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Official Review by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The University of North Dakota is the oldest and largest university in the state of North Dakota, with more than 15,000 students and 225 degree fields available. The largest majors at UND are health sciences, energy and the environment, geology and entrepreneurship. The Grand Forks-based campus is going through a major expansion of its facilities, thanks to the oil/natural gas boom presently occurring in the state.
The UND baseball program has a long history, with its first season taking place in 1889. It had great success as a Division II program, going to the NCAA tournament in 1967, 1993, 2004 and winning conference championships in 1962, 1967, 1992 and 2004. Since moving to Division I in 2009, times have been tough for UND baseball, as they only have a .479 winning percentage. Presently the team plays in the Western Athletic Conference, which includes New Mexico State, Grand Canyon University, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Sacramento State University, Seattle University, Utah Valley College, UT-Pan American and Chicago State University. They also play many colleges located in the nearby Fargo/Moorhead metroplex on a regular basis, including North Dakota State University, Concordia University and Minnesota State University.
The UND baseball team plays its home games at Kraft Memorial Field, a facility owned and maintained by the Grand Forks Parks District and is located two miles from the UND campus. The stadium is in a very green setting, with bike paths and other recreational facilities surrounding it. Evergreens line the outfield fences and serve as a buffer to other activities going on during the game. Kraft Field features seating for 2,000 fans and a deck area along the third base line for fans to socialize and enjoy the game. Due to the harsh winters, heavy snow and short growing seasons, the stadium utilizes a FieldTurf playing surface on its infield and a natural turf outfield. The Parks District ownership of the field greatly restricts any advertising or identification of the facility as a UND-related facility. On the day of a game, temporary UND flags are placed around the 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".
Kraft Field has a fairly limited offering on its concessions menu. Drinks include hot chocolate, coffee, sodas and water, all priced at $2. Food choices consist of hot dogs ($2.50) and candy/chips at $1.25. There are numerous fast food restaurants along South Columbia Avenue where you can pick up a meal and eat at the park. The deck along the third baseline has several picnic tables with a great view of the field.
The vibe you get at Kraft is definitely that of a community park. There are a number of youth baseball, softball and tee ball fields adjacent to the UND's home field. There are joggers and walkers passing by on the nearby walking trails. The UND program is simply another activity in the park and does not tend to draw any larger crowds than any of the surrounding events.
Kraft Field is located just two miles from the UND campus, and the park is surrounded by a very nice residential neighborhood. In the larger sense of neighborhood, Grand Forks has been rated very highly for its quality of life by many national media. Among its plaudits are... "one of the top 10 college towns" (The College Destination Index), "one of the top 100 best small cities (CNN Money), "one of the top 100 smartest cities in the U.S." (Lumosity) and "one of the top 100 best communities for young people" (America's Promise). In visiting Grand Forks, you can see why it is so highly-rated, as it has a vibrant downtown, and excellent parks system with a greenway that spans more than 50 miles, excellent cultural offerings and a very educated population. It is also a very resilient town, as the downtown area was virtually destroyed by the 100-year flood of 1997. It has come back better and stronger.
As far as restaurants in the community to check out, I have two words.... Red Pepper. Red Pepper Tacos is an institution in the state of North Dakota. They have been reviewed by the Food Network, the Travel Channel and Good Eats for their remarkable Grinders, tacos and burgers that include ingredients you have would never thought of including... but it works. Another local favorite is The Blue Moose Bar and Grill.
The lodging in Grand Forks is largely located at the I-29 exit with nearly every brand / price range a traveler could look for.
It is very tough to be a UND baseball fan, as the sport is really treated as a stepchild compared to the other university sports. Amongst the challenges it faces are 1) a team with a losing record since moving to Division I, 2) the hockey program is the dominant sports team on campus, as it has won seven National Championships and finished second in the nation on five occasions, 3) baseball competes in the less prestigious WAC, while the major UND teams compete against more known and geographically contiguous schools in the Big Sky Conference, 4) the football, hockey, basketball and volleyball programs all have newly constructed facilities on campus, while baseball is conducted to a community park, 5) the weather throughout the season can be brutal... it is not uncommon for a game in mid-May to be in the 40-50 degree range, with constant gusting winds coming off the prairie. It is always a good idea to bring a heavy jacket and blanket, just in case.
A unique problem for all UND sports is the lack of a team nickname or mascot. The UND were formerly known as the "Fighting Sioux" and had to eliminate the name in 2012 due to NCAA rules prohibiting use of Indian-American nicknames (Florida State has a waiver). Despite the "official" discontinuation of the nickname and logo, a majority of the fans proudly wear the old team wear and cheer "Let's go Sioux!" during a UND baseball rally.
That being said, the fans that do come to the games are very supportive of the team. They usually are friends, classmates or family members of the players. The turnout for games is much greater when the opponent is North Dakota State, Concordia or Minnesota State as these are close geographic rivals.
UND is easily accessed via I-29, the main North/South artery in the state of North Dakota. It is 75 miles from Fargo and two hours from Winnipeg. Transportation options include regional air service through Grand Forks International Airport (GFK) and the Empire Builder Amtrak service. Local transportation is maintained by Cities Area Transit (CAT), which has a stop right outside of Kraft Field. Parking is free and plentiful at Kraft Field.
There is no admission charged for UND games and parking is free and plentiful at Kraft Field. The concessions are limited but reasonably priced. Baseball fans can bring their entire family and not break the bank at Kraft Field.
In the wake of the 1997 floods, the city of Grand Forks took the initiative to increase flood protection by building a greenway zone as a buffer between the Red River and the downtown area. The biking and walking trails are heavily used, a nature preserve has been added and the riverfront hosts many concerts and community events during the warmer months. The Alerus Center is located less than a mile from Kraft Field and is the center of activity for many of the wintertime events. It seats 13,000 for football and hosts concerts, tractor pulls, trade shows, circuses and other entertainment events throughout the year. Hockey rules at UND, and the Ralph Englestad Hockey Arena is widely regarded as the best college hockey venue in the country. The $100 million facility is simply an ice palace.
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