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Official Review by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The United Shores Professional Baseball League debuted in 2016 and set up home in Utica, Michigan in the suburbs of Detroit. The independent baseball league is home to four franchises that all play games at the $15 million Jimmy John's Field. The Utica Unicorns, Birmingham-Bloomfield Beavers, Westside Wooly Mammoths, and the Eastside Diamond Hoppers all rotate and play 75 games for 15 weeks from May to September ensuring a game every weekend.
The mastermind behind the USPBL is Andy Appleby who owns General Sports and Entertainment and funded the stadium construction. Appleby is the former owner of the Ft. Wayne Wizards (Midwest League) and Derby County Football Club (Football League Championship) and has borrowed many elements of his past and included them into the stadium to enhance the game day experience.
These elements include seven Founders Level and five Premium Dugout Suites on field level underneath the 2,000 seats that stretch from first to third base; home plate is 37 feet from the suites, the closest in all of professional baseball. The stadium also offers 12 Private Patio Cabana Suites, 18 On Field Diamond Tables, three Picnic and Group Areas, and grass berm seating behind right field. The AAA Clubhouse is a full-service bar featuring flat screen televisions, tables, couches, and lounge areas.
The ballpark has had success in its first season selling out 23 of its first 24 games and averaging 3,200 people per game. Appleby hopes to duplicate the success in other ballparks in Michigan and other Midwest states where he looks to open 10 ballparks that will house two teams apiece.
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".
Jimmy John's Field has lots of great menu options, but surprisingly not Jimmy John's sandwiches. The food is reasonably priced, with most items ranging between $5 and $7, while the snacks are in the $3-$4 range. The ballpark offers beef brisket sandwiches, pulled pork nachos and giant turkey legs from a vertical smoker. There are also cheesesteak sandwiches, tacos, Polish sausages, veggie burgers, hamburgers, and cheeseburgers.
Snacks and desserts include cookies, pretzels, cheese poppers, ice cream, gelato, nachos, cotton candy, popcorn, potato chips, and peanuts. The popcorn stand sells prepackaged bags in all of the clubs' colors of red, green, and purple. Pepsi products are sold throughout the ballpark. The beer selection includes nearby Sherwood Brewing Company's Disco Lemonade and Cracker Jacked Ale, along with All Star Amber and Pinch Hopper IPA from Brooks Brewing.
There are plenty of seating options for visitors at Jimmy John's Field. The 2,000 fixed seats provide a higher vantage point of the game, while the large grass berm seating area offers plenty of leg room behind right field. The wiffle ball and playground area is concentrated in the left field corner, but still provides great views of the ballgame taking place. It is not unusual to see a few kids and their parents swing for the fences and run around the bases.
There are usually two or three mascots walking around the ballpark. Ribbi (frog), Lancelot (unicorn), and Buzz (beaver) might even battle with one another for some great photo moments. Anyone of these mascots can also be seen outside on the main street or parking lot before the game greeting customers as they pull up into the ballpark.
Another interesting aspect of the ballpark is the proximity the fans are to the two bullpens. Each bullpen is within arm's length of fans and select party areas. They are so close that a pitcher might even bless you after you sneeze.
Appleby created a lot of nice details to ensure the ballpark's success. There are copious vantage points to enjoy the ball game, but all areas are not open to the general public as many of these sections cater to corporate sponsors, their workers, and large groups. However, it is one of the most appealing and surreal ballparks in the country.
Utica, Michigan is in the northern suburbs of Detroit. There are a few bars and restaurants near the ballpark to enjoy before or after the game. The newest destination is Danny J's Brick Tavern located in downtown offering wood fired pizzas, sandwiches, and salad.
Hogs Hollow Smokehouse is down the street and is a funky little joint specializing in barbecue, while great Irish fare can be enjoyed at Shamrock Irish Pub. A little further down the road by car are Buddy's Pizza for iconic Detroit-style pizza and Sherwood Brewing that will knock a buck off a pint with a game day ticket.
The fans have responded overwhelmingly to the new ballpark with various sold-out games and positive word of mouth. However, housing three teams may divide up the fans allegiance, but everyone in attendance during our visit was enjoying their time and it looks as if the Unicorns are the early favorites among the three ballclubs.
Jimmy John's Field is located on M-59 between I-75 and I-94. The ballpark is very easy to navigate around the wraparound concourse. Stairs and elevators take patrons to their seats. Bathrooms are conveniently located throughout the stadium and signage is clear and visible.
Parking is free and plentiful.
Tickets to Jimmy John's Field are broken up into six different price points. The lowest tickets are $6 lawn seats behind the right field fence and the most expensive are the $35 front row seats. In between, customers will find affordable price options when purchasing a ticket to the game. They include $10 drink rail, $12 backstop, $15 infield, and $20 platinum club. Parking to all games is free around the ballpark and street parking is available up the street in downtown Utica.
One extra point for the on field suites that are underneath the main seating section and are less than 40 feet from the backstop.
Another extra point for the wiffle ball baseball field tucked behind the right field corner.
The giant smoker that provides a wonderful aroma down the third base line is worth an extra point for your nose.
One final extra point for providing free parking for patrons.
There is a lot to say about Jimmy John's Field and the USPBL. There have been leagues in the past that have operated out of one baseball stadium, but those stadiums were nowhere near the caliber of Jimmy John's Field. The customer is greatly pampered and surrounded by a friendly staff and all the best features of the minor league experience. The stadium has created more traffic through downtown Utica businesses and provided a destination option for the populace of the metro Detroit area. If Appleby can harness this success to other ballparks around the midwest, he might very well be the smartest person in all of minor league baseball.
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45555 Utica Park Blvd
Utica, MI 48315