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Official Review by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Located on the banks of the Merrimack River, LeLacheur Park serves as home to both the UMass Lowell River Hawks and the Lowell Spinners, class A short season affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. While LeLacheur Park has hosted the River Hawks for several years now, it can claim the title of NCAA Division I’s newest stadium, as UMass Lowell moved up to college baseball’s highest level of competition in 2014.
The River Hawks joined the America East Conference the beginning of the 2014 season, and Lowell will serve as host to the conference championship in May, 2014. The park was named after Edward A. LeLacheur, a local civic leader who spearheaded the redevelopment of Lowell. The park was designed by Populous, the firm responsible for numerous prominent stadia worldwide.
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There is one concession stand open for River Hawk games, and it is more than sufficient to serve the crowds attending on any given day. The menu offers just basic fare, with hot dogs ($3), pretzels ($3), popcorn ($2.50), cotton candy ($2.50), candy ($1.50), and drinks ($2) comprising the entire menu. Pepsi products are featured here.
As with most venues located on campus, alcohol is not sold at UMass Lowell games. Don't be fooled by the many signs for various libations here. They are only available at Spinners games.
No matter how you slice it, a crowd of 500 in a 5,000-seat ballpark looks even smaller, and there is no way they can generate any significant amount of noise. On the plus side, fans attending a River Hawk game are free to spread out and sit wherever they please. Baseball purists will enjoy the laid back atmosphere and the ability to hear the umpires' calls as well as the chatter coming from the dugouts and around the infield.
The PA announcements and standard between-innings music do not intrude on this atmosphere as they seem to do in so many venues nowadays. It's possible to speak with your neighbors at LeLacheur Park without having to scream to be heard. Again, baseball purists will be pleased.
LeLacheur Park is located adjacent to several dormitories on the UMass Lowell campus in downtown Lowell. The city of Lowell was a major center for manufacturing during the Industrial Revolution. As a result of this rich history, Lowell contains many buildings of historical significance, several of which have been preserved by the National Park Service and remain in use today as museums open to the public.
Several of these old mill buildings are within walking distance of LeLacheur Park. As is the case with many industrial cities of the north, the boon that brought prosperity to these cities faded, and with it went many jobs and a great deal of money. During this time, the city of Lowell obtained a reputation as a violent, crime-ridden city, best to be avoided. Recent decades have been kinder to Lowell, and there has been a growth in business, cultural, and educational development in the city. Statistically, Lowell is safer than many other New England cities of similar size, but unfortunately Lowell's bad reputation lingers to this day.
Fans arriving early to LeLacheur Park can walk along the Riverwalk and observe some of the rapids that powered the old mills back in the days of the Industrial Revolution. Located a short distance from LeLacheur Park is the Lowell National Historical Park, which contains several buildings significant for their involvement in the growth of manufacturing in Lowell and beyond. Fans of American literature should be sure to check out the memorial for native son Jack Kerouac, which is part of the tour.
Despite the revitalization of the city of Lowell, there are not many options for food or lodging for visiting fans in the immediate vicinity of LeLacheur Park. Fans looking for a place to gather before or after a game for a bite to eat or (more specifically) a drink will be pleased to find the Lowell branch of Boston Beer Works located in one of the old mills about a block from LeLacheur Park. Beer Works is known for their wide variety of craft beers and fine food. It's a must-see for those fans who enjoy sampling some local flavor along with their sporting journeys.
There is absolutely no way that a few hundred fans can fill up a 5,000 seat ballpark, no matter how much they spread out. The River Hawks are new to Division I, as are the majority of UMass Lowell's teams. Here in Lowell, hockey is king, as the River Hawks hockey team has played in their sport's top level for many years, boasting several NCAA tournament appearances in recent years. The university's other teams have yet to enjoy the support that the hockey squad enjoys.
Typical crowds at LeLacheur Park currently number between 100-250, and it is not unusual for visiting fans to outnumber the home fans. Despite the proximity of the ballpark to several dormitories, there is not a significant presence from the student body here. Those fans who do show up are dedicated and loyal, and make their presence known.
While hardly a destination city in its own right, Lowell's proximity to Boston makes it an easy stop for baseball fans traveling in the area. Lowell is located 25 miles northwest of Boston, served by the Lowell Connector off of Interstate 495, a short drive from both interstate 95 and route 3. Parking is plentiful near the ballpark, with a few small surface lots and a small garage located nearby. Fans willing to walk a few blocks can find plenty of free on-street parking as well. Fans arriving to Lowell by train will arrive at the Amtrak station a mile away from the ballpark. The bus station in Lowell is located in the same complex, and has routes that drop passengers off at the nearby campus.
LeLacheur Park features a single concourse at the top of the seating bowl, which allows fans to watch the action on the field while waiting in line for concessions. Getting around the ballpark is easy, and fans have their choice of seating due to the small crowds present. One pair of bathrooms are open for River Hawk games, and they are more than adequate for the size of the crowd in attendance.
There is no charge for admission at UMass Lowell baseball games at LeLacheur Park. Parking is available for a small fee in the garage located behind the ballpark. Fans looking to park on-street should be aware of the hours of operation of the meters. Time on the meters can only be purchased in two-hour blocks, so the garage is truly the better option here. Prices for food are reasonable, so an afternoon at a River Hawk game will not break the bank. It's entirely possible to spend an afternoon at a game for under ten dollars.
Since LeLacheur Park was built to minor league specifications, UMass Lowell enjoys many fine amenities that other local college teams do not get to experience. Fans will appreciate the free roster sheets handed out to all fans upon arrival to the ballpark, as well as the large video board in left field.
There are no shortage of places to sit at a River Hawks game, and fans are free to pick their favorite spot in the ballpark. Fans looking for the most interesting backdrop should choose to sit along the third base side, where the backdrop includes a bridge across the Merrimack River, which runs behind the left field wall, along with several old mill buildings. It's a nice contrast to the action going on down on the field.
Since LeLacheur Park opened for the Spinners in 1998 it has been one of the most sought after tickets in the area. Spinner games are frequently sold out, and Standing Room Only crowds are the norm here. With the River Hawks moving up to Division I in 2014, it is now possible to get out to LeLacheur Park without battling the crowds present for Spinners games.
The partnership between NY-Penn League teams and NCAA teams has been successful in many other cities (see Joseph Bruno Stadium in Troy, NY and Medlar Field in State College, PA). It's a natural fit, as the seasons do not overlap, and it increases the amount of dates that a given stadium can be in use. With UMass Lowell being new to Division I, it will take some time for the River Hawks to draw big crowds, but they certainly have a great venue to use in the meantime. LeLacheur Park already rivals any college stadium in the Northeast.
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50 Warren St
Lowell, MA 01852
30 Industrial Ave E
Lowell, MA 01852