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Official Review by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Athletic Park in Chaska, Minnesota is considered to many to be the “crown jewel” of Minnesota amateur ballparks. Built in 1950 and featuring a classic mid-20th century design, original wooden seats, covered grandstand, cinder block dugouts, and natural grass surface that is fine tuned by volunteers, it would be hard not to argue as being one of the best in the state.
The aesthetics do not end with the structure of the ballpark itself. The facility is nestled between the Minnesota River, sloping hills, and surrounded by tall trees. It is quite a beautiful setting for any ballpark in the country and one that seems to have been stuck in time for small town baseball.
However, that Minnesota River can wreak havoc as it has flooded Athletic Park on five occasions this century alone, the last being in 2014. To help protect the historic stadium from further flood waters, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers built a 710 foot tall grass berm with a width of 30 feet around 75% of the ballfield. The price was steep at $300,000, but civic leaders felt the price was worth it due to the amount of money needed to repair damages after each flooding.
The Chaska Cubs have been around a little longer than Athletic Field having played its first game in town in 1928. Organized baseball itself has been played in Chaska since 1877 and at various times numerous organized teams played at the same time. There had also been multiple ballparks in town, one was partially destroyed by a tornado in 1925, but would later be dismantled and reconstructed at a new site in 1933.
Chaska residents were then given a choice of where to build a brand new ballpark that would be Athletic Park. The Greater Chaska Athletic Association funded construction as part of a stock-selling drive and received donations as far as Juneau, Alaska. Volunteers helped layout the field and backstop, while the local newspaper declared the erected grandstand “as fine a grandstand any town of our size in the state can boast”. The new ballpark also featured the state of Minnesota’s first electronic scoreboard.
The Cubs have won four state tournaments in 1932, 1947, 1971, and 1987 and the club continues to draw impressive crowds to its historic home near the Minnesota River. The ballpark also serves home for high school baseball, state tournaments, and legion baseball. It even served home to city's only professional baseball team in 1995 the Chaska Valley Buccaneers, who were 8-6 when the North Central League ceased operations.
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".
There is a main concession area underneath the grandstand with two serving windows. One serves alcohol including Miller selections and local and iconic Grain Belt beer for $3 a can. The food served at the stadium is basic, but common ballpark staples of hot dogs ($2.50), hamburgers and cheeseburgers ($4), popcorn ($1), peanuts ($1.50), and candy ($.25-$1). Ice cream sandwiches and bars sell for $1.50 each.
Athletic Park is an example of mid-20th century ballpark construction and has been maintained quite well throughout its existence. The old wooden seats are not as comfortable as modern theater style seating, but many in attendance bring a seat cushion or chair back. The covered grandstand protects patrons from the sun or pesky mosquitos flying around down the right field line of the stadium.
The ballpark offers a lot of history. There are old newspaper articles and photos illustrating the team's history, a plaque commemorating the first game played at the stadium, and a chart highlighting the level of significant flooding that has occurred throughout the facility's history.
On the lighter side, a very popular area for the children is the garden that includes a bronze statue, flowers in Cubs helmets, and wood cut-outs of Cubs that were created and painted by local area high school students. There are also old seats and a play area for the young ones in attendance.
The massive press box that once stood on top the roof, but was moved underneath the grandstand roof due to weather concerns is a collection of old baseball jerseys, news clippings, and plastic owls once used to scare away pigeons. The seating area down the right field baseline offers fans chair back seating and a basic electric scoreboard adorns right center field.
The atmosphere is more in line with lower level Single A or collegiate wood bat league baseball. The game feels like a big event and the only thing missing are billboard ads on the outfield fence and an over the time PA announcer, however, they are not missed at the game.
Chaska is a town of 24,000 and is roughly 30 minutes southwest from Minneapolis between state highways 212 and 169. You are close enough to enjoy the big city of the Twin Cities, but small town Chaska maybe worth spending a few hours in before or after the game.
Chaska is home to one of the Crooked Pint locations offering 32 taps of beer, pot pies, burgers, sandwiches, and curling. Cuzzy's Brick House is a local establishment serving wood fire pizza, Tex-Mex fare, pork chops, and barbecue ribs. Detello's Pizza and Pasta is another favorite featuring thin crust or deep dish pizza.
The GrandStay Hotel & Suites features an indoor swimming pool and Oak Ridge Hotel offers beautiful grounds. On a budget, enjoy a night at Super 8 Motel.
The Cubs faithful rank up with the best of town ballpark fans in the state. They have been spoiled with a fantastic baseball palace that has stood the test of time and are treated to great Cubs teams that usually sport winning records each summer. The center of the community is also a great way for local business to come out and share ideas and support.
Chaska is a small ballpark and so is the town. There are signs posted en route directing traffic to the game and an ample size gravel parking lot (another aesthetic nod to the good 'ol days of baseball) that is free of charge. Bathrooms and concession stands are located in the grandstand and for the crowds on hand, plenty of leg room is available underneath the wooden roof.
Ticket prices for adults are $3, seniors $1, and children under 18 are free. The parking is free and the concession prices are all under $4. The historic ballpark is a beauty to watch a baseball game of any level and when you have a few hundred fans surrounding you on a warm, summer night, the investment is definitely worth the price of admission.
The hours of volunteer work that goes into the ballpark's upkeep deserves extra credit. The field is well manicured, the grandstand is clean, and service is friendly. There are minor league stadiums where the service is not too friendly; however, the folks in Chaska do it very well, and they do it for free.
The setting of the ballpark; the view of the river, hills, trees, gravel parking lot, and mid-20th century design of the facility is postcard perfect. It tells a story before even buying a ticket.
The players who spent their time after the game signing autographs for kids on the field. The night was steamy and the mosquitos were ruthlessly nipping at your backs, but these young men did not seem to mind spending a little time with the younger crowd.
Old photos and news clippings found throughout the stadium. There is a lot of history here and sometimes finding it online is not that easy, thankfully there is a lot of facts and figures about Athletic Park, the Chaska Cubs, and other ball clubs who have played here.
I will not be the one who disagrees with anyone who calls Athletic Park "the jewel of town ballparks in Minnesota." It is a classic baseball stadium, one that is in superb condition and still servicing baseball fans for almost 70 years. The town of Chaska, Minnesota is fortunate to have this historic venue still residing in their town. It's location to the Twin Cities makes it extremely easy and affordable to visit and soak in all of that beautiful nostalgia. Athletic Park is pure Americana.
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