For more than 40 years, the Eastern Michigan Eagles have played their home baseball games at Oestrike Stadium. Like many collegiate venues, the stadium was named for a former coach, Ron Oestrike, who led the team from 1965-1987.
The facility has undergone a series of renovations dating back to 2000 when lights were installed thanks to a donation from the William G. Clark Family. The Eagles won their inaugural night game against local rival Michigan on a walk off home run by Nick Soliz.
In 2007, the infield was replaced by “Pro Grass,” a synthetic surface which cuts down on the maintenance cost for the university, but also takes away from part of the splendor of baseball, most notably when someone silently slides into a base. In 2012, the stadium is getting a new brick exterior, which should add to the overall aesthetics of Oestrike Stadium.
The stadium could also use a new scoreboard and some upgrades to the outfield wall. There were no dimensions posted on the wall, and nothing to brand the stadium in Eastern Michigan style. I have seen pictures in the past where they have hung banners for former greats like Bob Welch and Chris Hoiles, so that would be a good touch to bring back.
All and all, this is a pleasant little facility to see a game, with a covered grand stand, and a team that is typically in competition for a Mid-American Conference (MAC) championship.
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There is a lone concession cart on the first base side of Oestrike Stadium. Here you can find some basics to keep you sustained during the game. They have brats ($3), hot dogs ($2), popcorn ($2), candy ($1), and chips ($1). The popcorn was actually better than expected, and the brat was as well.
For cold early season contests you can grab a cup of coffee or hot chocolate ($1 each). Bottles of Pepsi products, Gatorade, and water are on hand as well ($2).
I started off a little disappointed with my visit as I arrived about 10 minutes before the scheduled starting time of 5pm, only to find out that the game had been pushed back an hour. I checked the team's website that afternoon, so some better work by the EMU athletic department would have saved me an hour of sitting around unnecessarily, especially since I rushed through an early dinner in order to be at the game on time. Hopefully this is a rare occurrence and not the norm.
All of the seating at Oestrike Stadium is metal bleachers, which are under a covered grand stand. It reminded me of a newer version of the classic Bosse Field in Evansville, Indiana. There were also several fans standing along the right field line against the fence, a good view if you prefer to be on your feet. Screens completely cover the seating area, so I found myself among the standing fans down the line for much of the game.
It's an odd field with the synthetic surface on the infield, and real outfield grass juxtaposed. The pitching mound is also real dirt, but the home plate area is not. It is funny to see the batters dig in at the plate out of habit, but to no avail.
The team has had success at times, with nine MAC Championships (most recently in 2008) and four MAC tournament championships.
The sound system is decent, and there is an interesting quirk as the radio play-by-play announcer apparently doesn't fit inside the press box, so you can hear much of his call during the game action, something I rather enjoyed.
Depot Town, located just a couple of miles away, is definitely the place to go for something to eat before or after a game. I have two favorites that I highly recommend. First is Sidetrack Bar & Grill, which has 26 beers on tap, including many local options. They also have very good burgers and sandwiches, salads, and your typical pub food. This is the more kid-friendly option of my two recommendations.
My second recommendation is just across the street, Aubree's. They have an outstanding selection of draft beers, including several local options. They have plenty of activities to keep you entertained including a pool table and trivia game. The food is decent, but nothing special. I tried their pizza as well, it has a buttery crust and a comforting greasy quality.
There weren't many people in attendance (maybe 100 people or so), and with the exception of one local and supportive fan sitting behind the home team dugout, they tended to be pretty quiet. In fact, the opposing fans outnumbered the home fans in attendance by my estimation. You'll hear an eagle screech when the team scores, which is a rather irritating sound, but it seemed to be popular with those in attendance.
Parking is free, and can be found just across the street in the same lot used for football games at Rynearson Stadium. Restrooms unfortunately are in the form of two outhouse port-a-potties found behind home plate - not very appealing at all. I ended up not buying a bottle of water, just so I could avoid that experience.
There was no admission charge, and no charge for parking. It is very hard to argue with that. Concessions, while far from spectacular, were reasonably priced. You could easily bring a family of four to a game and pay under $20 even with a snack and drink for everyone.
One extra point goes to what seems to be a tradition for the EMU Eagles baseball team. As the head coach (Jay Alexander) meets with the umpires and opposing coach to exchange lineups, the team assembles, almost as if they are going to take a team picture. When the coach is through, he runs over to the team and jumps into a collective chest bump. It was a lot of fun to see, and the Eagles do it on the road as well, as I had the opportunity to see them several times during the 2012 season.
I'll give another extra point to the efforts by the donors, alumni, and university to improve this facility. There are still more renovations to be done, but it is nice to see them invest in the baseball program. I am looking forward to making return visits to see Oestrike Stadium continue to evolve.
The experience of attending an Eastern Michigan University Eagles baseball game at Oestrike Stadium is unlikely to be something that will be particularly memorable, but fans of college baseball should make the stop when they can to this convenient and improving little ballpark.
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