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Official Review by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Baseball in Kalamazoo has been played on the same site since 1926, but Homer Stryker Field has gone through a few changes. Originally built in 1963, the majority of the structure was replaced in 1995, including modern aluminum bleachers, press box and buildings. The 4,000 seat structure is separated into three sections with a covered grandstand that houses the press box and the Home Plate Club seats. The Growlers have also renovated the stadium prior to their inaugural season of 2014, adding the Miller Lite Party Zone in left field, the Bell's Bear Cave in right field along with plenty of eye-pleasing aesthetics towards the franchise.
The Growlers return marks the first time summer baseball has been played at the stadium since the Kalamazoo Kings of the Frontier League left after the 2008 season. Prior to the Kings, the Kodiaks called the stadium home from 1996-1998. Will the six year absence of baseball finally bring sustainable success for baseball in the city? The Growlers will make sure that if it doesn’t, it will not be their fault.
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".
The Growlers offer an array of food and beverages that are fairly inexpensive and reasonable on anyone's budget. However, the star of the menu board might be the bear claw burger which is a half-pound Angus hamburger topped with barbeque pulled pork, macaroni and cheese and coleslaw between two bear claw shaped donuts for $12. It is a menu item for the most adventurous and daring ballpark fan.
On the lighter side are hot dogs, brats, hamburgers, chicken griller dogs, turkey legs, pulled pork sandwiches and another odd sandwich of pulled pork with mac and cheese (all between $3-$6.25).
The beer on tap is highlighted from local Bells Brewery. If you are looking for value for your dollar, then the all-you-can-eat patio picnic section down the third base line and left field features hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwiches, brats, pop and beer for a mere $25. If you figure in a couple of hot dogs and beers, it might be the best option at the ballpark.
The Growlers staff makes you feel welcome the minute you walk through the front gates. The ushers and interns are friendly and a few will engage in a 3-5 minute conversation if you allow them. It is a natural vibe that does not seem forced or scripted. The game itself is center-stage, but the objective is to have fun and hopefully get fans to return for a few more games during the season. In this regard, the Growlers receive an A+ in the teacher's grade book.
The main entrance is situated in back of the right field corner and is decorated with a couple of wooden bear statues, a mural dedicated to the history of baseball in the city and a tribute to former Boston Red Sox relief pitcher and father of the team's co-owner, Dick Radatz (AKA The Monster). The team's official souvenir shop is located a few steps away and offers an impressive array of eye-popping merchandise that will need a bigger space in the future. Still, the area is located next to the Sno Cone stand and kiddie games to create a high traffic area.
The aluminum grandstand bleacher seating, perfect for feet stomping, is broken up into three sections, but it is in the middle area where the best seats are to be found. Bucket seats make up the majority of the covered grandstand and there are a few columns that add an old-style feeling to the park.
If you are a little more daring with your dollar or part of a local business, the Home Plate Club may be the most unusual, but self-gratifying option at Homer Stryker. In between the seating underneath the grandstand are nine granite tables that feature four swivel chairs that were once home at Baltimore's Camden Yards. For $200 a person per game you could have one of these chairs complete with full dinner service, all-you-can-eat food and drink options, and your first beer is served in a growler. A full season is $6,000 and if you think this is expensive, these seats are nearly sold for the entire inaugural season.
Barlee is the official mascot of the team and he is active during the course of the game and usually has a trail of a couple kids tagging along. His image is posted everywhere throughout the stadium. The organization has plastered their logos and colors just about everywhere imaginable. There is also a kid section of inflatable rides and games located in back of the left field stands, which also features cutouts of Barlee and team players.
The bathrooms add a piquancy of their own by hanging photos of hometown hero Derek Jeter's former girlfriends above the urinals. Is this tacky? Perhaps. But why not have a little fun? The team also features photos of Hollywood starlets who have appeared in baseball motion pictures.
You are close to downtown, about a mile or two, so one probably needs a car to enjoy a few of the fine restaurants and brewpubs in Kalamazoo. However, how is a few miles going to hurt you before or after the game? Bells and Arcadia are the two reputable brewery pubs in town, but there are a few new guys on the block. Gonzo's and Boatyard have joined the fray of breweries in Kalamazoo. Not only do you get some amazing beer choices like Mr. Castries Vilnius that has been aged in Jamaican rum barrels, but you also have world class food options like the smoked barbecue at Arcadia.
If you are interested in a little fun with your food and drink then the Beer Exchange is your best bet. Beer prices are set up on the board around the bar and restaurant and fluctuate up and down like stock prices on Wall Street every 30 minutes. Beer prices are set based on business of the night and when the market crashes, the customer can purchase pints with prices that have fallen 50%. I did enjoy a few $2.50 pints of New Holland Black Tulip and Southern Tier Farmers Tan.
As I wandered around downtown Kalamazoo haphazardly, I stumbled upon Coney Island Hot Dogs that were just named one of the top ten coneys in Michigan. I have to admit, that my coney dog was quite delicious and flavorful. The bun was steamed, the dog was perfectly grilled and the meat sauce was a Flint-style (sans tomato sauce). I highly recommend stopping here for a quick bite, lunch or a place to have a conversation with a few friends when in town. It is regional dishes that make ballpark traveling a lot of fun and one can enjoy downtown without attending a baseball game.
Fans are beginning to learn about collegiate wood bat league baseball, and they are a group of supporters that want to see a victory. They are happy that baseball is back in town and are hoping for many summers of excitement on the diamond in Kalamazoo.
Homer Stryker Field is situated a few miles from downtown and about four miles from I-94. There are not many signs guiding you to the stadium, but with GPS it is an easy destination if you know the exact address of the ballpark. Parking is free and that is a huge advantage in attracting fans to the games, since the Growlers could easily charge $5 a car. Instead, you are directed by friendly ushers to your spot in the grass parking lot.
Ticket prices at Homer Stryker Field go up one dollar the day of the game. It's a practice that I am not a huge supporter of, but it has been common practice in the world of minor league baseball. The general admission and reserved tickets are $8 and $11 on game days and the family fun zone prices are $6, but there is no alcohol allowed in this section. The Miller High Life Party Zone is the all-you-can-eat section that also goes up a dollar on game days to $26. My suggestion is to purchase the $8 tickets and enjoy a couple of beers with your friends.
The Kalamazoo Growlers have done their homework in regards to food options, ticket prices and fan entertainment. The vibe at the ballpark is vibrant and exciting and is clean and in immaculate condition. Homer Stryker Field is not too old, but the place seems brand new with the Northwoods League in town. Add in free parking, inexpensive tickets and a friendly staff and you have a product that people will come back to.
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355 E Kalamazoo Ave
Kalamazoo Township, MI 49007
140 S Westnege Ave
Kalamazoo, MI 49007
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