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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There aren't a lot of surprises when it comes to the food selection at Rent One Park. I found the quality to be good, with prices that are perhaps slightly higher than expected. The brat was plump and juicy, and sets you back $4.75. Other offerings include BBQ sliders for $6, pizza for $3.75, hamburgers ($4), nachos ($4), and hot dogs ($3).
The team offers a kids meal for $5 which includes a hot dog, chips, and a soda. You can also splurge for the double cheeseburger for $6, or chicken tender basket for $6.50.
A draft beer will cost you only $4.75 for 16 ounces, with Samuel Adams found amongst other more expected options.
The sound and video operators do a fantastic job of getting the crowd involved and keeping the crowd involved throughout the game. It starts by introducing the players individually as they take the field. Rather than sending the team out all at once, players are introduced in a manner similar to a basketball game. This has the effect of building drama, and gets the fans in a fury for the first pitch.
Later in the game, the video operator showed his quick thinking when an unexpected meeting at the mound between the pitcher, catcher and third baseman of the opposing team was accompanied by Zach Galifianakis and the song "Three Best Friends" from the Hangover. It was impeccably timed.
There are more than 3,400 seats, and the sections nearest to home plate are padded seats which are incredibly comfortable (sections 106-108). Keep in mind also, if it's a hot day, that sections 102-110 provide shade at the time of the first pitch for evening games in the hot summer months. Other seating options include berm seating down the left field line, the Rent One picnic garden in center field, and the Budweiser Bullpen Bar & Grill down the right field line.
Wherever you sit you will be surrounded by great fans, and you will be sure to find one of the four Southern Illinois Miner mascots including, Big John (the star mascot if you will), DYN-O-MITE (dynamite), Lucky (a canary), and Grounder (the mole).
I'll do my best not to overstate this, but just down the street from Rent One Park is some the best BBQ I've ever had. The place is called 17th Street Bar & Grill, and you should definitely include it on your visit. They have a full menu including pasta and vegetable dishes, but let's be honest, if you're here that's not what you're looking for. The ribs are fall off the bone tender with a rub and sauce that have the perfect mix of zing without being spicy. Try a local Saluki Dinkel Dog beer, a smoky brew by Big Muddy Brewing in Murphysboro, Illinois, that goes great with smoked BBQ.
It's so good that I ate there twice. I tried the baby back ribs, and then came back for the 16-ounce pork steak. I tried the green beans, in an attempt to feel like I was eating healthy, but fell in love with the smoked meat and the corn bread muffins with dollops of butter.
The staff was extremely friendly and even offered me a behind the scenes tour where I got to see their two massive smokers, nicknamed "Smokey," and "The Bandit." They weren't able to estimate exactly how much meat gets smoked in a week, but I was told on an average Monday they went through 300 pounds of baby back ribs alone. The owner, Mike Mills, was the sixth inductee to the BBQ Hall of Fame.
The fans are really impressive, and may be some of the best in all of professional baseball. The stands were full during my July visit, and the line to get in the stadium before they opened probably included 100 or so devoted fans. They remain engaged throughout the game. At one point, the Miners third baseman made a leaping catch and the crowd went wild. However, the fielder didn't realize he had caught the ball, and he looked around to see where it landed. When he finally realized that he had caught it, he laughed and the crowd laughed with him. The crowd then followed with another rousing round of applause. Great fan-player interaction.
Located just off of I-57, Rent One Park offers plenty of parking for only $3 per car. There were a few people tailgating when I arrived about an hour and a half before the game. Bathrooms are clean and I didn't experience or notice any lines throughout the game.
With the tickets, parking, a beer, and something to eat, a single person could spend $25 and have a great time. The energy of the crowd makes this a great experience. However, the experience of the fan definitely suffers with the turf field.
I'm awarding one extra point for the amazing fans that you will find at Rent One Park. I also really enjoyed the fact that they have four mascots to circulate through the crowd and keep kids and fans happy. One vendor who roamed the crowd stands out for his presentation. He would yell, "PEANUTS. CRACKER JACK." And then growl, "ICE-COLD-BEER." By the second inning most fans would yell ice cold beer along with him.
17th Street Bar & Grill is also worth an extra point. It may be my favorite place to go for eats before or after a game. It's also the best tasting BBQ that I've had.
Finally, I was fortunate enough to hear Taylor Bound sing the national anthem. She is only 16 years-old and offered a strong performance, with just a hint of country. Credit the team for ensuring that they have talented individuals to start things off the right way.
Rent One Park is a great venue, and one that is definitely worth the visit if you're anywhere in the area, or just a fan of good minor league or independent professional baseball. Make your plans and get out to a game as soon as you can.
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1306 Halfway Road
Marion, IL 62959
2609 Blue Heron Dr
Marion, IL 62959