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Official Review by Jason Karp, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Ogren Park at Allegiance Field in Missoula, Montana has been the home for the Missoula Osprey since 2004. The Missoula Osprey are a minor league baseball team, member of the Pioneer League-which plays at the Rookie-Advanced level, and part of the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system.
An osprey, for those who may not know, is bird of prey, slightly smaller than an eagle, that feeds on fish from the trout laden streams of western Montana. You know you’re in osprey habitat when you see their huge disheveled nests atop utility poles or tall platforms placed by the power company to keep the birds from nesting on their infrastructure. If you want to see an osprey nest in action check out the live webcams here.
The home of the Missoula Osprey is located near the center of Missoula on the south bank of the Clark Fork, a large river that bisects the city. It just so happens that there’s an actual active osprey nest on a platform just beyond the outfield fence, making this ballpark one of the few that offers habitat for the creature chosen as the team mascot. I suppose the Savannah Sand Gnats have the same distinction, but I would assume their critter is not nearly as welcome.
Behind the scenes, Ogren Park at Allegiance Field has a relatively tumultuous history. The stadium is built on a reclaimed lumber mill site and it is an infill project in the middle of Missoula. With any large infill project, there is neighborhood opposition, environmental issues (especially building next to a river), and the inevitable lawsuits. To make a long story short, the City of Missoula has taken over ownership of the stadium and hopefully put it and the team on a firm financial footing from here on out. If you’re into the gory details just google “Ogren Park financing”.
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".
One of the best features of the stadium is that the concession stands and main walkway face the field above the seating areas so while you're standing in line you can keep an eye on what's happening on the diamond.
Products and prices are about what one would expect at a minor league baseball game. There's all kinds of foods like hot dogs ($3.50), brats ($4.00) hamburgers ($5.00), buffalo burger ($6.00), chili and cheese nachos ($4.00), peanuts ($2.50), popcorn ($2.50), and much more. Coke products are on offer ($3.50 for a large) and there's a good selection of domestic beers including Coors, Coors Light, Budweiser, and Bud Light which is $4.50 for a 12 oz. cup. There's also some great local micros available for $5.00 (Missoula is known for its micros) including one of my favorites, Cold Smoke Scotch Ale from Kettle House Brewery.
Take note: If you're planning to consume an adult beverage, head to the info tent at the stadium entrance and get a wrist band. They won't sell you a beer in the concession stand without one-no matter how old you are.
As with most minor league games, the crowd is relaxed and not too invested in the outcome. An Osprey game is a place to chill out, converse with family and friends, have some ballpark food and enjoy yourself.
The P.A. announcer is also part cheerleader, which for a purist might be a bit annoying, but the crowd seems to like it. There are activities in between innings, including an invitation for all the kids to follow the Osprey mascot around the bases.
The field is situated below ground level. Fans enter the stadium to a full panorama of the ballpark in front of them and the foothills beyond. The ballpark, and all of Missoula for that matter, are surrounded by mountains, so if the game isn't going so well, there's still some amazing scenery to enjoy.
Most of the seats are comfortable stadium chairs, but there are also metal bleachers (bring a seat cushion) and there is a grassy bermed area along the left field line where fans can spread out a blanket and enjoy the game from there. If the sun is still out, get seats along the third baseline to be in the shade.
People not familiar with Montana may have the image of a typical Montanan as some sort of Marlboro Man-with a cowboy hat and Wrangler jeans. That is definitely not the case for Missoulians. The city has more of a Pacific Northwest fee l- think Portland or Seattle. A lot of older citizens look like Woodstock veterans, and the younger generation is a mixture of college kids, hipsters, and lumberjacks. Almost everyone you meet is fit, healthy, and look like they run marathons in their spare time. This diversity of citizenry in this quintessential college town make Missoula a vibrant and happening place with lots of interesting shops, bars, and restaurants in its compact downtown.
The ballpark is located just across the river from downtown. There are sidewalks and bike/ped trails all over the place, including just beyond the outfield fence along the river. I temporarily remove one point from the neighborhood rating only because the immediate area west of the stadium, which was the site of huge lumber mill, is in the very early and unattractive stages of reclamation and development. But new parkland and a mixed use neighborhood are planned for that area and when it does get built-out it will greatly enhance the stadium.
If you're looking for a place to eat or drink before or after the game (or any other time for that matter) you'll do well to go right across the river. There's endless choices in downtown Missoula. A couple personal favorites are the Tamarack Brewing Company's brew pub and the Iron Horse Bar and Grill. Both have lots and lots of local brews on tap and both have great food and fun atmospheres.
The fans cheered when the O's (as they are sometimes called) did something good, and they mildly groaned when something went wrong. But they also sportingly applauded an opposing player's effort when he tripped over the bull pen pitching mound on a desperate but futile attempt to shag a foul ball. Save for one fellow who was vocally trying to coach the players from the stands, no one was rowdy or obnoxious.
Minor league baseball is a passing interest for Missoula sports fans, who are far more rabid about the hometown University of Montana Grizzlies. Most of the t-shirts and hats worn in the ballpark were UM colors.
It is easy to get to Ogren Park at Allegiance Field. From I-90 take the Orange Street exit and go south. After crossing the river turn right on Cregg Lane past McCormick Park, go under the railroad tracks and you're there. There's a good sized and recently paved parking lot right by the stadium. Access would rate all five points for me if parking was free, but it does cost $4, which really isn't a bad deal.
An even better way to get to the stadium is to walk over the pedestrian friendly Orange Street bridge or the California Street pedestrian bridge to the west. Or ride a bike to the game along the Milwaukee Trail adjacent to the river. Missoula is one of the most walkable and bikeable cities in Montana so those modes of transportation are great choices.
The stadium is handicap accessible from the parking lot and throughout. Restrooms, like the concession stands, are right behind the seats and it's a quick trip back and forth. The restrooms are clean, spacious, and accessible.
Follow the Missoula Osprey on Facebook and Twitter to get great ticket and food deals before the game. For instance, the team tweeted that our game was military appreciation day and anyone saying the keyword "military" at the ticket both got two tickets for the price of one.
Even at full price ticket prices aren't expensive. Reserved seats (plastic stadium chairs) are $10 and general admission seats for the metal bleachers or grassy berm are $8.
Concession stand prices are about what can be expected. Not cheap, but certainly not unreasonable. After all this is pro ball, and the Osprey have obligations, like stadium rental, to meet.
And you can always save the $4 parking fee by easily walking or biking to the game.
Bikes: The Osprey encourage biking to the game with a bike club membership that gets you discounted tickets to certain games. This is a great idea and obviously popular, as there were lots of bikes chained to the fence around the ballpark.
Potential: Even though it's been around since 2004, the outside of the stadium is still unfinished. Landscaping still needs to be done in the parking lot and the new trees and vegetation need time to mature. But when that happens, and the planned adjacent park areas and mixed use development on the reclaimed sawmill site comes to fruition, Ogren Park at Allegiance Field will be an absolute jewel among the Pioneer League ballparks.
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501 North Higgins Avenue
Missoula, MT 59802
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