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Official Review by Scott Montesano, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The La Crosse, Wisconsin sports market has been a mixed bag over the last 30 years. A combination of popular, but financially unviable minor league basketball and indoor football teams came and went from the city. Alongside there has been a decade plus run of success for the La Crosse Loggers of the Northwoods League. Copeland Park is a basic, no frills metal skeleton stadium, but it is brought to life by as passionate a fan base as there is in any level of minor or collegiate summer league baseball.
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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".
Copeland Park has the essentials served out of a pavilion on the first base side. Being Wisconsin, the menu has fried cheese curds and a special recipe brat made by a local grocery chain. Fresh root beer floats add a unique flavor and the Logger dog comes on a warm, fresh bun.
The brats are quite delicious and not as greasy as a standard one. The cheese curds are also substantial in size when compared to other ballparks. Get a brat and cheese curd combo since you are in the cheese capital of the country.
Also being Wisconsin, there is a wide assortment of craft beers. The Copeland Craft stand is directly behind home plate serving pints and cans for only $4. The craft beers are from the area including varieties from Summit, Capital, Potosi, and the popular Spotted Cow from New Glarus. The Leinie's Lodge also offers $4 pints, and features their popular Summer and Grapefruit Shandy selections.
La Crosse dispels the notion that no one cares about the game at a collegiate summer league stadium. Copeland Park is a small city park adjacent to the Mississippi River. When the Loggers came to town in 2003, the stadium was built from scratch around an existing field. It's a basic "erector-set" stadium with a metal grandstand that extends from first to third. A shallow roof covers some seats behind home plate and the outfield is lined with log cabins and trees that serve as suites.
Starting in 2015 the team added a long-planned video board (the original scoreboard structure had an empty space for one way back in 2003). The team is still trying to figure out its best uses, but the board itself is large and visible.
Grab a seat behind home plate for excellent views, plus you're around the diehards. Save money and avoid the fan deck; there is nothing unique in this section and unlike other NWL stadiums, doesn't offer a special atmosphere.
The stadium is located only a few blocks from downtown La Crosse. However, it's a long few blocks due to geography. The surroundings are a mix of fast food, local bars, and even some residential homes sprinkled in for good measure. There are hotel options a couple blocks to the north of the park.
Downtown has a handful of good bars and restaurants. The Old Crow offers great craft beer, burgers, bourbon, and a late night menu featuring duck wontons. Fayze's offers an outstanding menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Cajun shrimp and andouille alfredo and chicken bacon mac are highly recommended.
Two more popular places not too far from downtown is the North Country Steak Buffet and Pearl Street Brewery. North Country Steak is a longtime team sponsor that serves endless steak. It's located off I-90 about five minutes away from the ballpark. Pearl Street's tap room is located in a 100 year-old former factory building and offers $3 pints of its craft beer. The aesthetics are as pleasing as the brews.
If in town for an entire day, head to the Grandad Bluffs that overlook the city and the Mississippi River. On a clear day you can see three different states. The Children's Museum is also an excellent way to enjoy a couple of hours in town. There are also walking trails along the river and canoeing, paddling, and kayaking through the many waterways in the area. The La Crosse Queen is a modern day river boat that operates different sightseeing and excursions from Waterfront Park.
There is a Best Western with an indoor waterpark located a few blocks north of the ballpark. A few other lodging options exist nearby that are both local and national chains.
The moniker of Copeland Crazies stems from the fans' reputation for being loud and passionate. The fervor has dampened somewhat recently, but the rumble of the past remains. As of just a few years ago, getting a ticket to a Loggers game was nearly impossible.
Almost 60% of the park was pre-sold to season tickets. The crowds have decreased somewhat, but there are still a respectable 2,500 on hand most nights. The crowd is loud and knows the situation. One main difference, the team has turned down its sound system considerably.
The stadium is located off US-53, a few miles south of I-90 and very easy to locate once in town. Unless you arrive 90 minutes before the game, your best bet is to find a spot on one of the side streets for parking. The small lot that is next to the stadium fills up quickly and parking is free.
The stadium has a main gate and a small wooden ticket booth behind home plate. There isn't much in terms of structure with the stadium. Traffic flow inside the park goes smoothly even during large crowds. Handicapped areas are built into the grandstand and ushers are present throughout guiding (not hounding) constantly during the night.
Seeing a game in La Crosse provides a great minor league environment, but also reminds us that these are college kids playing in the summer in the Northwest League. The stadium itself is rather rudimentary, and there are high school parks in the country that may have come from the same box. However, it's the passion of those that sit in the metal seats that make this an excellent baseball experience.
Check the team's website regularly for last minute deals that include food with your ticket. It's a growing custom in the NWL for teams to package food and tickets together during one day, last-minute sales.
One extra point for team owner Dan Kapanke, a longtime political figure in the area who is well-known and liked. It's not uncommon for team owners to walk around and greet fans, but Kapanke goes the extra step wearing the same staff shirt as the high school and college kids. He may hawk programs one minute and serve beer the next at the game.
Another extra point for the passionate fans who make attending a game at Copeland Park exciting and entertaining.
One final extra point for the great local craft beer that costs only $4 a pint.
In the 1990s La Crosse came close a few times to building a minor league ballpark for the Midwest League or Northern League, but none of the proposals happened. Copeland Park isn't as flashy as what those ballparks could have been, but it is more than serviceable and gives the community the baseball team it had waited decades for.
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