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Official Review by Jim Flannery, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The Western Major Baseball League has been in operation since 2001 as a top-level collegiate summer league. Several WMBL alumni have been drafted by Major League teams over the years, including reliever Jim Henderson, who broke into the MLB with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2012.
Two new teams were added to the Western Division for the 2016 season bringing the league up to a total of 12 teams. One of the new teams is the Brooks Bombers.
Brooks is a small city between Calgary and Medicine Hat on the Trans-Canada Highway in southern Alberta (closer to Medicine Hat than Calgary). With a population of more than 13,000, Brooks has a thriving business community, driven by the oil and gas industry as well as agriculture. Brooks is also one of the most culturally diverse cities in Canada and as a result is known as "The City of 100 Hellos" because of the many different languages spoken.
The Bombers play at Elks Field, part of the Quad Ball Diamond Complex on the east side of the city. The field is quite new, having opened in 2014, and has the look and feel of a new facility.
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Elks Field's grandstand has a concession stand built into the north (third base) side. The menu is pretty standard fare: hot dogs and hamburgers, chocolate bars and cans of pop among other things. My cheeseburger ($4.50) was fresh and tasty and you're able to load them up with your choice of condiments from a table to the immediate left of the concession booth.
Next door to the primary concession, to the left of the condiment stand, is a stand serving beer and Palm Bay coolers for fans looking for an adult beverage. Beer options include Bud Light as well as a couple more "exotic" options, such as Harvest Moon and Wild Honey from the Nelson Brewing Company in BC.
The feeling in the crowd is very laid back but pleasant enough. It seems like many of the people in the stands know each other as there are numerous conversations going on throughout the game.
Most people in attendance are there to primarily to enjoy a pleasant evening out with friends and family and the game going on is almost secondary to the experience. As a result, there isn't much energy or excitement in the crowd. Again, it isn't unpleasant; just not the boisterous, engaged atmosphere you may find elsewhere.
Because the field and the team are so new, there aren't many cues to tie the team to the diamond yet. No championship pennants (yet) or anything of that sort. There is, however, one key touchstone for the community: the scoreboard in left field is dedicated to the memory of Riley Martin, a local teen who was active in the Brooks sports community who died of cancer in 2014. This is a worthy tribute and a good foundation for connecting the community to the field for years to come.
Something else of note: unless you're in the grandstand, the sight lines around the field are less than perfect. If you're in the bleachers on the first or third base sides, you'll find that your view of the outfield corner on your side is probably at least partially blocked. Likewise, from the patio area on the third base side, between the Bombers dugout and the bleachers, your view of much of left field is obstructed by the dugout structure, and you may or may not get a look at the scoreboard from where you're sitting.
Likewise, while there is a ton of room for people who prefer to stand (between the grandstand and the bleachers, behind the patio, and down the foul lines) chances are your sight lines will be partially obstructed in one way or other if you choose this option.
Elks Field is located on the south side of a residential community on the far southeast of the city. Consequently, there is nothing in the immediate vicinity except houses. Should you wish to grab a bite to eat before or after the game, you'll be going for a drive.
The closest restaurant to Elks Field is Ace's Lounge and Grill, about 10 blocks away and tucked into the industrial district. A little bit further west you'll reach 2 Street W, which is the primary artery in the city, where most every other restaurant and bar can be found. Here you'll find all the usual franchise places as well as some local stuff such as the Mango Tree, which is a well-liked East Indian restaurant.
When all is said and done, the good news in a small city like Brooks is that you're never more than a 10-minute drive from anything, so you won't have to go far to get anywhere, but you'll still have to plan on taking the car rather than walking.
The fans in the crowd seem quite pleasant, but seem at least as interested in simply hanging out with each other as they are in seeing a ballgame. They seem to lack a passion for the game and their new team, but perhaps this will come in time. In their favour, on the other hand, quite a large number of fans are geared up in Bombers caps, jerseys, tee-shirts and other memorabilia, which suggests they are getting behind their team and supporting it. So maybe they are indeed passionate about the Bombers but don't express it vocally yet.
Brooks is a relatively small city, so getting around is pretty easy and fans should be able to find the diamond without a map, signage or detailed directions. The parking lot, on the far east end of the Quad Ball Diamond Complex, seems to have plenty of space for all the vehicles and the parking is free, so that's a good thing. As the park's seating capacity is less than 700, the lot empties quickly, even with just a single entrance/exit.
Once you're through the main gate you're into the multi-diamond park. Paved walking paths separate the diamonds from each other and provide lots of room for people to make their way around. They could probably double or triple the number of bleacher seats around the park without a significant impact on a fan's ability to get around the park.
Tickets to a Bombers game are all general admission and rush seating. They cost just $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $8 for youths (13-17 years old). Kids 12 and under are free when accompanied by an adult. That's a pretty good price to see baseball played by athletes who could find themselves drafted one day.
A Kinsmen-sponsored Play Area is located behind the grandstand for the youngsters. It is completely covered by mesh so there's no danger of a stray foul ball hitting someone having fun in there.
The Bombers have a well-stocked souvenir store at the back of the grandstand which is open prior to and at the end of games. Here you can get your hands on all manner of shirts, hats, and other Bombers swag.
Checking out a Brooks Bombers game is a nice little treat. There is still room for the franchise to grow and improve their fan experience, but they're off to a good start. As the team matures, chances are the product on and off the field will continue to improve.
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