denoting the sports complex or any statues of athletic figures. The field is in excellent condition, but is devoid of any ornamentation to fire up the fans.
SLU is definitely an urban campus, which has both good and bad aspects. Being situated downtown you are close to all the major attractions in St. Louis. The Gateway Arch, Busch Stadium, and Union Station can all be seen from the campus. The Metrolink light rail system is excellent (and cheap) and lodging and restaurants (Syberg's on Market or Pappy's Smokehouse) are located across the street from the campus.
As far as entertainment and restaurants in the area, you have two great districts to choose from. The newest is Ballpark Village, which is located across the street from Busch Stadium. It has a variety of restaurants and bars to choose from. Another area with a variety of options is LaClede's Landing, located in an old warehouse district along the Mississippi Riverfront. While in town, two recommendations are to sample the many beers made here and to sample some of the German food, as St. Louis has a long German heritage.
On the negative side, like any urban setting, there is a crime issue, so driving or taking public transportation after dark it is advised to be cautious.
Being a baseball fan is in the genes of St. Louis residents, and the SLU fans are no different. The ballpark is just across the street from their dorms and it is a fun and convenient way for students to finish their day after classes end. SLU students are not rowdy at baseball games, but they are passionate about their team. Seating is in aluminum bleachers behind home plate and the fan mix is typically 70% parents and around 30% students.
Getting to SLU, a Cardinals game or any other downtown activity is very easy as St. Louis is located at the intersection of Interstates I-64, I-55 and I-44.
Lambert Airport is located about 10 miles north of downtown and the Metrolink rapid rail system runs from the airport to many of the downtown areas of interest. The one thing you will notice is that downtown St Louis has many one way streets. If you think you can't get here from there, simply go a block east or west to go the other way!
You realistically need to plan a long weekend when you visit St. Louis, as there is so much to see and do. The SLU games will not break your bank account, as baseball games are free, parking is $5 and refreshments are reasonably priced. Hotels in St. Louis can run from $300 to a more family friendly $130. Restaurants can also run a wide range, as there are fast food options in nearby Union Station to one of the pricier fine dining options near the convention hotels and the riverfront.
If you want to save some money, the St. Louis rapid rail system, Metrolink, goes almost everywhere you want to go for $2.50 one way or $5 round trip and can eliminate the need for a rental car and hassles of finding parking. If you want to add a Cardinals game to your visit, figure tickets at a range of $35 - $80 and parking at $20. It is a good idea to buy tickets ahead of your visit, as even weekday games can be sellouts.
Like most major American cities, St Louis has many extras worth considering during your visit. A Cardinals game at Busch Stadium is a bucket list item for any true baseball fan. Even if you are a teetotaler, a visit to the Budweiser Brewery is a must, as it is home to the famed Clydesdale horses seen in the commercials. The Missouri Botanical Gardens are absolutely beautiful in the spring. You can ride an elevator to the top of the Gateway Arch for a spectacular view of downtown St. Louis and the Mississippi River.
For the first time in my life I met a Billiken, now that I've been to SLU I doubt I'll see one again! (old rhyme in the St. Louis area)
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