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Official Review by Daniel Armstrong, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
In 2011 the University of Illinois baseball team went on a miracleous run, going from the bottom half of the Big 10 standings to capture the regular season and conference tournament championships. Streaks like this are typical of Illini Athletics in recent years, although most of them have been losing streaks. The site of the spark of this unusual positive turn-around, the Illini's home turf Illinois Field.
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".
Illinois Field is a typical college baseball stadium with typical stadium food. My recommendation would be the Big 10 dawg for $3. Among the stadium's other offerings were brats, nachos, popcorn, or a "jumbo" pretzel for $3 each. Candy and chips for $1 a piece are on hand as well.
The refreshment options are water ($2), Coke products ($2 or $4), a hot chocolate for those crisp spring evenings ($2), or a delicious frozen lemonade for those sizzling summer afternoons ($3).
It is far from an electric environment at Illinois Field, but it is better than most of the college parks I have visited. With the stadium 3/4 full of Illini orange and a large number of the opposition in the outfield lawns it was definitely unique. I really liked the cow bells the students brought, although by the 6th inning they had lost their charm.
It's a typical college sports park neighborhood surrounded by Assembly Hall, Memorial Stadium, the Illinois Soccer Complex, Eichelberger Softball Field, Historic George Huff Hall, and the U of I Armory (which at the time of its construction in 1914 was the largest free span, no center support structure in the world).
As far as restaurants, bars, and entertainment you will not find many options within comfortable walking distance. My recommendation would be going about a mile north of Memorial Stadium to the "campus town" area. Filled with several options for students and fans alike it's the perfect place to find a spot to grab a bite to eat and relax after a game.
Illinois fans have a history of being fair weather fans so at the time of my visit when the Illini were 7th in the Big 10 I wasn't expecting much. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find a mostly full stadium with a rowdy group of fans. There were more students at the game than at any other NCAA baseball event I have attended so that's worth an extra point in this category.
The stadium itself is easy to find and parking is plentiful between the stadium's lot and a large grassy area between Illinois Field and Assembly Hall. There is one men's and one women's bathroom on the concourse, and you shouldn't expect to find a line, so there's no need to miss any of the game action.
Admission is $5 for an adult and $3 for children. It's an affordable event for families to attend. When you combine that with reasonable concessions and free parking it comes to around $12 per person, which is about perfect for the experience you will find inside. While it's not the best stadium to catch a game, it does have a unique feel which is deserving of a visit for a NCAA baseball fan.
Although it isn't the most aesthetically pleasing sight, the artificial turf is a plus as it greatly reduces weather cancellations, a problem which often plagues collegiate baseball teams in the Midwest. The plaques on the concourse naming past and present Illini in the big leagues was a nice way of bringing the history of the program alive. I also liked the message screen on the scoreboard, which is still a unique feature for on-campus ballparks.
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