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Official Review by Erik C. Anderson, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
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.
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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".
Centene offers one centralized concession location under the concourse. The main concession sells hamburgers, cheeseburgers, grand slam burgers, BBQ cowboy orbit burgers, pizza burgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, steak sandwiches, meatball subs, pretzels, popcorn, cracker jacks, peanuts, sunflower seeds, chips, candy, chicken strip basket w/fries, french fries, nachos, super nachos, corn dog, beer baron, hot dog, bratwurst, Giant Voyager Dog, sausage of the night, small soda, regular soda, bottle water, Gatorade, and slushies. There are usually specials throughout the week running at the concessions, but no single entrée item will cost more than $8.00.
There are two drink concessions adjacent to the main concession stand. Drafts beers sold are Bud Light, Miller Lite, Budweiser, Coors Lite, Beltian White (a Montana brewery micro), Sam Adams Summer Ale, Domestic 20 oz, and Premium 20 oz.
Canned beer sold include: 16 oz Miller Lite, Bud Light, Budweiser, Coors Lite, Mike's Hard Lemonade, Jack Daniel's Downhome, Twisted Tea, and 12 oz: Bud Light Lime, Corona, and Busch NA.
The Great Falls fans, as is the case for fans throughout the entire state of Montana, are simply, the best. Hospitality is commonplace for every Montanan. Sources say Montana, may in fact, be the "last best place" in the world.
A Detroit native who - within the last few years - had moved to Great Falls, was baffled by the genuine sincerity when talking to locals in the Electric City. He said that while the pace of life may feel a bit slower in Montana, that that was not necessarily a knock on the Treasure State.
The neighborhood isn't the most aesthetically pleasing. As mentioned earlier, the stadium sits south of the Missouri river. As far as neighboring venues go, there are little to no choices for post activities readily available near Centene. There is a Van's IGA in the vicinity for a quick fix of snacks or your regular grocery needs.
Other than that, there's Bob Speck Municipal golf course next door, if golf is your game.
The fans are engaged and on "Thirsty Thursdays" a section parallel to the first base line always features a rowdy and knowledgeable gang of Voyager faithful. The Voyagers organization is top-notch when it comes to fan interaction and mid-inning entertainment.
Restrooms are spacious and never crowded. With attendances usually between 1,500-2,000 people, lines for restrooms are a non-factor.
There is a large parking lot wrapping around the west side of the stadium. Parking, at its worst, will be no farther than 200-300 yards away - a rookie walk to enjoy high level rookie baseball.
And oh yeah, parking is free!
Centene Stadium and the Great Falls Voyagers offer high quality baseball at an incredibly reasonable price. Plus, the crew usually has swag to hand out before games for the first fans through the door.
One bonus point for the Voyagers history museum located inside the stadium. Jim Eakland, who runs the museum, does a phenomenal job of preserving the rich century's worth of baseball glory that has run its course through Great Falls.
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