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Official Review by Eric Taylor, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Just a few hundred feet from the watchful eye of Pearce-Ford Tower sits yet another athletic facility in Bowling Green, Kentucky on the campus of Western Kentucky University that offers up a large dose of the “college/university” look and feel. The Pearce-Ford Tower is the 13th tallest building in Kentucky standing 130 feet and 27 stories tall that serves as a female dormitory known as “PFT” to students and Bowling Green locals. Western Kentucky offers up this “college/university” look and feel about as well as any school in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Football (Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium) and basketball (E.A. Diddle Arena) are represented well on campus with great structures that lack pretentious and ostentatious personalities while simultaneously providing fans with architecture that is rich in both charm and tradition.
Baseball’s Nick Denes Field’s understated beauty does nothing but strengthen the above claims about Western Kentucky’s athletics facilities.
With brick wrapped around the entire outside façade of the ballpark, the Nick pays homage to what a baseball field should be. The one game that can be directly affected by the architecture of the stadium is baseball and the Nick takes this position seriously. The walls are tall, the grass is as green as envy, and the shadows fall on the field in the middle of a late afternoon game as if God Himself felt the need to put a finishing touch on the atmosphere that can’t be designed in blueprint or AutoCAD.
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".
A bratwurst, nacho and souvenir soda will run you $13. You could eat the bratwurst OR the nachos, but then again, you could use soap in the shower OR just let the water run over you. Do us all a favor in either situation and have both.
The price tag for concessions is a little high, but you get a good selection of food and with the price of admission hovering at a very affordable $3 for youth/$5 for adults, it is easily a fair trade. There is nothing you can order that is exclusive to Nick Denes Field, but the food is good and worth paying the prices to get a taste of the ballpark.
PRICE LIST: Souvenir Soda ($4.50), Bottled Soda ($3.50), Small Soda ($2), Bratwurst ($4.25), Large Popcorn ($4.25), Nachos ($4), Hot Dog ($3.50), Candy ($2.50), and Sunflower Seeds ($2.50).
There's a good selection with no exclusive WKU flavor, and the 21-and-up decks on each baseline that the student journalism guys in the press box agreed we would call the Cold Beers Deck bumps up the overall food and beverage. Basically, it's a place for anyone who enjoys an adult beverage at a college baseball game to do so in his or her own designated area.
According to a Bowling Green Daily News article from March of 2012, these Cold Beers Decks accommodate 100-125 people. There is a grill and beer is sold in this area. Anyone inside Nick Denes Field has access to this deck, but there is someone there to check your ID before entering, so if you are 14 years old and are thinking of sneaking up there, don't try it.
With Big Red running around shaking his hula hoop tire gut to the beat of every hip hop and country song that plays while a player makes his way to the plate, it's tough not to give this facility and surrounding presence a high rating.
The sound system is no glorified boom box either. The sound is fantastic which keeps Big Red shaking his money maker the entire game.
The Cold Beers Deck is a pretty cool idea for those who like to have a beer at a game, and adds to the overall atmosphere. Western Kentucky sells beer at football games at well, so the skill of sneaking in a beer to a game is not needed.
If you are like me and don't drink and are not a fan of dealing with drunk people at a sporting event, don't you fret. You can have a great time anywhere you sit. The Cold Beers Deck is very laid back and relaxed so you can count on a great atmosphere to sit back and take in a game.
WKU junior Josh Holland has total control behind the public address microphone. It's as if the day he was born, rather than cry, he just bellowed, "Pleeeeeeeease welcome to the worrrrrrld... YOURRRRR.... JOOSSSSSSH. HOLLLLLLLAND!!!!"
From the moment you step inside Nick Denes Field from Big Red Way's left field entrance you can smell and hear baseball. You can even hear and smell it before looking to your left to take in the lush grass, the tall green walls and the large 25-foot wall in center field that also acts as the batter's eye 400 feet from home plate. The walls grow taller from left-to-right field, crowning in dead center, then slowly becoming shorter as you make your way to the right field foul pole.
The net behind home plate extends a little wider than most ballparks to cover most any seat not in the Cold Beers Deck. The netting removes the stress of losing teeth from a screaming foul ball. So go ahead and buy that second bratwurst and nachos. You won't need a free hand to snag any errant foul balls.
Western Kentucky has a great campus and the ballpark sits right on the edge of it. Not so far away from campus that you can't tell you are on campus, but not too deep in the center that traffic is nightmare on game days.
A short 0.7 of a mile from Big Red Way is a great local restaurant in the downtown area on East 8th Avenue called Mariah's. I can tell you first hand that the pork chops are great, the burgers are fantastic and the atmosphere is wonderful. It's not a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. The salads have cold black eyed peas in them and yes, even this is delicious, but in the event you shiver at the thought of this, by all means, just order your salad sans peas.
The fans really bring energy and understand the game. A good Thursday evening crowd after the students have already headed home for the summer shows there's good backing from the locals.
There's really nothing negative to say about the access. Parking can be a bit of a challenge, but not terribly so. Access to restrooms is easy, there are no steep mountains to climb to get to your seats, and food is only a few steps away.
Two words that will warm my heart until the day I die: cheap tickets. There is really no way around a great return on investment when you place "affordable for the family" and "baseball" in one sentence. The concession prices are little high, but when you can get a family of four less than $20, it's a win for all involved. You may be out a few bucks on concessions, but that's an issue you can plan for before you get to the ballpark. A ticket price is what it is. If you want in, you pay the price, but you don't HAVE to buy a hot dog. You won't be sorry if you do get the hot dog or the nachos, but it's not a prerequisite to enjoying the game.
Western Kentucky has everything a baseball game needs with no extras. I'm going to give one extra star because the Cold Beers Deck is something unique to the college baseball experience in this region, so one bonus star for the Hilltoppers.
Western Kentucky has always had a firm grasp on the perfect college appearance. From nearly every administrative and academic building standing on campus to the athletic facilities, Western gets it right every time. Very little on campus has a dated appearance and the athletic facilities follow suit.
Western Kentucky falls in the mid-major category, but the facilities are a major bright spot for the city of Bowling Green. The architecture of Nick Denes Field serves the game of baseball well. The architecture of a baseball field needs to be well thought out and submissive to the game that relies so much on the blueprint of the field. Nick Denes Field does just that.
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Bowling Green, KY 42101
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