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Official Review by Mike Poirier, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The Kitchener Panthers baseball club is one of the founding teams of the Intercounty Baseball League, which got its start in 1919, along with Galt, Guelph and Stratford. The franchise is community owned and a volunteer run baseball team. Since joining the IBL, the team has been known as the Legionnaires and Dutchmen, before settling on Panthers in 1960.
The Panthers franchise has called Jack Couch Baseball Park in Kitchener home since 1967. The ballpark is located next the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, which is home to the Ontario Hockey Leagues Kitchener Rangers. Since joining the IBL, the Panthers have won ten championships, which is the second most in league history, only behind the Brantford Red Sox, who have eleven.
With the age of the facility, and lack of certain amenities like a field house with on-site change rooms, proper food service and accessible washrooms, the team is in talks with Conestoga College about building a new stadium. If everything falls into place, the team hopes to move to a new stadium in time for the centennial celebration in 2019.
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".
It's a pretty basic selection of items at Jack Couch, but everything is reasonably priced. With the hot summer days, freezes tend to be very popular for the kids, and they offer 25 cent licorice which is fun. There is a decent selection of pop and Gatorade for drinks, and there is also beer available for the adults.
With the history and success the franchise has had in Kitchener, there is a large following for the Panthers, and the stands are nearly full most games. Being that it is community owned like the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, there is a sense of pride among the fans. The staff at Jack Couch are very friendly, and go out of their way to help those in attendance.
The stadium is located in a residential area, just off the expressway. If you are looking to eat before or after the game, there are plenty of options both north and south of the stadium along Ottawa Street, or you can travel to downtown Kitchener which is only about five minutes away, with variety of options.
The city of Kitchener is a great sports town, as the local teams always come first. When you attend a Panthers game, it's like visiting a big family, who welcomes everyone that comes out to the game, even if you're a visiting fan. Great friendly atmosphere, but the fans are still a passionate group who love to cheer on the home team.
Jack Couch Stadium is very easy to get to as it's right next to the expressway. If you are coming from out of town, the best exit to take would be Ottawa Street, and simply follow the signs that point to the Aud. When you arrive, you will find plenty of free parking, and although the games are well attended, there is room to walk around, and not feel like you're walking into people wherever you go.
Once you arrive at Jack Couch, you will notice a single entrance to the stadium, which is in front of a small triangular building that has your washrooms, concession stand and press box seating. The Panthers have a tent to the right of the entrance which has a wide selection of team merchandise. The team also has a hall of fame section along the fence across from the concession area that honors some of the Panthers all-time great players.
The park is pretty easy to navigate, and you will find several grandstands for seating behind home plate and along the baselines. The stadium can seat 1400 fans, and the seating is first come first serve. There are some seats which have an obstructed view due to the presence of stadium light posts near the dugouts.
Tickets to a Panthers game cost a little more than some of the other IBL fields, as general admission is $10, seniors and students are $7, but kids 12 and under are free. Despite the higher cost, the atmosphere of Jack Couch, and seeing a competitive team easily makes up for it.
Since the Panthers are one of the older teams in the league, it's great to see how they honor their past with the hall of fame. It may seem like a small gesture, but it leaves a lasting impression for the fans and builds on that team pride which you can't miss when you attend a Kitchener Panthers baseball game.
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