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Official Review by Michael Burmeister, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
I love living in between Milwaukee and Chicago. As you walk down the street to feel the Lake Michigan breeze, you already know to keep your eyes peeled for a place where brats and Chicago-style hot dogs share a table, where they know what cheeses to put on your deep-dish pizza, or even just where to get a quick burger, fries, soda and custard. However, my favorite thing about my locale is that it's within the fan territory of three Major League Baseball teams. Whether you're a Brewers, Cubs or White Sox fan, you can always find a spot or table that'll support your favorite team as much as you do.
Those fans "in the know" are also aware of the Northwoods League (NwL), which has been around since 1994. It (and summer-collegiate baseball as a whole) came into prominence in the region with the success of the Madison Mallards, joining the Wisconsin (Wausau) Woodchucks and expanding into other Wisconsin cities in the years that followed (from La Crosse to Green Bay and Wisconsin Rapids to Mequon).
For the 2014 season, the NWL is returning to Kenosha with the addition of the Kenosha Kingfish playing at newly-renovated Simmons Field. Simmons Field is the former home of the:
• All-American Girls' League's (of A League of Their Own fame) Kenosha Comets (1948-1951)
• Midwest League's Kenosha Twins (1984-1992 - winning the 1985 and 1987 MWL pennants)
• NWL's Kenosha Kroakers (1994-1998 - winning the 1995 NWL pennant
• Frontier League's ill-fated Kenosha Mammoths (2003)
The ownership group (which also owns the Mallards, the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters and the Green Bay Bullfrogs) has already made several strides with the ballpark renovations and community outreach. In addition to the outfield wall's fishing boat, you can hardly walk a block in Kenosha without seeing at least two "Elvis for King" yard signs promoting the team and mascot).
To get fans ready for the experience, on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 they hosted the first annual "Wisconsin World Series" between the state's only Division I baseball team (Milwaukee Panthers) and its only Division II team (the hometown Parkside Rangers).
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".
Basically your standard ballpark fare is served at the one concession stand behind home plate. Hot dogs are $2 (also the price of chips and sunflower seeds), with burgers, brats, nachos, popcorn and Cracker Jacks for $3 each. On the slightly higher side, there are cheeseburgers, grilled chicken sandwiches and veggie burgers for $4, with an Italian Beef being the highest-priced option at $5 (given the city's Italian heritage and deli scene, it is quite fitting). The only disappointment here is that, for a team called the Kingfish, they don't serve any fish products (no fish sandwiches, fish and chips, or fish sticks) at the stand; I know they plan to do so during the Kingfish season, but it still would have been nice to serve it as a preview, seeing as how it'll be their "unique item."
On the beverage side, you can get a soda (Pepsi products in a can) or a water bottle for $1. Much respect to them for actually keeping the bottled water price reasonable. The only outside food or beverage allowed is a single unopened water bottle per person, so I recommend you bring whichever unopened bottles you may have with you.
The concession workers are unbelievably friendly, and the lines aren't very long at all.
Aside from Wrigley Field, this is the closest you will get to a classic baseball experience in the Milwaukee-Chicago area. The Kingfish have done an outstanding job renovating the place, keeping its classic charm from the Comets and K-Twins glory days while adding dugouts, actual stadium seats in both the home plate grandstand and on each of the base sides by the dugouts, and plans for a Fan Zone to keep the kids entertained. In addition, the Kingfish's mascot King Elvis (a gold fish with a gold crown, white jumpsuit and red suede flippers) is a constant presence throughout the game, with fans all over asking to get their picture with him.
However, much of the charm of attending a game at Simmons comes from the cool lakeside breeze (although it could get almost freezing by night in early April), the fact that there's never a bad seat in the house, as well as what the neighborhood brings. Just past the right field wall are train tracks from the Metra Union Pacific North line, and yes, every few minutes you can see the train chug right past these tracks. That brings a true working class feel to the ballpark, and also leads the more devoted fans to speculate when someday a home run ball might hit the speeding train.
There are still quite a few areas which are notably unfinished. The "Fish Bowl" party section along the left field baseline has not yet been finished, while the fishing boat in left field still has yet to be painted and gotten ready, and the Fan Zone had not gone up at the time of the Wisconsin World Series (although it did go up the next Saturday). In addition, there was no working scoreboard at all and the PA announcers sounded kind of disinterested, even forgetting the seventh inning stretch (unless 2 Chainz' "I Do It" has become a new traditional seventh inning stretch song). Team management confirmed that these things will be looked at and considered right before the collegiate summer league season hits.
My recommendation is to sit in the home plate grandstand (sections 106 and 107 on the seating chart). In addition to providing some nice shade and a comfortable view of the action, the front row tables actually have swivel seats, all for just $12 a game!
What's not to love about this neighborhood? In addition to it being one of the few ballparks you'll see in a residential area (there are actually several homes across the street on both sides, and a few backyards on the other side of the train tracks can get a good view of the game), people are talking everywhere about where they are going to go right after the game.
For starters, there's Tommy's Home Run Family Restaurant directly south of the ballpark, which is obviously named for its location and has a nice family-style dining experience (if you're there, PLEASE try a Home Run Seafood Salad, you owe it to your taste buds). If your party happens to feel like staying past Home Run's closing time of 10:00 PM, it's only a five minute walk (or a half a minute drive) north to Miraz Restaurant and Pancake House, which offers similar quality selections, a laid-back atmosphere, and is open 24 hours.
What will dominate the conversation of those in the know, though, is Shirl's Frozen Custard, which is only a three minute walk south. It's a worthy hangout spot, being the customary "burgers-and-custard" stand you'll find in Wisconsin. If shopping's more your thing, directly north of the park is Simmons Park Plaza, which houses Chester's Electronics, Sal's Pizza (carryout or delivery) and Go the Distance Fitness among other places. However, my favorite store in that plaza is Old Toys Live On, which houses all the action figures you've wanted since you were a kid but couldn't get for whatever reason.
If you are looking to see a movie afterwards, the Keno Drive-In is only a three minute drive south from Simmons, and depending on how long the game runs, you just might find a decent spot in time for the 8:00 opening show (or the 10:10 second show). In addition, downtown Kenosha is only a five minute, two mile drive north, with a wealth of opportunities for gas, food, shopping and events to be found there (too many to list here, but go to their website for a complete listing).
As is the case at many college baseball games, most of the fans are friends and family of the players, with not even half the stands being full. Despite Parkside being the designated home team for the inaugural Wisconsin World Series, many Milwaukee Panthers fans were actually there for the baseball and were extremely knowledgeable about the team. In fact, during my time in the behind home plate grandstand, I spoke with one of the people who worked with the team; he agreed that this ballpark looked superior to "the Hank," but his problem was the lack of scoreboard as well as the lack of a clubhouse underneath the dugouts. For their sake, I hope the Milwaukee County developers get that Frontier League ballpark built so it could possibly be home to the Panthers too.
Parkside fans, on the other hand, are about what you'd expect from a Division II crowd; mainly college kids who made off-color comments about the Panthers players and what they'd do to their girlfriends (if the Panthers 13-3 drubbing of the Rangers in that game was any indicator, they were shut up quickly). Once the cold weather kicked in, the more die-hard fans stayed while most of the others left. Apparently, so many left that they called the game after the eighth inning.
However, from all accounts, better crowds will follow once the Kingfish actually begin play. The capacity is about 2,500, and with word about the team spreading through town, they should have no problem filling the park up most nights. While the beloved K-Twins of yore actually finished last in the Midwest League in attendance for most of their history, the fans that came were devoted and players have fond memories of these groups of fans. If the Kingfish can strive for something similar and finish in the Top 4 of Northwoods League attendance, they should consider it an all-around success.
I can't imagine a much easier ballpark to get to with Sheridan Road going as far north as Racine and as far south as Waukegan, Illinois,; just head in the direction of Kenosha, get on Sheridan, and keep driving - you are going to find the ballpark.
Parking, on the other hand, is going to be a tougher task. While there is a parking lot on the street side of the stadium, it is the kind that can get filled up very quickly. Therefore, fans could get redirected to a similar lot behind the right field fence of the stadium (complete with the risk of their car being hit by a home run ball). However, the aforementioned Simmons Park Plaza was generous enough to donate a good portion of their parking lot for in-game parking for the Wisconsin World Series. Since single game tickets for the Kingfish are going fast, it would be a good idea for team management to plan ahead for what they'd do with a packed crowd parking wise. Get there early enough where you will be assured a spot in the Sheridan side lot. One good side about the parking, though - it's FREE.
There is one restroom for each gender; the men's room was TARDIS-esque (for non-Whovians, that means it appeared much bigger on the inside), and has a clean look and smell to it. However, it is guilty of one big cardinal sin in restrooms; when they painted the stalls, they painted over the latches to the point where they no longer work and the doors will no longer shut. So whenever you do your business, you have to keep one arm outstretched to keep the door closed. This obviously needs to be fixed quickly.
Tickets for the Wisconsin World Series general admission was only $5, giving you free reign of any seat in the ballpark as well as all the perspective opportunities therein. Of course the ticket prices will be higher for Kingfish games ($12 dugout box, $10 stadium box, $8 lawn seats), so this event is an affordable opportunity to see this historic ballpark.
One point for the Kingfish using the built-in ticket booth for games, as well as the incredible way Parkside promoted it (on their program, you could scan a barcode for live up-to-the-minute stats).
One point for the team store inside the building already there, and for the complete protection from the elements offered therein.
One more point for the incredibly friendly staff; living in such a worn-out city as Racine, it's refreshing to see this many friendly people in the city right below us.
And finally, one more point for everything about Simmons Field - the history therein and what is yet to come with the Kingfish.
The ownership group struck gold with what they were able to do for the Mallards and Rafters; although some growing pains were evident, there's still time for them to put together a top score product in time for the Kingfish's home opener on Saturday, May 31 at 6:05 PM against the Mankato MoonDogs. Once the season rolls in, I would HIGHLY recommend you check out the Kingfish if you're a resident or will be staying anywhere between Oak Creek, Wisconsin and Gary, Indiana. It is truly worth the trip.
As for the Wisconsin World Series, it is unknown whether this will in fact become an annual event, but the first effort can be considered a success. Thanks, in part, to the decision to hold it at historic Simmons Field.
Member Review by jasonbohn9 on Jul 10, 2014
Kenosha is now home to a Northwoods League, college summer league team called the Kingfish. They play in the league with the Madison Mallards and Lakeshore Chinooks so I had to go check them out. I feel bad saying anything bad about the stadium as I was there on the 5th game of the first season...but in all actuality, there wasn't much bad to say. The food is pretty standard, tons of promotions, a great announcer and enough to make me want to make a return trip.
7839 Sheridan Rd
Kenosha, WI 53143
7500 Sheridan Rd
Kenosha, WI 53143
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