When the Nebraska Cornhuskers host a college football game, the city of Lincoln becomes the second largest city in the state. It’s not quite the same, but similar in impact when Sauget, Illinois hosts Gateway Grizzlies home games at GCS Ballpark.
Sauget, Illinois is just over the Mississippi River from downtown St. Louis, Missouri. In fact, you can very clearly see the Gateway Arch and St. Louis skyline from the parking lot just a few miles away to the northwest. The confirmed population in this Illinois city is 249, but come game-day, the average attendance at GCS Ballpark balloons to 3,610, good for third place in the Frontier League in 2011, just 253 shy of the top spot.
GCS Ballpark was built ten years ago (the team played their inaugural season at nearby Sauget Field) and in that time, fans have been treated to a cumulative record of 516-491 in the regular season which included eight winning seasons out of eleven. They are owners of two Frontier League Championships. The club really knows how to generate worthwhile family entertainment at an affordable price. You can tell the team practices a thrifty perspective on spending funds, admirable with economies of scale being what they are in the Frontier League. Thankfully, they rely on an arsenal of clever, innovative ideas from a dedicated staff and a work ethic no other team exceeds to create a valuable fan experience.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There are three major concession areas at GCS Ballpark, behind home plate, far down the left field ine and near the right field foul pole. All provide a good variety of staples and a few very special delicacies.
First, let's get through the regular ballpark staples, things you would expect served within one-hundred feet of any diamond. A full listing is shown in the free game program and clearly outlined as you approach the stand selling these items. We'll get to the "special items" later in this section.
In the way of drinks, bottled soda, bottled water or a fountain drink is $3, a 12oz. beer is $2.50 while the larger 16oz. beer is $4.25. Specialty beers and cocktails are $4.50, wine is $4 while all mixed drinks and the 14 oz margarita are $5.
For main courses, bratwursts and super dogs are $3.25, a cheeseburger is $3.75 (add bacon for another $1), chicken strips are $4 and a grilled chicken breast sandwich is $4.25. A chili dog is $2.50 and a pizza slice is available for $3.
Nachos are $3, but add a $1 and get chili dumped on top. If you want a little more nachos variety, for $6 choose one of four different types, beef brisket nachos, pulled pork nachos, buffalo chicken nachos or Izzy's Cantina Nachos, a nod to the team's lovable mascot which includes all sorts of beans, cheese and chips.
For snacks, cotton candy and cracker jacks are $3, peanuts are $3.25, and popcorn is $3. Small bags of kettle chips, known as Billy Goat Chips here, go for $2 and a super pretzel for $2. Add a cheese cup for $0.50.
Kid's meals are available for $5 and include mini corn dogs or mac 'n' cheese bites, a fruit cup and a drink.
Save room for dessert. Bobby's Frozen Custard is $3.50, but get his Frozen Bananas for just $3. Northstar frozen novelties are just $2.
Before you decide on anything to eat though, make sure you consider the following three items and please consult your cardiologist before consuming. This advice brought to you by the American Heart Association.
The first "premium" choice is the Philly Cheesesteak Nachos. With apologies to Pat's or Geno's of Philadelphia, think of the standard tortilla chips, covered with shredded steak and dripped with Cheese-Wiz, that's right, Cheese Wiz. The stadium sells between 100-150 of these each game. One order, weighing a few lbs. costs just $6.00.
For accuracy sake, though, if you order a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich anywhere, it is authentic Philly Cheeseteak ONLY IF it includes Cheese Wiz. Do not accept anything less as fraud is being perpetuated throughout the country if Cheese Wiz is not in play.
The second premium choice is known as The Best Ballpark Burger. Consider a typical bacon cheeseburger with American cheese and instead of the typical, boring, bun, get the high octane version of an edible sandwich holder, a glazed donut. The unique part is so simple. They take a Krispy Kreme glazed donut, slice it and then use it as a bun, but putting the sugary side facing the burger on each side. The blending of grease, cheese and bacon is just too good to resists. The cut part of the donut faces outward, a very critical part of creating this unique culinary experience.
This choice includes 1,000 calories and 45 grams of fat. Be sure to ask for a few extra napkins, a large bib and add the complimentary angioplasty. Seriously, this is a one-of-a-kind treat that you should try just once in your life. The team sells 75-125 of these per game.
Third and lastly, you can order what is known as Baseball's Best Hot Dog. It is one giant, juicy grilled frank on a thick white bun buried in yellow nacho cheese sauce with sauerkraut, grilled onions and a few slices of crisp bacon on top. There is not one flavor that is dominant over another, but as good as it was, I would have doused the dog with American or cheddar cheese.
The field at GCS Ballpark sits below the main level in a bowl design, the exterior land built up around it and blended in with a delicate grade for a slight slope when approaching the entrance. For the 2012 season, the field surface is made of all synthetic material including the baselines and base areas. This provides a relatively maintenance-free field with an excellent drainage system underneath which will prevent delays and cancellations due to wet weather.
The only dirt you will find is on the portable pitching mound. The warning track near the outfield wall is laden with red clay gravel.
The only entrance is on the northeast side of the ballpark on the third base side. The box office and team store are located just to the left of this entrance. Upon entering the ballpark, the main concourse and visitor dugout are directly ahead of you.
The completely covered portion of the concourse is behind home plate to your right, but only extends to cover the area behind the four sections centered behind home plate where the main concession areas operate. To your left is the left field line where you'll find a second team store entrance, kid's play area and a partially covered main concourse.
The view for the batter as he watches the ball being thrown from the pitcher is due south. The first base line travels southwest and the third base line travels southeast. The Grizzlies dugout is along the first base side while the visitors take up the third base dugout. Both bullpens are on the foul side down the line from each team's dugout. There really isn't any shade in the main seating area as the sun never falls behind a stadium façade to provide protection.
The outfield wall stands twenty feet high and extends from the left field foul pole until it gets to right center field. That is where the height of the wall changes to four feet and completes the enclosure to the right field foul pole. Lawn seating is available down the left field line near the visitor's dugout and in the outfield where the wall is reduced to the lower height.
The distance measurements are 318 down the left field line, 345 in left center, 385 in straight away center, 342 in right center and a shallow 301 down the right field line, just shy of the palm tree and hot tub patio which hugs the foul pole. The foul area is quite wide from the seating area, but narrows to within a few feet as it stretches beyond the bullpens toward the outfield wall.
The netting behind home plate begins at section 107 and stretches to section 119, covering quite a distance, but good to know for those who do not like to view games through an obstruction from close distances. Sections 109 and 110 are directly behind the home dugout while sections 116 and 117 are behind the visitor's dugout.
There is just one scoreboard, an electronic version in left field as part of the large façade of advertising measuring thirty feet high. While you will find the necessary details of the game there, you will not find a pitching speed monitor or instant replay board to enjoy the plays you missed.
Seating options include main bowl, lawn seating, picnic table and private suite. In the main bowl, tickets are $10 in advance, $11 day of game. These are the closest seats to the action where you are never more than eleven rows from the field. These also are the only seats in the grandstand which offer a comfortable back.
Bleacher seats are $7 whether in advance or day of game and are your typical high school spectator seats with one continuous bench. You can find these in the foul territory along the first base side deep into the corner. This is pretty much removed from the action and are a means of overflow should the games get packed in the main bowl and lawn.
Lawn seating is $5 in advance, $6 day of game. Like most lawn seats, it is first come, first served. There are two distinct areas for this seating option, deep along the third base line close to the kid's area and the large canopy covering down the left field line or behind the outfield wall from the right field foul pole to left-center field.
Concourse tables are deep into the corner down the left field line, beyond the main bowl. Each table seats six for $36 in advance, $42 day of game. Fans can purchase an additional two seats for the table for $6 each. I would choose the area down the left field line for afternoon games as at least half the tables are covered by the large canopy stretching across the area in multiple layers. The still-under construction kid's zone and restrooms are right across the walkway from here.
For a special experience, there are twelve-person private suites on the second level that are a good way to entertain a dozen people. Take your pick by name as they honor favorite players and teams such as the Stan Musial suite, Ozzie Smith suite or the Babe Ruth suite to name a few. These are $300 for weeknights and Sundays, $400 for Friday and Saturday games. A defined number of beverages and food is included in this package.
These special seating areas provide an open-air offering which provides a second level view of the field with high tables and chairs with lots of room and several rows of regular stadium seats. Servers bring you your eats and drinks in this area. A private bar is also available to these patrons. The area is completely covered from the elements.
One last little neat surprise in the way of suites is the hot corner suite in left field or the hot tub suite at the right field foul pole. The hot corner suite provides seating for 12 to 24 at $144 or $288. This area is catered as well, but for an additional charge.
The hot tub suite is for a minimum of 10 for $120. Additional seats can be purchased and this area can be catered for an additional charge.
GCS Ballpark was built on very cheap land and the value of real estate has not gone up through the development of nearby shopping, restaurants or hotels. If you are coming to a game, count on the game and what's inside, and nothing more. That's all right though because it is a solid venue where the magic is inside the stadium, not outside. In fact, don't get lost leaving after a night game or you might find yourself in a bad situation. Keep in mind, East St. Louis is a stone's throw away and because birds of a feather flock together, well you get the picture.
Fans of the Grizzlies get it, they know how to have a good time and they love their team, even if the roster turns over frequently because of the nature of the collegiate-aged and older ballplayers that are found in independent professional baseball.
Access to GCS Ballpark is very easy. No matter where you are in St. Louis, you can get to the game in no time. The St. Louis Metro area (which includes the areas just east of the Mississippi River) has a major highway which provides access to anywhere you want to go in St. Louis.
On the St. Louis side, this ring or loop is known as Highway 270. As it crosses the Mississippi River either north or south of downtown St. Louis, it changes names to 255. Along Highway 255, you will look for exit 15 or Mousette Lane. The ballpark is set off the exit about a quarter mile west of the highway.
Parking is free on a decently leveled gravel parking lot. There is plenty of space for school buses as the team caters to large groups and Summer camps.
If you have a private jet, you can land and depart at St. Louis Downtown Airport, also known as Bi-State Parks Airport. The runway is just beyond the right field seating area.
Restrooms are plentiful in both locations and size. You will find them down the first base line across the concourse from section 107 and down the third base line closer to the outfield wall behind section 121.
The concourses are about 30 feet wide in most points. Still, the concession stand behind home plate gets so crowded it impedes traffic flow as lines extend from the counter to the back row of seats in those sections.
The Grizzlies and GCS Ballpark provide good value. You will depart the game, regardless of the outcome, very satisfied. Much of this is significantly aided by the feeling you get when you engage with one of the team officials or volunteers. There are many of them available for the appropriate expected crowd.
Unlike nearby Busch Stadium where the Cardinals allow you to bring in your own food and beverages with some limitations, you cannot bring in anything to eat at a Grizzlies game. That's all right though because the set prices provide value to what you buy and worth every penny. Plus, who wants to bring Philly Cheesesteak Nachos into a game anyway?
The programs, a full-size souvenir must-have from each game I attend, are free and can be found at a table down the left field line concourse just outside the team store. Separately, you must get the updated rosters and stats of both teams on one piece of paper, front and back, inside the team store though.
The team store is well-stocked with variety including fitted hats deep in the corner opposite the seating-side entrance. While there, you will find some good values including the foam claw at $8, official team cap at $24 and adult t-shirt at $18. I was a bit surprised, however, that the souvenir baseball was $8. I find them for $5-$6 in most ballparks, including MLB ballparks.
Parking is free and ensures a very short walk to the only entrance on the third base side. Traffic patterns provide for easy arrival and departure, but there won't be any shade for you to park under unless you find a cloud in the sky that will not be moving for four hours.
Additional points awarded for some of the best food in professional baseball, the unique hot tub seating area, and the overall value in Sauget, Illinois. Make the trip if you're anywhere in the area. This is a wonderful ballpark.
Just six miles east of Busch Stadium, across the mighty Mississippi, you'll find GCS Ballpark, home of the Gateway Grizzlies. There is no doubt that this part of the country is baseball country, and you'll feel that when you attend a game in Sauget, Illinois. You won't be blown away, but there are some unique features and niceties that make this an above average minor league experience.
There are no local entertainment entries. Help us build with your expertise!
3396 Green Mount Crossing Dr
Shiloh, IL 62269