The city of Lancaster, California is widely known for its contributions to the aerospace industry and a trip to the local minor league ballpark certainly reinforces that notion. The class A affiliate of the Houston Astros, known as the JetHawks, call Lancaster their home.
The JetHawks arrived in Lancaster in 1996 after playing on the campus of the UC Riverside Highlanders under the name Riverside Pilots.
The year that the JetHawks arrived, the city opened the $14.5 million Lancaster Municipal Stadium. In 2005, the stadium would be renamed to Clear Channel Stadium after the team agreed to a ten year naming rights deal with Clear Channel Communications. Since the name doesn't slip off of the tongue too nicely, many have nicknamed the stadium as "The Hangar" in yet another reference to the aerospace industry.
While the stadium has permanent seating for approximately 4,600 fans, more than 7,000 can pack into the stadium due to grass berms down each foul line.
What sets this ballpark apart from most others are the desert winds that occur in the region. The winds often bring dust and cold, and often send many batted balls over the fences. The JetHawks have embraced this challenge with ticket prices based on the previous day's wind speed and even offered a giveaway "dust dome" rather than the typical "snow globe."
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The menu at "The Hangar" was overhauled before the 2011 season and it now offers some of the best cuisine in the league. Some of the everyday items include hot dog ($2.75), chili cheese dog ($3.75), brat ($3.50), grilled chicken sandwich ($5.50), chicken fries ($3.50 for regular and $5.00 for large), hamburger ($4.00 and $1.00 more for cheese), pizza ($3.50 slice or $15.00 for a whole pie), fries (regular $2.50, large $3.50, or chili cheese for $4.25), nachos ($2.50 regular or $5.50 loaded), pulled chicken sandwich ($6.00), tri-tip sandwich ($7.50), pulled pork nachos ($6.50), tri tip nachos ($8.00), potato wedges ($3.00), onion rings ($3.00), popcorn ($2.50), sunflower seeds ($2.50), caramel corn ($6.00), peanuts ($3.50), chips ($1.00), soft pretzel ($3.00), M&Ms ($3.50), Snickers ($3.50), and licorice rope ($1.50).
The signature item here is definitely the Stealth Burger (includes hamburger, pulled pork, onion rings, and bbq sauce for $9.00)
Near third base is KaBoom's Dog House, where fans can build their own hot dog for $4.25. The topping options include sauerkraut, chili, nacho cheese, relish, salsa, jalapeno, pickle, parmesan cheese, ketchup, tzatziki sauce, lettuce, giardiniera sauce, tomato, onion, celery salt, sport peppers, ranch, and bbq sauce. Additional toppings beyond three are $0.50 each. Also available here are the chili cheese dog ($4.00), or regional hot dogs (Chicago, Mexican, Greek, or German) for $4.50.
Healthier items are also on the menu including the house salad ($3.00), Caesar salad ($4.00 and $3.00 to add chicken), gyro ($5.50), grilled chicken wrap ($5.50), and chicken Caesar wrap ($5.75).
If fans are looking for something cooler in the desert heat, sno cones are available. These range in size from 8 to 32 oz with 25 flavors including "Batman" and "Tiger Blood." Not to be forgotten are the smoothies (Mahalo Mango, "Strawnana" Berry, Polar Pineapple, Naturally Mocha) for $4.00 (12 oz) or $6.00 (24 oz).
The beverage menu includes regular soda ($3.50), souvenir soda ($6.00 and $2.00 for refills), Gatorade ($3.50), bottled water ($3.00), hot chocolate ($2.50), coffee ($3.00), cappuccino ($3.50), hot apple chai cider ($3.50).
The beer prices are $4.00 for a domestic draft and $6.00 for an import draft. I found it rather amusing that on the outfield fence, there were ads for Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors Light, and Miller Lite, so they are not really standing behind any one brand.
Despite the deep fences, (350 feet down the right and left field lines and 410 feet to deep center field) the prevailing winds tend to carry many balls out of the ballpark. The abundance of home runs seemingly always has the fans on their feet. In fact, throughout the game, I tried to avoid leaving my seat at any time for fear of missing another home run. When a long ball is hit, fireworks jump into the sky and the lights atop the shuttles on the scoreboard start blinking.
The team offers two mascots, Kaboom and Stealth. While the original mascot Kaboom seems to always be within sight, Stealth appears to be just like his name and more difficult to find. A dance team known as the Hawkettes dance and cheer for the team between innings.
There were also several between inning traditions to keep the fans involved such as the t-shirt cannon, tomato toss, and even a spelling bee. Beyond many of these events, the down time was filled with pre-recorded organ music or some modern songs.
Like many other California League teams, the JetHawks give many of the batters designations that benefit the fans depending how the specific player performs at the plate. Fans can be treated to drastically reduced prices on beer or free double cheeseburgers at the local fast food spot.
Despite being over 60 miles from Los Angeles in the desert, Lancaster offers many interesting things to see in addition to the ballpark. Nearby is the California Poppy Reserve, where visitors can see more colorful poppy flowers than they ever thought imaginable. Also, nature lovers can check out the Prime Desert Woodlands, which has a collection of the desert plant life and animals among an urban neighborhood. Visitors can get a glimpse of rabbits, squirrels, and lizards as they walk or run the miles of trails.
The massive Edwards Air Force base is nearby and offers tours on select days. There is even a monument signifying where the sound barrier was broken. If you drive south, you can see the Joe Davis Heritage Air Park in Palmdale where you can walk among many retired jets and spy planes.
For fans who are looking for some quirky attractions, check out the musical road, built for a Honda Civic commercial years ago. If time allows, travel south to Littlerock (CA) and visit Charlie Brown Farms. Here, visitors can find nearly every type of candy ever made and countless tacky attractions.
The area near the ballpark can be a one-stop shop for all fan needs. A Wal-Mart is minutes away and all sorts of strip mall stores and restaurants are within walking distance.
Some of the more popular spots include the Black Angus Steakhouse, Barone's Pizza, Lemon Leaf Cafe, Medrano's Mexican, and Papa Zito's. A very popular spot for Indian food is Malhi's, and fans can even get a 10% discount there with a gameday program.
If you are willing to drive a bit, give Crazy Otto's a try. It's another reputable local diner that even holds the world record for biggest omelet.
During the game, Johnny's Italian American Bar was plugged many times offering over 100 beers on tap, many of which are $2 all day. There are also 25 cent wing specials at select times.
The JetHawks were definitely going to great measures to get the fans involved in the team culture including a "This day in JetHawks History" pregame commentary. As they took the field, the players were accompanied by local kids.
Despite getting behind early, the fans really stood behind the team, offering a big round of applause after a tough inning and continued to encourage the JetHawks until they had the lead. At one point, a deep-voiced fan began a "Let's Go JetHawks, Let's Go" chant that many other fans joined in for.
I heard one child bragging to another that he had been to "at least 5,899 games" here. While the JetHawks have not yet played this many games here, he was clearly indicating that he and many other fans frequently visit the ballpark.
I felt that the ushers also did a great job engaging the fans, often high-fiving and cheering along to the action.
The city of Lancaster is approximately 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles and can be accessed via California State Route 14. The stadium can be seen from the freeway, so once you are in the vicinity, it is not difficult to find.
Parking runs at $5 per vehicle and much of the parking is thankfully covered due to the desert sun.
Once inside of the stadium, the fans simply have to manage the single concourse, very similar to the Inland Empire 66ers, with most food vendors between first and third base behind the grandstand.
The seating is all bucket seats making a "U shape" from slightly past first base to slightly past third. There are two levels of seating, with the second level being connected to the grandstand below the luxury boxes.
The facility offers two sets of restrooms, a set near first base and a set near third. While the condition of the restrooms was a bit rough, they were substantial in size and any lines would quickly evaporate. I actually spent a good portion of the game stretched out on each of the grass berms near the foul poles. The intimacy of the park allows fans to sit on these grassy areas, yet still get a great view of the action.
Left-center field has a video board with 2-D NASA shuttles on each side. The video board is a bit aged by today's standards and I often found it to be lacking in the information I was thirsting for. The shuttles each have a light on the nose that illuminate upon a JetHawk home run. In right-center field is more of an older hand-operated scoreboard. This also is showing signs of age as all of the panels were not the same color and some of the aspects were difficult to see before night fell.
Prices here were very reasonable with Club seats being the most expensive at $12. Other options included Dugout ($8), Box ($7), and Reserved ($6). Tickets purchased on gamedays are $1 more than would they be purchased in advance, so if you have a large group, you may want to take advantage of the pricing schemes.
Parking at $5 is reasonable for professional sporting events, especially when your car can be covered from the sun. There is quite a bit of room in the surrounding area, so one would think it could potentially be a more reasonable rate. There is a movie theater and strip mall nearby, so I was tempted to park in one of these lots, but didn't want to risk a ticket should they police it.
All of the concession prices were on par and I actually thought the alcohol was very reasonably priced. The signature item, the Stealth burger, is pricey at $9, but it's one of the minor league cuisine items that is well worth it.
One huge point goes to the front of the stadium where fans cannot miss the NASA F/A-18 Hornet. How many ballparks have a full size aircraft sitting outside of the front entrance? It clearly gives the stadium an identity distinguishable for any fan anywhere.
The team installed 1,500 solar panels in the parking lots before the 2011 season in an effort to "go green." The solar panels are said to provide 98% of the ballpark's energy needed for game night and will save the team $48,000 in energy costs.
Behind the grandstand on the third base side is a banner that lists every JetHawk player to appear in the big leagues and the year(s) they played for the Lancaster (CA) ballclub.
As yet another homage to their local economy, the team has a highly anticipated NASA-related bobblehead every season. Gordon Fullerton, Pete Knight, Chuck Yeager, and Buzz Aldrin have been just a few of the bobbles offered in the past.
As fans enter the stadium, they are handed a half sheet of paper that is essentially a bingo card. Many local vendors are setup throughout the concourse and if you stop by to say hello, you typically get some free "swag" from the vendors whether it be a pen or a piece of candy. The first three fans who stop at all of the vendors and get a signature from each get a team autographed baseball.
What I love most about visiting the JetHawks is how much they embrace the local culture, clearly enmeshed in the aerospace industry. It seems that they have integrated it all in a very tasteful way. The fans clearly appreciate that and seem to be turning out weekly.
The JetHawks are certainly keeping pace with the great minor league experience in the California League. While they may not experience the draw of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, they definitely provide a better experience than the nearby High Desert Mavericks.
While I initially thought I would not be traveling to the Lancaster/Palmdale region, I found a lot of great attractions and a great ballpark experience that will certainly have me returning again and again.
Follow Drew's journeys through Southern California on Twitter @Big10Drew.
Not sure what the bad review was for... A nice stadium with a great staff, Although it is a bit out of the way, the drive from LA is surprisingly nice. Lots of scoring is an added bonus. Overall a nice experience.
15101 Lancaster Rd
Lancaster, CA 93536
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