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Official Review by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Home to the UMass baseball team, Earl Lorden Field was officially dedicated in honor of the Minutemen’s long-time coach on April 24, 1971. The bleachers at Lorden Field have also been dedicated in the name of former coach Dick Bergquist. Recent renovations, including new batting cages and a new scoreboard, have improved the overall appearance and atmosphere of the long-time home of the Minutemen.
Baseball has been played at UMass since 1877, and the team enjoyed a great deal of success in the mid-20th century, making two appearances in the NCAA College World Series (1954 & 1969) to go with eleven tournament appearances. Although the team doesn’t play at that level these days, they have still sent 18 alumni to the major leagues. The team has been a model of consistency, having had only three head coaches (Earl Lorden, Dick Bergquist, and Mike Stone) in the past 66 years.
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Anyone who has attended a sporting event at UMass is familiar with the Baby Berk food trucks, which offer a variety of sandwiches and snacks. During spring afternoons these trucks make the rounds of campus, stopping at events and locations all over Amherst. When there is a game being played at Earl Lorden Field, the truck will be certain to stop there, too. Don't delay, as the truck doesn't stick around for too long. Fans who wish to bring their own refreshments to the game are more than welcome to do so.
The game day presentation at Earl Lorden Field mirrors many other schools in the northeast, in that there is nothing elaborate or particularly noteworthy going on to interfere with fans' enjoyment of the game at hand. There is a good PA system here, which is used only to announce lineup changes and upcoming batters. Music is played between innings, but can hardly be considered intrusive. Most of the noise at a Minutemen baseball game comes from the crowd, which, while not overly large, is into the game and supports the players on both teams.
On a nice spring day the UMass campus is abuzz with activity. It is a common site to see several Minutemen teams in action all over campus, alongside a myriad of other activities that keep the 29,000 students busy. For a sports fan, this is a fantastic opportunity to sample all the sports that this school has to offer as you wander around campus. And best of all, most of the teams don't charge admission.
Amherst is consistently rated as one of the best college towns in the country. Downtown is located within walking distance of campus (well, walking distance for a college student), and is chock full of restaurants, shops, and things to do. With five colleges located in and around Amherst, the options are many and varied. Take a walk down Main Street and you can find restaurants ranging from African cuisine to French gourmet, from places specializing in brunch to sidewalk cafes. Of course, there are plenty of traditional sports bars to go around. Even though UMass is a self-contained campus, Amherst Center is only a mile away. There are numerous shuttle busses that carry students from campus to points throughout Amherst and nearby Hadley.
Lodging options in Amherst proper are somewhat limited, but with several options in neighboring Hadley, and with Springfield only 30 minutes away, you won't have to travel too far to find a place to stay after the game. For those wishing to eliminate the commute after the game entirely, the UMass Hotel and Conference Center is located at the center of campus, and is run entirely by students in the hospitality and tourism management program.
For those looking for more scholarly endeavors after taking in a game, the Amherst region boasts several museums, as any respectable college town should. Minuteman fans with a literary bend will find museums chronicling the works of authors ranging from Eric Carle to Emily Dickenson. Eclectic bookstores and quaint shops line Main Street, and the smell from the eateries up and down the street will make any mouth water.
The crowds at a UMass baseball game can be categorized as a "friends and family" type of crowd. Attendance generally doesn't exceed 250, and is usually quite a bit below that figure. Most fans in attendance have a personal connection with the players on the field, and as a result are vocal and very much into the game. There is a small presence at Earl Lorden Field by the student body, with most students taking in the action for just a short time before venturing off to other parts of the campus.
The University of Massachusetts is located in western part of the state, in the small town of Amherst. There are no highways that directly serve the UMass campus, but Route 91 is only six miles away if driving from most directions. If traveling to UMass from the east, you will take the Massachusetts Turnpike to Exit 8 (Ware) and travel many miles of country roads to the UMass campus. Enjoy the scenery along the way, you won't be getting there in any hurry.
Springfield is located 16 miles south of Amherst, and is served by both Amtrak and the Peter Pan Bus Lines. The larger cities of Boston, Albany, and Hartford are all less than a two hour drive from campus. The closest airport is Bradley Airport, just over the Connecticut state line.
Earl Lorden Field is located on the western edge of the UMass campus, tucked behind the Mullins Center and several open athletic fields. Parking is available in a small unpaved lot just beyond the left field line, or in lots behind the Mullins Center. Seating at the ball field consists of three sets of bleachers located behind home plate. Fans are welcome to bring their own lawn chairs or blankets and camp out along the hilled area along the right field line. Many fans choose this vantagepoint, as there are no nets here to interfere with one's view. There are no restroom facilities at Earl Lorden Field, just a cluster of port-a-johns beyond the trees on the left field line.
There is no charge for attending a Minutemen baseball game at UMass. Parking is also free in the lots adjacent to the ball field, and if you bring your own food to the game, it's possible to take in some high quality baseball without spending even a penny.
The game day experience at Earl Lorden Field is a bare-bones one, without too many features that could be considered "extra." The team hands out a nicely done roster sheet, with player info, conference standings, and schedules.
The UMass baseball program was in serious danger of being eliminated in budget reductions back in 2009-2010. A grass roots fundraising effort saved the team, but the program remains far from the spotlight, overshadowed by several other sports at the university. The Minutemen baseball team mirrors most other programs in the Northeast, hampered by the relative lack of funding and short window of good weather in which to play games on campus. Earl Lorden Field, like so many others in New England, is a quaint, laid back place to catch a game on a sunny spring weekend. Fans looking for an elaborate game day presentation would be best served to look elsewhere.
If planning to visit college ballparks in New England, remember that the season takes place mostly during March and April, when the weather in this part of the country can be very unpredictable, and certainly not ideal for baseball. Cancellations, delays, postponements, and even changes in venue are common here. Be sure to plan ahead, and keep a close eye on the forecast.
Follow all of Paul Baker's stadium journeys on Twitter @PuckmanRI.
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31 North Pleasant St.
Amherst, MA 01002
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