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Official Review by Kirsten Richards, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
In a city that loves sport and has nationally and internationally significant stadiums within a couple of kilometres of the centre, Melbourne Ballpark is all on its own in the southwestern suburbs. If you are driving in from the city, you have a great view of the ballpark across undeveloped industrial land. The Aces did not move to Melbourne Ballpark until the 2012/13 season, having previously played at the more centrally located and intensively-scheduled Melbourne Showgrounds.
The Aces had a difficult 2014/15 season finishing in last place with a 15-31 win-loss record. This does not reflect the history of the club, which reached the finals in both of the first two seasons of the revamped competition. It also does not reflect the history of Victorian baseball, which has won more Claxton Shields than any other state.
This ballpark is heavily netted and that netting is frequently noticeable to spectators. There is a dedicated but small fan base and the noise level in the stadium can be very quiet. As a result the PA can sound very loud.
The entrance area is very congested, with a kiosk, the team shop and display cases of Victorian baseball and softball memorabilia all close together just off the main corridor. This area fills up rapidly and can feel very congested, even on days with fairly small crowds.
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".
The kiosk is the first thing you see as you enter through the one gate into the park. Sandwiches, fish and chips, chicken and chips, nachos, salads, fruit cups, hot dogs, donuts, and chocolate bars are available ranging in cost from $2.90 to $7.95. Soft drinks, beer, cider and pre-mix spirits are available also.
A number of food vans are in the picnic area on the first base side. They include the Matrix Fun Foods ice cream van, the Coffee2U van, the very popular Hoy Pinoy Filipino street-food van, the Gourmet Pies van, and the Meatball Company van selling pasta meals.
Homemade picnic style food and non-alcoholic beverages in un-smashable containers are welcome in the ballpark.
There is nothing of interest nearby the ballpark. The sense of being removed from the city and in a desolate wasteland is a big disadvantage for the ballpark to try and overcome, especially when it is surrounded by high, barbed-wire fencing.
Beyond the outfield are some smallish trees and a freight rail line. The infield has a patchwork appearance, with its synthetic green turf, synthetic brown turf along the base paths, real dirt around the bases and on the pitchers mound, and real grass in the outfield. The delineation of the different zones on the field is visually unusual.
The heavy netting particularly separates the crowd from the action. The netting covers the picnic hill areas along first and third base as well, and actually extends horizontally overhead. Surprisingly, this doesn't feel too enclosed, but it is certainly noticeable.
Apart from the shade umbrellas over some of the first base picnic tables, the only shade available is under the hard protective shelter over the reserved seating area. The fold down seating is a little cramped, but overall the ballpark is reasonably easy to move around when a small crowd is at the venue.
The crowd at the games are fairly quiet and the PA can be very loud. The Aces run numerous promotional days and activities suitable for those days and get reasonable buy-in from the crowd. Overall, the crowd is small and quiet.
The thing that saves the Aces' atmosphere is the postgame casual mingling on the field. Old and new fans, players, staff and front office personnel all spend time together chatting and catching up. The Aces make a big effort to make the team available to the fans.
Certainly Aces faithful will be hoping that Justin Huber's term as General Manager will see a bump in attendance and a louder crowd.
There is really nothing of interest in the immediate area of the ballpark. Close to the Laverton train station are a number of suburban restaurants selling pizza, Chinese food and the like. Walking from the train station to the ballpark takes about 10-15 minutes and is very boring, with the sights including suburban houses, small roads and larger roads.
Inner city Melbourne is a great tourist destination, with a huge amount to do and see. Melbourne is known for sport, coffee, great food, discount fashion and a vibrant arts scene. Take the tram to St Kilda to visit Melbourne's oldest beach. St Kilda also has a number of truly excellent cake shops.
Other popular activities in and around Melbourne include visiting Phillip Island to see the fairy penguins and heading an hour or two out of the city to visit one of the five easily accessible wine regions nearby.
Melbourne Aces fans are extremely welcoming and friendly and know their team and their baseball inside-out.
The jet fighter theme carries through with the section of devoted members under the shade structure behind home plate is known as The Hangar.
The kids cheerfully get involved with any and all activities and several adult fans make a big effort to join in activities and keep things rolling.
Despite the distance from the centre of the city, it is a surprisingly quick (15 minutes) drive on the M1 toll highway. Parking at the ground costs $5, but be sure not to park too close as the parking area receives a few foul balls every game.
The ballpark can be reached by public transport, via the train and a moderate distance walk. The train leaves from Melbourne Central every 10 minutes or so and takes about 30 minutes to get to Laverton. The walk can be done either inside the railway curve and requiring an elevated pedestrian bridge crossing, or a longer walk around the outside of the railway curve. The walk takes around 15 minutes. Some parts of the walk are without a footpath.
The bottom level concourse, which is under the stands, includes the entrance, kiosk, team shop and bathrooms. It is a little narrow and a bit dark, and feels like a hallway. Stopping to take the time to enjoy the Victorian baseball and softball memorabilia cabinets feels like you're in the way (but totally worth it). The team shop also feels cramped and wedged into a corner that was not designed for it.
Disabled seating is at ground level. Bathrooms are also at ground level and are unremarkable.
Parking is pricey for the league, especially given the lack of easy options to get to the ballpark.
Ticket pricing is reasonable and ticket packages cutely tie-in with the jet fighter theme, with Fighter Pilot, Co-Pilot and Wingman membership levels. Single game tickets range from $5-$50, depending on promotions and concessions.
The food concessions are interesting and a little different to what else is offered across the league.
The collection of Victorian baseball and softball memorabilia is a great addition to the venue and deserves a space that makes it easier to enjoy it.
The fans are very, very welcoming and very helpful to visitors.
Member Review by megminard on Dec 26, 2013
The Melbourne Aces are a team in the ABL (Australian Baseball League) and has two of the Colorado Rockies minor league players. They play in the Melbourne Ballpark in Laverton (a suburb of Melbourne). Before the 2012 season, the Aces played in the Melbourne Showgrounds, near the Flemington Racetrack.
There are mixed reviews of moving the team to Melbourne Ballpark. The Showgrounds is closer to the downtown area of Melbourne and is more accessible for folks. However, the Showgrounds was deemed unsuitable for the Aces to play because of the variety of other events booked at that venue.
The Melbourne Ballpark was the host of the 2013 ABL All-Star Game.
Baseball and softball have been played in the Melbourne area since the late 1800’s. The Melbourne Ballpark entryway contains two display cases of baseball and softball trophies and accomplishments throughout the years.
Other baseball teams that have played in Melbourne are the Melbourne Monarchs and the Bushrangers. The stadium is also used by the Victorian Softball Association and the Victoria Summer League.
All dollar amounts listed in this review are Australian dollar value (AUD).
Member Review by uita71 on Jan 05, 2014
I went into my journey thinking that Melbourne wouldn't rank high on my list but surprisingly I found it to be a facility similar to most minor league ballparks in the US. The seating was comfortable, the concessions were plentiful and spread nicely throughout the ballpark, and the fans were the most spirited in the league. Unlike most parks where the suites are at the top of the seating concourse Melbourne places them near the bottom which was interesting, but the amenities looked to be well done.
The park is out of the CBD and not close to anything. You'll be going to a baseball game and nothing else, and traffic can be hectic at times so plan accordingly.
Overall I would recommend Melbourne Ballpark; Melbourne is the pre eminent sporting city in Australia and you will enjoy yourself.
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