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Official Review by Sean Rowland, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
When the name “St. John’s” comes up, the immediate thought in the sports world turns to basketball. But there is another sport in which the school has historically seen success. The Northeast US is not exactly a hot spot for college baseball, so it is surprising to some that the Johnnies have made the NCAA Tournament 34 times, with six of those appearances ending in a trip to the College World Series. Their home field is relatively new, as it was built in 2000 and originally known as The Ballpark at St. John’s. The school honored former athlete, coach and longtime AD, Jack Kaiser, with a renaming ceremony in 2007. The all-bleacher facility seats 3,500, which is unusually large for the region. Despite the size and young age, the word “stadium” should be used loosely, as there are several aspects missing from a standard ballpark.
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Without counting the lonely vending machine for drinks, the most notable omission is food, as not a single area features concession goods for fans. At the game I attended, there was a campus event next to the stadium that had food tents, thus satisfying my hunger. Otherwise, fans should prepare to bring in food if they want to eat during the game.
Jack Kaiser Stadium can be looked at in a few different ways. Within the Northeast region and the Big East Conference, the ballpark is relatively large and features more variety than the norm. On the other hand, it is a very basic stadium that does not offer all that much more in comfort or design. Made up of entirely bleachers, seating is set up behind home plate and then down the first base line. These metal seats also include a red back. Down the third base side, a separate and more temporary set of stand-alone bleachers can be found.
The outfield view is pedestrian, with a mix of trees and neighborhood housing. There is a scoreboard on the left field wall that at first glance seems simple enough with a box score. Between batters and during breaks, a nice video graphics package will run through various animations.
Queens is the easternmost borough of the five that make up New York City, and it is full of many smaller neighborhoods. St. John's University is right on the imaginary border between Jamaica and Hillside, though most people associate the school with Jamaica. While the immediate surroundings aren't bad (it's almost even briefly suburban if arriving from the west on Union Turnpike), there is nothing that entices the visitor to stick around before or after the game. Along the main nearby road, a classic city neighborhood includes a row of adjoining stores and restaurants. For those looking to dine, the Sly Fox Inn and Turnpike Café are a few stops worth looking into.
Outside of the immediate area, Queens is known for Flushing Meadows Corona Park, about a 15-minute drive away. In addition to being home to Citi Field and the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the grounds include an Art Museum, Science Hall and of the course the interesting remains of the 1964 World's Fair.
Each game features a couple hundred fans, and I counted close to 300 in attendance for the Saturday game I saw. The crowd is mixed between locals and students, and it is nice to see some of the kids supporting their school. A quiet atmosphere can be expected, with most of the cheers coming from the dugout and nearby families of those playing.
Getting to Jack Kaiser Stadium by car is surprisingly easy, thanks to a plethora of expressways and highways that reach the area. While the Grand Central Parkway is closest, I found coming from the Clearview Expressway (I-295) easiest, as Exit 2 leads right to Union Turnpike and St. John's is just a mile or so down the road on the left. After entering either Gate 3 or Gate 4, a large parking lot can be seen in the athletic complex near the ballpark. Traffic at times is an issue, but weekend games are easier to drive to than during a weekday.
Surprisingly for a city that relies heavily on mass transit, arriving by train or subway is not as simple. The closest station is about a 20-30 minute walk to the ballpark. Via subway, the end of the F train runs to Hillside Ave, while commuters via the Long Island Rail Road can stop at the Jamaica station. Neither are optimal choices, so driving to the game is best, if possible.
Another confounding aspect of the stadium is the near complete lack of bathrooms. Only one single port-a-potty is available; tucked around a corner at the end of the seating. Not only is there just one bathroom, but the players also use it! You certainly don't want to get caught in the way of a ballplayer scrambling for the facility in between innings.
St. John's is one of only two Big East schools to charge admission for baseball, but the Johnnies also play in the second-largest conference ballpark. Tickets run $6 and parking is free. While this is not an ideal place for college baseball, it is at least a Division I game.
While the exterior design of the ballpark is nothing more than the guts of the bleachers, the front entrance is at least nicely decorated. Two large baseballs are incorporated into the sidewalk, and as the season turns to spring, red tulips bloom in many of the landscaped areas. There is also a nice entrance that includes an arched sign reading "Jack Kaiser Stadium".
Another point for using the catchy song "New York Groove" after each run scored.
Jack Kaiser Stadium may be a bare-bones facility, but it is one of the larger college ballparks in the Northeast, and it is home to a perennially good St. John's squad. A visit to the stadium offers a simple baseball experience, but be sure to eat and use the bathroom before arriving.
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187-20 Union Trnpk
Fresh Meadows, NY 11366
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