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Official Review by Jim Flannery, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Henderson Stadium opened its doors in 1924 in Lethbridge, AB and has been the home of baseball in the small city ever since. Off and on between 1975 and 1998 it hosted teams from the Pioneer League at the Rookie level of Minor League Baseball.
Spitz, a local sunflower seed manufacturer, began a long-term sponsorship of the diamond in 2008, changing the name to Spitz Stadium. Since then a number of improvements have been made to the stadium, including a new scoreboard.
There are two main tenants these days at Spitz Stadium. The Lethbridge Bulls of the WMBL play here during the summer, but before they get here, Spitz Stadium is home to the Prairie Baseball Academy Dawgs.
The Dawgs play in the Canadian College Baseball Conference (CCBC), which is a spring league that features five teams from Alberta and BC. Because neither the University of Lethbridge nor Lethbridge College are quite big enough to support a baseball team on their own, students from both the college and university are combined to make up the Dawgs through an independent organization known as the PBA, which has been in place since 1995.
College baseball in Canada is a bit of a strange bird. Colleges and universities north of the border wrap up classes right about the time that the weather is good enough to get outside and start playing ball, so it is challenging to even find parks that aren’t covered in snow. Moreover, because kids know this as well, the ones with the most talent usually opt for American college ball if they can get in. As a result, only a handful of locations can support a team simply due to weather and the actual talent on the field isn’t much better than you might see at a high school level game.
On the other hand, if you have a warm, sunny day and a craving to go see some live baseball at this time of year, this is a great way to enjoy an afternoon.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There is one open concession stand by the patio area beyond the left field stands. It's the biggest stand at the diamond, but the choices are basic, including pop, peanuts, chips, candy bars, and Spitz-brand sunflower seeds.
Not much to speak of here, but enough to do the trick.
It's a very relaxed atmosphere at Spitz Stadium, with the audience seemingly out to enjoy a nice day in the sun as much as the game, but there's nothing wrong with that.
In case you haven't heard, do be aware that Lethbridge has a reputation for wind. Lots and lots of wind. If the temperature is chilly, that wind will cut right through you if you're out in the bleachers or the patio. You'll be much warmer and more sheltered if you go for the grandstand seating.
Some landscaping and hardscaping around the left field patio add a nice touch to the appearance of the stadium, although the plants in mid-spring are only just starting to sprout leaves, so it does look a bit like a work in progress.
Between batters and between innings they play music over the P.A. system, but their playlist is curiously small. I don't know if that's a case of them only having one CD in the booth to cycle through or no one has an iPod, but after about three innings I was starting to tire of hearing "Jump Around" by House of Pain and a handful of country songs.
With fairly low-key ball like this, there isn't much energy or noise in the stands so if a fan in the stands who knows the third base coach wants to have a conversation with him from his seat, he can.
Spitz Stadium is located a half block off Mayor Magrath Dr., one of the main arteries in Lethbridge, on the north end of Henderson Park, a huge green space that features a lake, a public swimming pool, Japanese gardens and an 18-hole golf course. While there aren't a ton of dining options in the immediate vicinity, Henderson Park is lovely and you're only a 5-10 minute drive to just about everything worth driving to in the city.
Only a couple blocks north, and across Mayor Magrath, you'll find the Firestone Restaurant in the Coast Lethbridge Hotel. A couple blocks further north, back on the east side of the road, there are two restaurants at the top of what used to be Lethbridge's water tower. The lower level is Rogue Restaurant and Italian Café and the upper floor is the Cut & Char Chophouse. Both are on the upscale side and it's a very distinctive location with a unique view of the city.
Heading south on Mayor Magrath you're only a few minutes from just about every franchise restaurant in the free world, whether it's KFC, Burger King, Boston Pizza or Swiss Chalet.
I counted around 70 people in the stands for the game I attended. Many or most appeared to be friends or family of the players. While this is about as good a crowd as I was expecting to see, the place sure does look empty.
Given the size of the crowd, it wasn't surprising to find them to be fairly sedate. They still cheer at all the right times, telling me they are engaged and paying attention.
Still the folks in the stands are pleasant and that goes a long way towards creating an enjoyable experience.
Mayor Magrath Dr. runs north-south and will quickly deliver you to either end of the city. Only a few blocks north you'll get onto the Crowfoot Highway (Highway 3) which can quickly move you east-west across town. Either way, you can easily get around Lethbridge in minutes.
Parking at the diamond is plentiful enough for a typical crowd and it is free. Just be forewarned: the spots nearest the grandstand are very vulnerable to foul balls, so park there at your own risk. There is more parking around the Henderson Park grounds and in surrounding neighbourhoods so you should be able to find a spot to drop off your car with ease.
Lethbridge Transit runs buses up and down Mayor Magrath regularly so that's also an easy option.
Attendance at Dawgs games is free. Just walk in the side entrance and find a seat. You can't beat that price.
A number of recent stadium improvements have improved the fan experience. Trees have been added beyond the outfield fence to beautify the park. More renovations are planned for the near future including adding more seats, improving the patios and much more. On the other hand, the Dawgs haven't really added anything to improve the fan experience, don't make use of the video screen on the scoreboard, and the folks in the press box aren't letting you know who's up to bat.
Lethbridge has a reputation for being a city with a lot of baseball fans. The Dawgs provide one more option for those fans to get out, enjoy some spring weather, and take in a ballgame. It's a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
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