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Official Review by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey Co-Founder
Winnebago County can be found in North Central Illinois, adjacent to the Wisconsin border. The city of Rockford, and more specifically the Rockford Aviators, are able to draw fans from Illinois and Wisconsin.
With their recent move from the Frontier League, to the slightly more competitive Northern League, the team hopes that the level of play will help attract crowds in even greater numbers to Aviators Stadium.
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".
Being so close to the Wisconsin border must encourage the team to serve one of my favorite things in the whole world, cheese curds. Deep-fried cheese curds ($5) to be exact. They were the first unique menu item that I sampled, although I was a little disappointed that there was so much batter and ended up feeling a bit grease-heavy. Next, I tried the "Meat-a-holic" ($5.50) a skewer with two pieces each of bratwurst, spicy sausage, and meatballs. Again, although the concept was solid, it was noticeably too greasy.
The stadium menu also features "The Codfather" ($5.50), a fish sandwich, along with your regular ballpark favorites. I thought the prices were reasonable across the board.
Pepsi products are available in 20-ounce bottles for $2.75 on most nights, or $2 on dollar beer night. I happened to attend on the $1 beer night, a popular event to be sure. Besides $1 draft 10-ounce beers of Miller Lite, Coors Lite, and MGD, fans can also find 16-ounce bottles for $2, or 24-ounce cans of Corona for $3.
The right field corner is a popular location for twenty-somethings as they have a full bar sponsored by 2nd Cousin's Bar & Grill (which also has a location about a mile away from the stadium). Besides the beer specials, you can also find mixed drinks and shots. Jaeger Bombs were promoted at least twice by the PA announcer, so there is clearly a focus on the party atmosphere.
Although the crowd tended to flock to the bar, there was a good mix of people throughout the stadium. There is a kids play area in the left field corner, which includes a baseball hitting game, a moonwalk, and a small playground. There is no grassy berm seating area in the park, only stadium seats from foul pole to foul pole, with a few picnic areas.
One prominent picnic area is the Diamond Deck, which is an all-you-can-eat-and-drink package for up to 100 people, starting at $23 per person. The deck is situated past the concourse, above the third base dugout.
I would guess that half of the fans were there because it was the coolest bar in town, with reasonable beer prices. The remaining fans included families, and individuals who clearly knew this team. There were several players, like Jason James, who had been with the team for several seasons and were obviously beloved by the regulars. James collected his 500th career hit in a Rockford uniform, a definite accomplishment for an independent league team and player.
There really isn't anything within walking distance from Aviators Stadium, but there are plenty of bars and restaurants within a mile or two from the park. My recommendation goes to Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que. They have very peppy and attentive service, and plenty of options to keep you from going hungry. They claim to have the best ribs in the world, so that's what I tried. A full slab will cost you $22 and a half slab goes for $16. The place smells great from the parking lot, and delivers once you get to your table, but I can't say I agree with their boastful claim of being the best. In any case, I think it's your best option for pre-game dinner.
Down the road is RBI's, a sports bar with a huge winding bar. There's a pool table, video games, darts, and plenty of tv's tuned to sports. They have 12 beers on tap, and great food specials. I tried the Greek tacos ($1.50 each on Tuesdays), which were served with gyro meat, feta cheese, onions, and peppers. I thought they were very good, and a very good bargain. They certainly would beat Taco Bell.
There are literally 20 or more options within a couple of miles, so if there is a specific type of food you want, you should be able to find it near the ballpark.
There was good energy throughout the stands. Some of it was drunken energy from the folks down the right field line, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. While I would guess that they occasionally get someone who is over-served, and acts out, everyone I witnessed behaved themselves reasonably well.
There were also plenty of kids having fun, and die-hards talking baseball, especially the closer you got to behind home plate. I rate the fans overall as average though because they are awfully quiet. The Aviators hit a home run to straight away center and the crowd noise barely rose above a murmur.
Parking will cost you $2, but it is extremely easy to get in and out of the stadium lot before or after the game. There is no real option to park on a street, so fans are forced to pay their parking fee.
Bathrooms are fine, but are a little bit crowded, and the stadium is very accessible for individuals who use a wheelchair.
I definitely appreciated that all beverages were discounted during $1 beer night, not just their draft beer, and there is no doubt that they have a good value with that promotion. Tickets for premium seats are slightly more expensive than I think they should be, and I would knock about 10% off of the concession prices before I would call what they have a good value. Overall though, nothing is exorbitantly priced. I would recommend going for the cheapest seat in the house ($5), over the ticket for a premium box seat (front row between the dugouts for $15) as every seat in the stadium is a good seat.
Extra point because I was lucky enough to see Jason James' milestone 500th hit, and more generally for the team's attention to trying to retain its players. I also found the staff to be very friendly, and accommodating. In fact, on my first trip to see Aviators Stadium, the game was rained out, but a member of the staff allowed me to use the restroom (it had been a long drive, after all). I'm not sure that all teams would have done so.
You can have a lot of fun at Aviators Stadium, especially if you want to have that party bar atmosphere and it happens to be Thursday night. Additionally, you'll find a family-friendly approach to baseball, with some of the promotions that you expect to see at a minor league park, but so many that you forget that you're there to see baseball.
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3303 North Perryville Rd
Rockford, IL 61114