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Official Review by Jason Karp, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Perched on a breezy bluff above the Missouri River, Centene Stadium is the home of the Great Falls Voyagers, a member of the Rookie Advanced Pioneer League's eight team circuit and part of the Chicago White Sox farm system.
The stadium, originally known as Legion Park, was first constructed in 1940 as a WPA project at the end of the Great Depression. In the 1950's and 60's the stadium fell into disrepair and minor league baseball left for a time. Citizens of Great Falls banded to together to raise funds to renovate the stadium, and minor league baseball returned in the late 1960's. The stadium is owned by the City of Great Falls and is also home to all of Great Falls’ American Legion baseball teams.
Ongoing renovations including a new office wing in 2003, expanded concourse in 2010, and a new outfield wall in 2014, along with many more upgrades and improvements give the stadium a more updated and modern look than its 1940 birthday would indicate.
The Voyagers, and their alien mascot “Orbit”, take their name from a famous UFO sighting in 1950 when the General Manager of the Great Falls Electrics, Nick Mariana, caught some film footage of two silver unidentified objects passing over Great Falls. The video helped set off a frenzy of UFO investigations that continues to this day.
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".
It's been a great surprise touring these Pioneer League ballparks and seeing the nice variety of concessions available. Centene Stadium is no exception.
The main concession stands are located underneath the main grandstand. The prices don't break the bank with a hot dog being $3.00, small soda $3.00, hamburger $6.00, chicken strips $6.50, and french fries $3.00. Beer is sold below the grandstand as well with domestic and micros available on tap, and in aluminum pints and cans. A domestic draft like Bud or Bud Light is $4.50. Local micros are also available including Beltian White, a popular wheat ale brewed in nearby Belt, Montana for $5.50.
But that's not all, there's some specialty stands located along the third baseline next to the Home Run Club patio selling pizza, bbq, donuts, and the Mighty Mo Brewing Company tent, selling their brews made right here in Great Falls.
It's summertime. It's a beautiful evening. The beer is tasty and minor league baseball is being played. What a great way to relax and unwind from the day. Voyagers fans love their team, but no one gets too worked up about anything. The PA announcer does a good job of keeping the crowd up to date and Orbit the mascot constantly roams around with the local kids in tow. The big blue Montana sky above just adds to the ambiance.
The stadium is located amongst some huge grain elevators, railroad tracks, and other industrial buildings. It would be a bit of a hike from the ballpark to any bars or restaurants, but it's easy to get to those places by bike or car. Residential Great Falls is just a few blocks away with its gridded tree and sidewalk lined street system. There's a golf course beyond the outfield fence and a Veterans Memorial next to the parking lot to soften the impact of the otherwise industrial neighborhood. Take in the views of the Black Eagle dam and falls in a gorge just across River Drive from the stadium. Also just down the road is the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, not be missed if visiting Great Falls, and Giant Springs State Park-also very much worth stopping to see.
Downtown Great Falls (3 miles from the stadium) has had some hard times since the 1980's, but it is coming back to life in a wonderful way. There are several interesting bars, restaurants, and shops downtown worth exploring. A couple of highlights are the Celtic Cowboy Pub and Restaurant next to the Hotel Arvon, a boutique hotel located in one of Great Falls' oldest and completely restored buildings. The campy Sip and Dip Lounge with their swimming mermaids in an aquarium behind the bar is almost world famous. And the Mighty Mo Brewing Company's taproom has brought back some energy to the area.
Great Falls has numerous museums to take in including the aforementioned Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, along with a railroad museum, children's museum, and the C.M. Russell Museum, featuring the former home, studio, and artwork of Montana's most famous artist, Charlie Russell.
What really stands out to me is the number of kids in the stands. It's a real family affair at a Voyagers game. The crowd is friendly and knowledgeable. Most of the kids are there for the concessions or to socialize, but there are many hardcore baseball fans who are interested in the game, keeping score, cheering on the individual players, and chastising the umpire if they feel it is necessary. Everyone seems to be having a good time and all encounters are very welcoming to visitors.
Centene Stadium is located off River Drive, a busy roadway connecting downtown to the industrial areas above the Missouri River and the tourist attractions in the vicinity such as the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and Giant Springs State Park. The stadium is also easily accessed from the residential street grid from 25th Street North. Just pay attention, as some of the streets, including 25 Street, turn into one-ways.
It's easy to get to the stadium by bicycle or on foot via the street grid. Unfortunately, a direct connection hasn't been made between the stadium and the extensive River's Edge Trail system. There are bike racks right next to the ticket window. However, the locals don't seem to take advantage of this opportunity as there are generally only a few bikes in the bike rack. Free motor vehicle parking is in excessive abundance right next to the stadium.
Once parked, it's smooth pavement leading to the ticket booth and entrance. Though being a very old stadium, renovations have been retrofitted in really well to make the facility handicapped accessible.
Restrooms are located underneath the grandstand. They are spacious and functional.
Ticket prices are pretty reasonable at $10 for box seats behind home plate and $8 for general admission bleacher seats. There are always ticket promotions throughout the season as well; just check the Voyagers official website. A generous amount of reserved and general admission seating is under cover for those hot sunny day games. The metal bleachers are a little on the hard side, so a seat cushion is a good thing to have.
Concessions are not unreasonably expensive for a minor league baseball game, and there are lots of choices. There's no reason to leave Centene Stadium hungry or thirsty.
Centene Stadium gets a few extra bonus points:
One bonus point for the roof over the main grandstand. Many newer ballparks seem to be lacking this amenity, but it makes going to a baseball game in the summer an altogether more pleasant experience on hot and/or breezy days, and Great Falls gets a lot of both.
One bonus point for the Great Falls' River's Edge Trail system. Though it doesn't directly connect to the stadium, this extensive trail system takes visitors by bike or on foot along both sides the magnificent Missouri River. There are all sorts of interpretive signs along the paths and there are great views of the dams and what's left of the waterfalls that give the City its name.
One bonus point for Great Falls founder, Paris Gibson, who laid out the City in such a logical way and with generous amounts of parkland-especially along the river. Gibson's influence has fostered a strong sense of community in Great Falls, and it shows in the many public amenities available, including many parks, museums, trails, and the City owned Centene Stadium. Whether you are a Montanan looking for a weekend get-away, or a tourist passing through the state, Great Falls is a great place to spend a few days in the summertime.
Going to Centene Stadium will give you a pretty typical minor league baseball experience; and a typical minor league experience is a wonderful experience.
Member Review by ErikCAnderson on Jul 20, 2012
The wooden thwack, the cheers and jeers alike, and the dogged days of summer still belong to America’s Pastime at Centene Stadium in Great Falls, Montana, home of the Great Falls Voyagers, the rookie-league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.
Centene Stadium, recently renovated in 2002, has existed since 1956, but baseball has been played in Great Falls since the beginning of the 20th Century. The stadium is stationed south of the mighty Missouri River and just miles away from the Great Falls, from where the city derives its name. Up until 1982, the stadium had a view of one of the community’s proud landmarks, the Anaconda Copper Mining Co. Big Stack, a giant smokestack billed as the “world’s tallest smokestack.” Centene Stadium, the giant, galvanizing concrete structure holds close to 4,000 baseball fanatics and boasts one of the larger fields in the Pioneer League, with field dimensions of 335 to right field, 328 to left and 415 to center field, a home run – at times – is hard to come by in Centene.
According to Club Historian Jim Eakland, many baseball legends have graced the Electric City during its existence. Names like Joe Tinker, a 1946 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee. Other prominent figures include, long time Atlanta Braves Manager Bobby Cox, Hall of Fame hopeful Pedro Martinez, former professional manager and professional broadcaster Kevin Kennedy and now special assistant to the General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers Mickey Hatcher.
Throughout its storied history the club has had several name changes and affiliations from its present day Chicago White Sox connection. The team had ties with the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers, before finally settling on their independent nickname, the Voyagers – which also has historic significance.
On Aug. 8, 1950, General Manager Mariana walked outside his office and noticed two silver objects flying above the Big Stack. He ran back into his room and got his motion picture camera, and started filming this two bright objects flying in formation around the stacks. He believed the objects to be UFOs.
Centene may be the only stadium in the Pioneer League that features a small museum rich with the club’s history. It is this, coupled with the family atmosphere created by one of the hardest and passionate front office groups in minor league baseball, that make your visit to Centene truly memorable – and if you’re lucky, historic.
116 1st Ave S
Great Falls, MT 59401
17 7th St N
Great Falls, MT 59401
4803 Giant Springs Rd
Great Falls, MT 59405
4201 Giant Springs Rd
Great Falls, MT 59405