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Official Review by Paul Donaldson, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Located about 70 miles north of Houston, the city of Huntsville is home to Sam Houston State University and Don Sanders Stadium. Bearkat baseball has called the stadium home since 2006. The facility is fairly new and offers a cozy atmosphere for college baseball. Visiting fans will generally enjoy their overall experience with very affordable prices and great matchups against Southland Conference opponents.
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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".
Located in the concourse behind the press box, the concession stand at Don Sanders Stadium offers your ballpark favorites. Be sure to take some cash out before heading to the park because the concession stand is cash only. Your main options will include hot dogs ($3), sausage ($4), hamburgers/cheeseburgers ($5), nachos ($3.25) and super nachos ($5.25). I recommend keeping it simple and grabbing a burger, dog, or sausage. The super nachos are a decent option and come topped with chili, cheese, picante sauce, and sour cream with jalapeńos optional. The stand lacks a signature item and it would be great to see a grill offering some Texas BBQ.
Snacks include popcorn ($3-$4), pickles ($1.75), and assorted chips ($1.50) and candy ($2.25). Your drink options are headlined by Coca-Cola products served fountain style ($2.50-$3.50), bottled water ($3), bottled Powerade ($3.50) and coffee ($2.25, when available).
Don Sanders Stadium is a classic small college baseball stadium. Opened in 2006, the Don has a capacity of 1,163 and at a construction cost of approximately $5.5 million. Chairback seats are located between the backstop and pressbox with bleachers making up the rest of the seating areas on both the first and third baselines. Unofficial seating is located on a hill just beyond the right field fence looking back in.
The playing surface features natural grass with a small strip of light green turf surrounding the homeplate area. Artificial turf is nothing new in this area for many ballparks, but it's a bit of an eyesore at the Don with the light color of the turf standing out and the Bearkat logo fading from wear. Though the natural grass is kept in pretty good shape, there are signs of wear visible with spots of dirt in the infield and some discoloring in the outfield. The backstop is covered by a green padding which matches the outfield wall. From dugout to outfield fence on both sides runs a line of green chain link fence. The top of both dugouts features the Bearkat logo and Don Sanders Field name. Beyond the left field fence sits the scoreboard. At the time of this review, the stadium did not feature video boards but a recent announcement was made that this will soon be a thing of the past. The field dimensions are as follows: left field foul line - 330 feet, left center - 375 feet, center field - 400 feet, right center - 375 feet, and right field foul line - 330 feet.
The overall atmosphere is cozy and laid back. Fans are supportive but don't generate a lot of noise except after big plays. The athletics department staff puts a good bit of effort into developing a fun atmosphere with several activities during breaks in play and the Bearkat Pride Patrol rewarding enthusiastic fans with prizes. A Texas favorite, Deep in the Heart of Texas, is played in the middle of the 5th inning.
Sam Houston State University and Don Sanders Stadium are located about 70 miles north of Houston in a small country city known as Huntsville. The city is best known in Texas for two things: Sam Houston State University and the Texas State Prison. If you're looking for a vast variety of options while in town, you'll be a bit disappointed but there are certainly enough stops to keep you busy while in town. For one, be sure to stop and say hello to the first president of Texas and the University's namesake, Sam Houston. The 67 foot statue welcomes all visitors to the area just off I-45. Though an unexpected visit to the Texas State Prison isn't advised, a trip to the Texas Prison Museum is. The campus is quite a sight with tall rolling hills and sharp architecture. Be sure to budget some time to take a stroll.
There's a few decent eats around town. A unique place not far from the stadium is Carbonero Rotisserie Charbroiled Chicken and Steak. It's located in a small strip mall so it doesn't look like much from the outside, but the food inside is great. Carbornero specializes in Salvadorian cuisine with other Latin American dishes. The #5 is absolutely wonderful with a serving of rotisserie chicken and tacos. Other solid options in the area are the Farmhouse Café and New Zion Missionary Baptist Park BBQ. For some additional options, check out our review of Bowers Stadium, home to Bearkat football.
Bearkat fans are a loyal and passionate bunch. Though they don't generate much noise from the stands, they are generally knowledgeable and supportive during big plays. The grand majority of folks in attendance are either long-time fans or families of baseball players. That makes for a pretty knowledgeable bunch. Average attendance for Bearkat baseball ranges around the 700 mark. The experience sure could benefit from a few more butts in the seats, especially students.
Huntsville is about an hour drive from downtown Houston. Depending on the timing and direction of your trip, it should be an easy drive into town. If you're heading in from Houston, I-45 is a notoriously clogged interstate during rush hour on weekdays. Once in Huntsville, traffic is sparse and the city is easy to navigate. The university and stadium are just a couple miles from the interstate. Plenty of free parking is located close to Sanders Stadium. The ticket lines are short, if there are any at all. You'll breeze through the gates and collect a free program on your way in. The concourse is perched at the top of the seating areas with the field level at the bottom of the hill. There's plenty of room to move about and the seating aisles are spacious as well. The restrooms are very clean and modern and there's plenty of room. Depending on your timing, you could hit a line at the concessions as they are slim-staffed.
Tickets to a Bearkat baseball game at the Don start as low as $6 and go up to $8 for a reserved chairback. That's a great deal for high quality Southland Conference baseball. Your parking will be free as well as the game day program. Concessions are a bit overpriced but not excessive. Overall, the return on investment is very high.
Every great live sports experience is highlighted by certain 'extra' features which are unique compared to other venues or make the overall experience memorable. For Sam Houston State baseball at Don Sanders Stadium, be sure to consider the following during your stadium experience:
• It's hard to beat paying $6 for a good quality NCAA Division I baseball game.
• The new video scoreboard will be a welcomed addition and great compliment to the Bearkat baseball experience.
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