To the visiting fan, the Inland Empire sounds like something found in a Star Wars movie, but is rather a legitimate name for a region in Southern California. This 27,000 square mile area includes Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ontario and the U.S. Census Bureau considers it the 14th most populous metropolitan area in the United States.
While named after the large region, the team known as the 66ers call the city of San Bernardino their home and play in San Manuel Stadium. The stadium was built in 1996, but still has a rather modern feel to it. 5,000 is the normal capacity, but can accommodate much more with overflow seating in the grassy area surrounding the field.
Beginning the 2011 season, the Inland Empire 66ers are an affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels.
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".
It pains me to have to give this stadium a score below a 5/5 because the selection was so phenomenal! I felt that their selection even trumped that of their parent club, the LA Dodgers.
Starting with the hot dog, a given fan has ample options. For those that wear a white button-up shirt to work everyday, a plain old hot dog for $3.50 could work for you. If that same individual had a larger waistline, he or she may order a jumbo size for $2.00 more. Now if you're a Dodger fan, the all-time favorite Dodger Dog might be for you. That's right, San Manuel Stadium does serve the dogs of their parent club for $5.50. Now for those that enjoy a little excitement, a chili cheese dog for $6.50, a bacon-wrapped hot dog for $6.00, or a Martin's 1/2 lb Louisiana Sausage at $7.75 might be for you.
Some other staples of the normal menu include the Santa Fe Nachos ($4.75), Sunflower Seeds ($2.25), Roasted Peanuts ($4.50), Popcorn ($4.50), Cracker Jacks ($3.75), Pretzel ($3.50), and a Southern
California favorite, the Churro ($3).
Some specialty items include baked potatoes, roasted corn, and sliced caramel apples, kettle popcorn, cotton candy, and funnel cakes all for no more than $4 each.
An on-site Domino's Pizza is yet another option. Here you can get a personal pan pizza, cinnastix,
breadsticks, or buffalo wings for $5 or less.
I would most recommend the food at the stand immediately behind the grandstand known as "Grill
Specialties." Here you can find the 66ers Roadhouse Burger ($6.25), BBQ Chicken Sandwich ($6.75), or a BBQ Tri-Tip Sandwich ($7.75). On the side, you can get chicken tenders, seasoned fries, garlic fries, and chili-cheese fries for around $4.50.
If you're running down the baseline for some sweets, novelty ice cream and candy is available for $3.50. ICEE brand beverages are available, ice cream, root beer floats, ice cream sandwiches, crunch bar, and chill lemonade cups are also available.
For the individual trying to quench their thirst in the inland heat, options include smaller sodas that go for $3.50 and a large size for $4.25. For those trying to avoid carbonation, try bottled water at $3.50 or a Powerade at $3.75. Fresh lemonade, strawberry lemonade, and even smoothies are available for $3-$5 depending on size.
For the adults, $6.50 will score you a margarita or glass of wine. The domestic beer list includes Budweiser products including Lime and Golden Wheat varieties. The $6.75 price will land you a premium draft from the local Hangar 24 Craft Brewery.
Personally, I had the Tri-Tip Sandwich, the Chili-Cheese Fries, and a Hangar draft beer. I have to say that the food was as delicious as I could find at any sports bar. What prevented the perfect score however was the service. I waited over 20 minutes to receive my meal and missed the player introductions as a result. To make matters worse, every stand was out of food/beverage trays, so I had the rather impossible task of getting all items back to my seat. Once I did get back, I found straw paper in my beer, which was rather odd as I didn't use a straw to drink it.
The use of specific unflattering songs for the opposing players was a nice touch. For example, the
Spongebob Squarepants theme, Brittany Spears, and Mary Tyler Moore Show theme were played when an opposing player would step to the plate. I'm not sure about you, but none of these would get me particularly psyched up for an at-bat. The crowd loved it too, often getting much more animated in jeering the opposing players.
The atmosphere was easily most enhanced by Bernie. A rather colorful mascot, Bernie emits a "WHOO" sound constantly throughout the game that is sure to annoy a handful of fans, but is beloved by most of the fanbase. The sound becomes quite contagious and before long, all of the fans are making the same sound whenever they spot Bernie. He often stands atop the dugouts taunting the opposing players and generating excitement from the 66er fans during live gameplay. If you couldn't already guess, Bernie wears #66.
Low points throughout the game were rather absent as the 66ers had a variety of great between inning promotions with the partnership of local vendors. The "boldest tires in the parking lot," "Chipotle Burrito Bowling," and trivia contests were just a few of the live activities. The immaculate video boards also helped with the promotions, as they had the All American Food scoreboard race and many clear images of the fans cheering from their seats.
Lastly, after every run scored by the 66ers, a loud train horn sound blared from the speakers. This sound literally shook the stadium. A great way of reminding the most absent-minded fans that "hey, there's some excitement going on here!"
The neighborhood provides a variety of options in terms of entertainment and food. If you are in a
hurry and want some predictable food, you could try the local Weinerschnitzel, Arby's, Carl's Jr, Pollo Loco, or one of the two Mexican restaurants nearby. The place that appeared to be the most appealing in the immediate area surrounding the stadium had to be the Brandin' Iron Saloon. At first I was taken back by the size of the establishment, but once I learned that they offer free dancing lessons and an all-you-can-eat buffet on Sunday, I quickly understood why it was so spacious.
A few blocks from the stadium, you'll find Flashbacks Cocktails and Burger Express, neither of which I could recommend because the lack of any legitimate customers in the parking lot.
The area surrounding the stadium may as well have been the car modification capital of the world. There must have been over a dozen establishments offering stereo installation, window tinting, car wash, and brake repair.
To really appreciate the neighborhood however, try and take in some of its rich history. For example, if you head downtown, you'll find the Route 66 Hall of Fame where plaques can be found commemorating all of the people, places, and things that made Route 66 the most historic roadway in all of the United States.
Next up, you may want to stop at the site of the first ever McDonalds location. While no longer operating, this site opened the McDonalds legacy back in 1940. If you stop in, you are certain to find yourself gazing at all of the memorabilia and happy meal toys of the past. I assume that the museum is always staffed by a friendly young gentleman such as the one I met during my visit.
Other notable things to check out during your visit could include the western headquarters of the Little League or the American Sports University. The University is a private, non-profit, four year college offering a single undergraduate degree; The Bachelor of Science in Sports Education. So for all aspiring college students that share a love for sports, this might be the perfect degree for you!
When first arriving at the venue, I quickly noticed a line stretching as long as the distance from homeplate to the centerfield wall of fans anxiously awaiting to get through the gates. I found this rather surprising as it was a Sunday evening and the 66ers had been eliminated from playoff contention.
I sat near homeplate with many of the season ticket holders on this particular evening. I do not usually like to sit behind the netted area, but the conversation of the local fans made things very interesting. I assume that these fans were season ticket holders as they had engraved nameplates on their seatbacks.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching them greet one another and catch up on 66er baseball of the past weekend. Much of their chatter was surrounding the parent club and the pending trade of Manny Ramirez to the White Sox. They also seemed hopeful that some of the Dodger players would be making a rehab start in San Bernardino tonight, such as Rafael Furcal.
The fans were boisterous throughout the game and clearly were not afraid to let their players know when they weren't pleased with the on-field performance or make the umpires aware that a call was missed.
Clearly, the 66ers benefit from their affiliation with the Dodgers. With the team's base color being blue, fans can wear their Dodger gear and blend in as part of the 66'er faithful. Fans can see the up and coming Dodgers rather close to where the major league club plays, at a much more affordable price. This also allows the 66ers to "piggyback" on promotions with the Dodgers. For example, on the game I attended, the fans were offered Andre Ethier blankets that was also a giveaway at Dodger Stadium. Manny wigs were also available for sale in the gift shop as he made some rehab starts in San Bernardino during the season. All of this creates a much more united fan base and clearly helps to fill the ballpark.
The stadium is easily accessible, just a few blocks from the true downtown and just a few minutes from the 215 and not far from the 15, the 10, or Southern California's most miserable roadway, the 91.
You can find the park on E Street, but don't expect Bruce Springsteen to be performing nearby. Parking was plentiful at $4 per spot and located rather close to the stadium.
The stadium had 3 main entrances and it was rather simple to get to any of the great seats in the park, from the picnic area to the gift shop.
The restrooms were clean, spacious, and easily accessible from any permanent seat in the house. If you plan to sit on the grass berm in left field, you may have a 300 foot walk to the nearest restroom.
I think 66ers baseball is a rather phenomenal value for any member of the San Bernardino community or any sports fan inside or outside the Inland Empire. For a mere $10, you'll get the best box seats in the house!
For practically the price of a movie, you can get to a game here and trust me, the consessions are a lot more tasty than anything you'll find at a movie theater.
Beyond the enjoyment of the game, buying a ticket to see the 66ers seems to be an investment in the
community as the team seems to be the heartbeat of San Bernardino.
At any 66ers game, you will get a beautiful stadium, one of the best scoreboards in all of the minor leagues, and a rather entertaining evening.
Probably the most impressive thing at this park was the organist who played a variety of non-traditional organ music throughout the game. While you may have become accustomed to "Charge" and "Let's Go Team" organ music, make sure you stop and listen to some of these tunes. Two of the more interesting ones that I noticed were Bittersweet Symphony by the Verve and Cashmere by Led Zepplin.
Baseball fans tend to love the rich history of the sport and a visit to San Manuel Stadium certainly provided some reminders of baseball greats during the 2010 season. Relatives of Andy Van Slyke, Robin Yount, and Don Mattingly all donned the 66'ers uniform. Any time a fan gets to see the kin of big league greats, it's sure to make things much more interesting.
The stadium had just installed a brand new scoreboard during the 2010 and is currently the largest in the California League. The scoreboard provides great replays, information, and views of the fans and players during the game.
The 66ers were one of the few minor league teams to offer a dance/cheer team. I'm sure this is more appealing to some baseball fans than others, but was another enjoyable part of the evening.
There is an on-site putting green on the right-field side. While it is showing signs of age, you would think it would be fun for the players and staff to practice their short game during downtime.
This was the first game that I've attended in Southern California where the "Beer Batter of the Game" actually struck out. I was definitely one of the many fans running to the concession stands for the $1 beers (limit 2) for the first 15 minutes after the specified batter strikes out.
I was really hoping to use a catchy title such as "The Empire Strikes Out," but that was so far from the truth that I had to resist temptation.
I left San Manuel Stadium rather inspired after concluding my Southern California minor league baseball journey. For a community that has an unemployment rate hovering around 15%, you would never know it upon setting foot inside the ballpark. It was full, clean, safe, and very affordable.
With the new scoreboard and clearly a lot of effort in maintaining the park, it is a clean, safe, affordable and popular attraction for the members of the Inland Empire.
The area surrounding the park is extremely sparse in terms of sit-down establishments open past 4 PM in the area, so I'm hoping that the 66ers will continue to have such an important footprint in the community and grow the surrounding area to new heights.
Follow Drew on Twitter @Big10Drew
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