Marion, Illinois isn’t your traditional baseball town. In fact, most visitors recognize it as a road stop along I-57. With a population just a little over 17,000, most of the area’s sports history is synonymous with Marion’s sister city Carbondale where the Southern Illinois Salukis boast notable alumni such as Walt Frazier and have made it to the NCAA’s Sweet Sixteen.
In 2007, Marion drastically upgraded their image in the sports world with the opening of Rent One Park. After a failed attempt to convince a franchise in the Midwest League to relocate, local lawyer John Simmons convinced the Frontier League to award Marion an expansion franchise. This request was formally approved in August of 2006. Starting out in the 2007 Frontier League season, the Southern Illinois Miners began playing home games at Rent One Park. This success became a historical milestone for Marion as no professional baseball team has ever called the city home since the Marion Indians did in 1948.
Rent One Park pays tribute to Southern Illinois’ coal heritage by displaying historical pictures of coal mining down both the first and third base line. The ballpark boasts 3,400 permanent seats, 14 luxury boxes, and a total capacity of roughly 7,000 when lawn seats and premium seats are factored in.
Right off the bat, baseball in Marion has been a success. In their inaugural 2007 season, the Miners set the Frontier League season attendance record by bringing 259,392 fans through the turnstiles. The Miners also became the first Frontier League franchise to average 5,000 or more fans a game. The Miners capped all of this success off with a Frontier League championship in 2012.
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Expect your usual items such as cracker jacks, soft drinks, and hot dogs. I'm sure those items enjoy a fair amount of market share at Rent One Park. However, the Southern Illinois Miners have decided to take their menu to a whole a new level by offering a wide variety of sandwiches and a host of Johnsonville Foods products.
The following is just a few of the unique sandwiches you can purchase at the concession stands for a reasonable price: chicken tenders, chicken tenders sandwiches, buffalo chicken tenders sandwiches, chicken parmesan sandwiches, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and bacon cheeseburgers. When you add in the Johnsonville brats and polish sausages, nachos, Dorito nachos, ultimate nachos, and personal pan pizzas, it's hard to imagine any fan not finding something they like on this menu.
What is my favorite item? It's got to be the funnel cake fries. 99.9% of the time, I get funnel cakes served in a wide and flat pancake style configuration. But at Rent One Park, you can get it served as fries for just $4. The fact that they are served in a container that is nothing but powdered sugar convinced me that this new version of funnel cakes might not be a bad idea.
Rent One Park stands as a monument to how far the Frontier League has come in the league's two decades of existence. Although Marion's bid for a Single A team was denied, their ballpark is certainly worthy of being on the MiLB circuit one day. In the meantime, it is breaking records and taking the Frontier League to a whole new level with its new and modern amenities.
To be quite honest about it, I am not friend of coal mining. However, when I'm walking around the Rent One Park concourses, I will admit that I absolutely love the way the history of coal mining in the area is displayed. The Miners image, the coal mining pictures and plaque, and the gray, black, and yellow exterior of Rent One Park do a great job of telling the story of coal mining in Southern Illinois.
Another great attribute about Rent One Park is the cleanliness of the ballpark coupled with the open air design. Yes, the design of Rent One Park is a design that can be found in just about every new minor league ballpark (it reminds me of Bowling Green, Kentucky's ballpark), but the fact remains that this design allows patrons the ability to walk around both the first and third base concourses without running into thousands of other fans. One thing I would like to see in the future- the ability to walk all the way around the ballpark.
Depending on what your view of urban planning is, you will either love or hate the neighborhood around Rent One Park. If you are someone who likes urban sprawling ballparks with plenty of parking and strip malls, you will love it. If you are like me and prefer a urban ballpark with unique development wrapped around the facility, you will hate it.
I will say this- If you plan on spending the night in Marion and don't want to travel far, you can find several hotels that border Rent One Park's parking lot. If you are coming to Marion via I-57, you will take exit 54 and then head west. From there, you will take West Deyoung Street to the first intersection which is Halfway Road that leads straight into Rent One Park. While on Halfway Road, you will pass by several hotels including a Fairfield Inn & Suites, Country Inn & Suites, Americas Best Inns & Suites, and a Holiday Express Hotel & Suites. Although most of these hotels are occupied by truckers and travelers passing through Marion on I-57, there are still quite a few baseball fans you can lodge next to with a variety of hotels that is second to none.
As for food, you have one of two choices. You can go with a local flavor by stopping by the 17th Street Bar & Grill which is at the corner of 17th Street and Halfway Street just outside of the ballpark, or you can go with a generic interstate flavor and go back to Deyoung Street where eateries such as Burger King, Steak-N-Shake, and Taco Bell can be found. Personally, I'd go with the local flavor, but that's just me.
As for retail, once more head back to Deyoung Street and go west towards Carbondale. Along Deyoung Street, you will find a Walmart, a Target, and even a Goodwill. Although I couldn't find very much unique shopping that would attract tourists, I did find many department stores that can satisfy all of your traveling needs. One thing I learned was that Deyoung Street has just about any generic strip mall development you may ever dream of wanting.
Overall, if you look to the north of Rent One Park, you will see a nice creek/lake next to several acres of undeveloped land. Currently, Rent One Park is surrounded by interstate hotels, interstate restaurants, and a Menards. I'd like to see the Marion community and Southern Illinois Miners take a different approach to developing the land north of the ballpark by developing a lifestyle center that is more in touch with urban ballpark living instead of an urban sprawling strip mall development.
The area has plenty of food, lodging, and retail for those who live in the area or are just stopping off the interstate. But none of the development is tailored to the baseball fan looking to enjoy entertainment outside of Rent One Park.
Having set attendance records in just their first year in the Frontier League after failing to have a team since 1948 tells me that this team and this market is already a success and the sky is the limit in terms of their potential. For a city of only 17,000 fans to have attendance as good as the Miners have tells me that the Southern Illinois region is serious about baseball.
Unless you're a devout fan of arriving by light rail, you can't argue with the accessibility of Rent One Park. The facility is so close to I-57 that you can see most of it from the interstate (although Menard's blocks some of it now). After you get off I-57, you just take two streets for a couple of blocks before arriving at a sea of parking that can handle all levels of patrons at Rent One Park. Yes, I did have to come up with a couple of bucks to park in the parking lot, but I was able to find a spot that was literally right in front of the entrance.
I'm no fan of arriving to the ballpark by car, but when I do have to take the automobile to the game, I can't find a place more accessible than Rent One Park.
I made the mistake of shelling out the big bucks ($14 a ticket) for a seat behind home plate. That was a decision I later regretted. You see, just about every section in the ballpark has many rows open. All one would have to do to pay a fair price for a ticket would be to purchase a ticket down one of the base lines and simply move in behind home plate. As the game moved on, I noticed that just about every fan ended up sitting in stands between the bases.
Regardless of where you purchase your ticket, you can't go wrong with a brand new ballpark that still has the newness on it. A ballpark like Rent One Park is something you don't always get in the Frontier League. Whether the Miners stay in the Frontier League or move into MiLB remains to be seen. But either way, Rent One Park will always be one of the best parks in whatever league it is in.
Another great thing in Rent One Park's favor is its ability to expand and add amenities. I suspect Rent One Park is going to be undergoing many transformational upgrades as the Miners continue to improve their play and the community continues to support the team at record levels.
A visit to Rent One Park and Marion, IL is something I highly recommend for those interested in seeing a new and up and coming semi pro baseball franchise.
I give one point to the city of Marion and John Simmons for having the guts and determination to bring a professional baseball team to Marion even though the market is small and their initial attempt at a Midwest League failed. Marion, IL and the Southern Illinois Miners have been a great addition to the Frontier League community and I thoroughly enjoy watching their rivalry with the Evansville Otters bloom.
I give the Miners' team store "The General Store" 1 point for selling one of the coolest items I have ever been able to purchase- a game used bat. For $20, you can't beat owning a bat used by the Miners in a Frontier League game.
In 2007, the Southern Illinois Miners joined the Frontier League, marking the first time since 1948 that a professional baseball team played in Marion, Illinois. From the very beginning, the team has had tremendous success. In their first season, the team set a new attendance record for the Frontier League, surpassing 250,000 fans for the season turnstiles.
With the exception of the pitching mound (which is dirt), the stadium utilizes Sportexe Turf as the playing surface. This is the one major disappointment as a fan at Rent One Park. During my visit there was a close play at home which was made somewhat anti-climactic when the head-first slide yielded no sound, or visually stimulating dirt splashing from the field. It is especially ridiculous that the warning track is turf, completely negating the whole point of having a warning track!
That one complaint aside, a trip to Rent One Park is a great experience, and one of the best that the independent Frontier League has to offer.
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1306 Halfway Road
Marion, IL 62959
2609 Blue Heron Dr
Marion, IL 62959