Sometimes you arrive at a ballpark, and you just know that you are someplace that you are going to fall in love with. Turning on to Main Street in Midland, Michigan on a sunny spring or summer evening, and you’ll see people sitting outside having a burger and a beer at one of the local eateries. Continue down Main Street and around the bend and you’ll see Dow Diamond, one of the jewels of the minor league baseball world.
The stadium, Dow Diamond, opened in 2007 as the home of the Great Lakes Loons. The team is the Low A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and a member of the ballpark-rich Midwest League.
The stadium is beautiful, ideally located, comfortable, and unique. If you love minor league baseball, then you’ll love your time at Dow Diamond.
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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".
Walking the concourse, it smells of smoked meats and French fries. The inner concourse has several stands called "Great Lake Grill," which is where you'll find the typical ballpark favorites. The 1/3 pound gourmet burger ($6.50) is especially good. You'll also find hot dogs ($3.75), brats ($4.50), and pretzels ($4).
Where you'll really find the best treats is on the inner concourse at the individual stands. Take the time to do some "window shopping" along here to get exactly what you want. I can highly recommend a stop at the BBQ stand. Go for the plate of BBQ which includes pulled pork or brisket, macaroni & cheese, and homemade potato chips. Spend an extra dollar for one of the whole pickles and you will be in heaven.
Other delectable selections include the prime rib sandwich ($7), Phiily cheesesteak ($6.75), and even stir fry ($6.50). Polish and Italian sausages ($5) are better than most that you will find in ballparks.
Coca-Cola is the pop that you will find at Dow Diamond ($3.50), along with water ($3), Seattle's Best Coffee ($3), Hot Michigan Apple Cider ($3), and reasonably priced beer ($4.75 for a small, and $5.75 for a large). The varieties include LaBatt, Budweiser, Michelob, and Tri-City Loons Summer Ale (a locally made brew).
A great minor league baseball experience is really enhanced when there is a great mascot. In this case you have Lou E. Loon, who does a fantastic job. He moves non-stop throughout the game, interacting with kids and adult fans alike. In addition, the Loons added a secondary mascot in 2012 named Rall E. Camel. He was unveiled on opening day in 2012. Fans found a large box that read something like, "Caution: Live Animal Inside," then the Camel was released. He's sort of the loose cannon mascot for the club.
This is both a large park, and a cozy park. The concourses are wide, and the legroom in the seats is a little better than average. There are two fireplaces found behind the home plate area and two firepits in the outfield concourse. Both are fantastic for cool summer nights, or downright cold spring night games.
The promotions team is one of the best in baseball, another key to a successful minor league experience. They keep the ideas coming throughout the year to keep the regular fans entertained. During my recent visit there was a slingshot contest to break a pot of gold off of a foam brick wall, which fans anxiously watched with corresponding oohs and ahs.
The park is also somewhat of a technological marvel. For one, there is access to wi-fi for all fans throughout the stadium. More impressive though is that the scoreboard is entirely powered by a solar panel farm beyond the right field fence, and it's not exactly a little scoreboard (17x35 foot LED display).
There's a nice play area for the kids down the right field line, with plenty of space for parents who are still interested in keeping one eye on the game and one eye on their son or daughter. The berm is very popular and cost effective and tends to fill up, but not so much so that fans will feel cramped.
Dow Diamond is found in downtown Midland, just blocks from several bars and restaurants. I stopped in to Diamond Jim's. They have a large menu of burgers, sandwiches, pasta, seafood, steaks, salads, and a good beer selection, including some local options.
I felt somewhat obligated to stop into Journey's Coffee House for a cup of Joe as well, and was glad that I did. They occasionally feature live music, have good coffee, and a nice variety of bakery menu items. I could easily spend a few hours there doing some work before a baseball game.
Another interesting option is the Café Zinc, found in the H Hotel. Café Zinc serves food inspired by the periodic table. I don't know exactly what that means, but it is certainly a novel concept, and a good fit for Midland, the home base of Dow Chemicals.
Finally, if you're looking for solid greasy pizza, then I would shoot for Pizza Sam's. It brings me back to my college days, inexpensive and satisfying.
Happy fans are a byproduct of a happy stadium, or maybe it's the other way around. It's a classic chicken or the egg conundrum, but the important thing is that the folks you will meet at Dow Diamond seem to be cheerier than the typical crowd. They aren't rabid fans by any means, but they are interested in the game itself, doing a bit of socializing, and mostly just having fun. It's a great group of fans.
There is plenty of parking near the stadium at just $4 a spot. You may be able to find free street parking downtown if you're willing to walk a few blocks, just be aware of signage, as many of the spots have a three hour limit on the parking spot.
The concourses are wide and easy to navigate, and I found myself doing a few laps around the stadium, as it is very walkable.
The bathrooms are bigger than expected, and immaculately clean. There was even a pleasant cinnamon smell in the restroom that seemed oddly like it was natural, and not some chemical cover-up. I don't want to go crazy raving about the smell of the bathroom, but it really was pleasant.
Tickets are only $6 for lawn seats, and $9 for reserved seats. This is a great deal given how beautiful this stadium is, and the overall atmosphere and entertainment it provides. There are some interesting ticket packages, including the grass pass, where fans get 10 tickets and can use for any game they choose. There's no discount, but the flexibility is a great idea for minor league games. When you add in parking and good concessions, you are getting a great value. In fact, I would easily pay more for this experience.
I'll award one extra point for the Loon Loft, the team gift shop which is two levels and has everything you may want, and again with reasonable prices.
The second extra point goes to the green efforts of using solar panels to power the scoreboard. I am not sure why this ballpark is not yet LEED certified by the U.S. Green Business Council, but I would think they must be well on their way.
Be sure to meander through the Dow Chemical Company Founder's Garden just outside the stadium. It's a pleasant walk for either before or after the game.
This is one of the best, if not THE best minor league ballpark in baseball. I can't believe it took me so long to make it to a game in Midland. Don't make the same mistake I did, plan a trip today. If you live in the area, then go buy season tickets, and don't take it for granted that you have such a fine ballpark to spend leisure time in the spring and summer.
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