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Official Review by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
They do not build them like this anymore and they never will, not by any stretch of the imagination will someone construct a facility like Danville Stadium. It is a place that was built on a whim after Brooklyn Dodger GM Branch Rickey passed through town on his way to Decatur, Illinois to place a farm team shortly after World War II. After a few drinks and heavy conversation, Rickey was convinced by a few local people to place a team in town. Rickey agreed based on the stipulation that a ballpark would be built for the following season. That very next season Danville Stadium was constructed at the cost of $71,000 and 67-years later, the Danville Dans of the Prospect League enter their 26th season of operation. A ballpark built after a few drinks with the local population, indeed, they do not build them like this anymore.
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The majority of the food is prepared and served underneath the grandstands at "The Varsity" which has an eclectic selection of hot dogs and sandwiches. There are six styles from the regular Bleacher Bum dog ($2.50), the Chi Town Dog ($3.50), the Chili Dog ($3.25) and the Junk Yard Dog ($4) that features chili, cheese, pickle spears, cucumbers and my vote for all-time best hot dog topping, giardiniera.
If you want something else, there are Italian beef and pulled pork sandwiches ($5.50 each) and Polish and Italian sausages ($4.50 each). There is also popcorn, nachos, pretzels, peanuts, pop, and beer in this area along with tables to enjoy your food before you return to your seats. The Dans step it up a notch with grilled brats, ribs, and steak sandwiches on certain dates in the right field picnic area. The steak sandwich is a bargain for $6 and with grilled peppers on top, it might make this the best deal for a piece of steak anywhere in the country. Try paying less at another ballpark or restaurant. You may have to travel to Buenos Aires to find a better deal for steak.
There is a lot of history dripping throughout the wooden beams and bleachers of Danville Stadium. Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, and Pee Wee Reese made appearances here. Cecil Cooper, Dave Stewart, Darrell Porter, Pedro Guerrero and Jonathan Papelbon have all donned Danville uniforms.
There is only one small entrance into the ballpark where workers greet you and rip your tickets in half, just like the way they did it before scanners took over at ballparks. Once inside, one has to marvel at the wooden covered grandstand that is supported by thick wooden beams and features dusty wooden seats.
There are strange, but wonderfully effective, trash removal shoots, and interns collecting 50/50 raffles throughout the contest. The only oddity I found was that it looked to be that at one time there was a box seat section that has now been replaced with a gravel area that is fenced off.
This is a simple and pleasant way to enjoy a night of baseball and I cannot imagine much has changed since it opened its doors in 1946.
Danville Stadium is a few yards north of I-74 and situated a few miles from downtown Danville. At night downtown Danville is a ghost town, but there is a collection of fast food and chain restaurants in the vicinity of the stadium, along with a few local joints that are worth checking out: Schroeder's Drive Inn and La Potosina.
However, there is the Little Nugget Steakhouse on 6 South Henning Rd. that lets customers cook their steaks on a community grill. Yes sir, I will have that piece of raw meat, sprinkle a little Montreal seasoning and cook it medium well for a few minutes. I admit, the last time I did this was with an ex-girlfriend in college almost 13 years ago, but after making a brief appearance on my trip, the place still has wonderful thick steaks and a few other items for the non-beef eater.
If you have an extra day or two, trek west about 20 minutes to the University of Illinois in Champaign, which has a beautiful campus and livelier downtown scene.
Danville fans are baseball fans and do not subscribe to certain gimmicks that have been prevalent throughout the minor league baseball for quite some time. It is not for a lack of trying from the Dans' organization standpoint, according to co-managing partner Jeanie Cooke.
"When we had the promotions, the fans did not like it and complained. They are baseball fans and they are here to watch baseball."
The Dans rank number one in the Prospect League in average attendance and some nights attract close to 5,000 people. I like these fans here in Danville; they are baseball savvy and will not be bamboozled with small town gimmicks.
Once again I find myself in a rather small city without a sign from the interstate. The field is two tenths of a mile north off exit 215 B on I-74, but there is not a sign until you are within view of the old wooden ballpark. There is free parking and getting in and out, and back onto the interstate is very easy. When this ballpark was constructed, perhaps someone had the foresight that it would be near the interstate, because it is in a perfect location for one to make a quick stop or take in nine innings worth of action.
All adult tickets are $6 with children tickets costing half of the price. Add that to the free parking and fairly inexpensive food, and you have yourself a very nice night out on a very small budget. It is also the way minor league baseball should feel, if this was minor league baseball. I know it is the collegiate leagues, but try telling that to 9-year-old Johnny who has been waiting patiently for an autograph after the game.
The Dans offer $2 Tuesdays where all tickets, hot dogs, beer, and soda are just a couple of bucks each and Triple Play Thursdays is where fans can purchase a ticket, hot dog, soda, or beer for $9. There are a total of six Tuesdays during the 2013 season and this could the best investment one could make for any baseball team.
Attending a game here at Danville is how a small town ballpark should feel. The tickets are inexpensive, the food is tasty, and the baseball is entertaining. Both managing partners of the team, Jeanie Cooke and Rick Kurth do not take in a salary for operating the baseball team and have other careers. There are many of us who would love to take on the responsibility of running a baseball team and having a ballpark as your second home and Cooke and Kurth do it with style and class.
At one time, Danville Stadium was slated for the wrecking ball and left to rot after the Milwaukee Brewers relocated their Single-A team after the 1982 season. True, baseball would have moved away from Danville, but aren't we somewhat better for having baseball played at Danville Stadium? I know there are classic minor league parks dotted across the country and a visit to Danville should be included along that pilgrimage.
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6 S Henning Rd
Danville, IL 61832
432 N Gilbert St
Danville, IL 61832
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