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Official Review by Andy Ritter, Stadium Journey Guest Correspondent
Baseball is back at Bradner Stadium. The NYCBL’s Olean Oilers have moved into the city’s historic stadium for the 2014 season after playing across town on the campus of St. Bonaventure University since their inception in the wood bat collegiate summer league in 2012. A return to this 1926 era stadium has brought fans out to the ballpark in large numbers.
Bradner Stadium is a multi-purpose facility used primarily for football over the last half century, but it did host affiliated minor league baseball up until the early 1960’s. In fact the original Olean Oilers were affiliates of such teams as the Brooklyn Dodgers and St. Louis Browns.
The fan experience at Bradner Stadium is full of quirks and oddities including a football goal post which is in play in right field, seats which are within 20 feet of the axles of cars passing by on East State Street, and a pedestrian tunnel which travels under the road and into the ballpark. The Southern Tier Diesel semi-pro football team shares the stadium with the Oilers in the summer, and both teams are keeping this nearly 100 year old ballpark alive. The layout may be odd and the setup unconventional, but an old park which gets new baseball life is something that will surely grab the attention of baseball fans.
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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".
Bradner Stadium offers a single, small food concession stand atop the upper walkway down the third base line. The menu is basic ballpark fare, but the prices are certainly reasonable. Offerings such as hot dogs ($2), cheeseburgers ($4), and nachos ($2) keep the fans in Olean fed during the game.
Pepsi products are offered, and the food is grilled on an open grille right next to the concession stand itself. Lines can be long, so you will likely end up missing half an inning waiting for your food, but you can still see the action on the field while in line.
Kids, or those who are kids at heart, can find candy, Crackerjacks, and popcorn at the concession stand as well. There is nothing that stands out about the food at the stadium, but you certainly don't feel like you are being gouged with big-time stadium prices either.
An additional concession stand is set up on the lower third base side paved area behind the dugout selling lemonade and cotton candy, but this appears to have been in place more for the town wide holiday fireworks taking place later in the day rather than the Oilers game.
A team merchandise table is set up next to the ticket table at the tunnel entrance, and sells Oilers gear at reasonable prices, including $10 t-shirts which are popular with the crowd.
The vibe at an Olean Oilers game is a combination of old and new. Old, in that the stadium dates back to 1926 and has all of the imperfections one would expect from a stadium designed in that era, yet still has a lot of the charm that you get from an old fashioned ballpark. New, in that the Oilers have given the stadium new baseball life and the ballpark is a work in progress from a construction standpoint.
The overwhelming sense you get when watching a game here is that the quirks of the park itself define the viewing experience. The seating runs along the road down the first base line, and then runs along what would be the end zone of the football layout. Not a large percentage of the seats offer an optimal view. The third base seats are far from the field. Very far, with the left field seats being about a 100 feet back from the field. Still, the fans gather together behind home plate and along the first base line to get a good view of the action.
The presentation is professional, and typical of higher levels of college summer ball, or even that of the minor leagues. The PA is loud and the announcer is of the "get the crowd hyped" style. Walkup songs for each batter are played, as are songs between innings.
There are a few onfield fan participation contests, but it is not done in an overkill kind of way. You can sit back and enjoy the unique features of Bradner Stadium all while getting a modern game presentation.
It will take you a little while to decipher the scoreboard as well as it is a football scoreboard which sits in right field. The clock is used to indicate the inning, and the "ball on" and "to go" boxes are used for balls and strikes. It is improvisation at its best and reminds me of playing sandlot ball as a youngster. The football goal post in right field sits inside the field of play providing a different twist to playing right field, just like obstacles in the makeshift ballfield in your yard growing up may have done.
Bradner Stadium sits on the east side of downtown Olean, in an area that is a mix of residential and commercial. The stadium sits on the riverbank where the Olean Creek meets the Allegheny River. Across the street from the stadium is War Vets Park.
There are a couple of places fans can walk to for a pregame meal, including Mickey's Restaurant a couple blocks to the east, and Century Manor Grillhouse a couple blocks to the west. The stadium isn't really in an area that you would walk to nearby businesses though, and if you are looking for the main shopping area you would head for the Olean Center Mall and its nearby stores and eateries.
Although the Oilers have only been at their new home at Bradner Stadium for a short time, it is obvious that the fans and community have accepted the team as their own. With a capacity of 4,000 this is one of the bigger stadiums in the NYCBL, but with the odd layout a crowd of 500 can seem like a big gathering.
Lots of Oilers gear can be seen in the stands, and the crowd, although reserved, knows when to cheer and really supports the team. The 7 rows of aluminum bleachers are built into a steep concrete embankment, making the rake of the stands steeper than most baseball stadiums, thus making the fans seem like they are on top of each other.
The proximity of the grandstand to the road means that when the fans are quiet the noise of the nearby traffic is the main sound you hear. If you are sitting in the top row you can look over your shoulder and check out the wheels on the cars travelling down East State Street as with the stadium being below road level you have an odd vantage point. Added entertainment during the game is seeing cars swerve to miss the frequent foul balls which head onto the road.
With such a low admission price many of the fans come to "hang out" as well as watch the game, and Olean has the typical small town feel where everybody knows everybody. Sometimes sports venues offering low admission to get fans in the gate to spend money on concessions have an overabundance of casual fans that take away from the atmosphere. Although a large percentage of the crowd may not be able to cite major league stats for their favorite roster, they do seem to follow the game and pay attention. With a team near the top of the attendance board the fans in Olean are making their presence known.
Bradner Stadium is simple enough to find, as it is on the main drag on East State Street, which is also known as Route 417. There is free parking available across the street in the city park, and access to the stadium is through the tunnel which runs underneath the road.
Once inside the stadium things get a bit crowded, as currently everyone enters through the tunnel (it looks like the upper street level entrance is under construction). With only one food concession stand lines are long, and the restroom set-up currently consists of port-a-potties. Getting around the stadium is a little difficult as well as there is a main aisle at the top of the grandstand, but it is narrow and folks also stand to watch the game at certain spots. Parts of the upper concourse aisle are showing its age, as it is crumbling and uneven in places.
With the odd layout and number of seats that are far from the field, the seats which offer an optimal view (behind the plate and along the first base line up to the dugout) are in high demand, making for a section of seating which gets crowded, whereas the seats to the third base line and along the right field area go mostly unused. There are also quite a few obstructions as the soccer style visiting dugouts block the view from the third base side, and the goalpost on that side also seems to get in the way depending on where you are sitting. These inconveniences simply come with the territory when dealing with a nearly 90 year old facility that is not primarily designed for baseball.
The Oilers certainly offer affordable family fun. Admission for each game is only $2 for adults, with kids 17 and under free! A free program is included, and the concessions are affordable enough that Bradner Stadium makes for a budget-friendly entertainment option. Add in free parking and you can't go wrong with a day at the ballpark here. With the Oilers ranked in the top couple teams in attendance in the NYCBL it seems evident that local fans agree that catching a game here is indeed a good investment.
The fact that baseball has returned to Bradner Stadium earns a point in itself.
The old school press box and odd layout of the way the stadium sits below the grade of the road add to the unique feel of this pre-war era structure. The access tunnel gives the stadium a big-time feel.
Solid community support and a strong turnout of fans in the team's first year at this home also earns a point.
Subtract a point for the park having aluminum bleacher seating as, although the most cost effective and durable, it just seems out of place in a park from the 1920's.
**Andy Ritter is the founder of Roaming the Rinks.
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