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Official Review by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey Co-Founder
The Mid-American Conference (MAC) baseball tournament dates back to 1981 when Eastern Michigan won the first (and second) annual tournament. Although the tournament was suspended after 1983, it returned in 1992, and has been played each year since. Kent State has dominated the tournament, winning 10 of the 24 championships, including four straight from 2009-2012.
In 2012, the tournament was held at Sprenger Health Care Stadium, which is the usual home of the Lake Erie Crushers of the Frontier League. The tournament features the top eight teams from the MAC regular season, playing in a double elimination format. If you truly love baseball on an almost fanatical level, then the 12 games played over a stretch of four days in Avon, Ohio will be a great value for you.
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".
The tournament begins at 9am, so when I arrived at the game I was definitely hoping for a little breakfast to go with my baseball. Coffee was available ($1.50), but I was told that food would not be ready until 10am. When 10am rolled around, I stopped back at the lone open concession stand, and was told that food was just beginning to be prepared and would be ready by 10:30am. This was a bit of a missed opportunity I thought. When I attended a 9am game at SIU Arena for basketball during ESPN's 24 hour college basketball marathon one season, I was delighted to find donuts available. A similar touch would have been appreciated.
Other than that relatively minor complaint, the food (once ready) did the job of satisfying my hunger. My favorite item was the Italian sausage ($4.50), but they also were serving brats ($4.50), hot dogs ($3), grilled chicken ($4), cheeseburgers ($5), pizza ($4), nachos ($3.50), and fries ($3). There was nothing spectacular, but the prices were reasonable. Many fans stayed only to see their favorite team's game, so the lack of interesting variety would hardly be an issue, but for a hard core fan of MAC baseball, it would have been nice to find something a little more inspiring.
Beer was available as early as 9am, with only macro selections of Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors Light, and Miller Lite on hand ($3.75-$4.75). Pepsi is the soda provider at Sprenger Health Care Stadium ($2.50-$3.50), with bottled water also on hand ($3).
Sprenger Health Care Stadium features synthetic turf everywhere except the pitcher's mound, batting area, and bullpen mounds. I certainly understand the practicality of a surface like this, and it really does make sense in a tournament like this with so many games over a short period of time. However, there is a certain aesthetic beauty, and even audible joy that is missing on this kind of field. Also, I can't understand the purpose of the warning track if it feels the same under your feet, but alas.
The stadium itself offers comfortable seating and tables along the concourse with seats, which is a great vantage point, and really allows you to stretch out. There is no good coverage from the sun unfortunately, so be sure to bring your sun screen and a hat, especially if you plan to see several games.
All of the seats are green plastic with average leg room, and no cup holders. Unlike many college baseball experiences, if you catch a foul ball it is yours to keep, so this can be a great place to grow your stash of baseballs, as there aren't a lot of fans competing for the foul balls.
You can also choose to sit atop the large hill beyond the left field fence, providing a nice view of the field and a different perspective for a few innings. It's a bit of a steep climb however, so may not be ideal for everyone. I liked that you are able to walk around the entire stadium, and the walls in the outfield are very low, so you feel like you are almost on the field if you choose to stand along there.
The music of the Ohio Turnpike is the backdrop at Sprenger Health Care Stadium, especially along the first base side. It doesn't serve as a significant detraction, but it certainly doesn't kick up the neighborhood ambience either.
I did find a place that I liked quite a bit, although at about 15 minutes away, it can hardly be considered in the "neighborhood." If you are headed toward Cleveland, then stop in Westlake at the Ironwood Café. They have a good selection of craft beers (although most are in bottles, not draft), and decent bar food.
If you are looking for a variety of baseball opportunities, then check the Cleveland Indians schedule and head over to Progressive Field for a game. It's only about a half hour drive away.
Most of the fans you will find at the MAC baseball tournament are there to support their team, whoever that may be. You will likely find friends and family who have followed the team all year, or likely for the four years their family member has been a part of the team. For many, this will be the last place they play college baseball. That brings with it a level of intensity that you don't often find. And unlike a bowl game in college football, where it is certain this will be the last game for the seniors, each day brings a new opportunity for continued longevity to advance in the tournament, to the Regionals, to the Super Regionals, and perhaps even to the College World Series. That's part of what makes conference baseball tournaments so exciting, and the fans reflect that. There won't be an abundance of fans, but you can be sure that they care very much about each play and the eventual outcome.
Sprenger Health Care Stadium is just a mile or so after you exit at 151 off of I-90. The parking is free for the MAC Tournament, and the concourses are wide and the restrooms are clean. There is no doubt that this is a very convenient and centrally located venue for the MAC baseball tournament.
While I doubt that I will ever tell my grandkids about the time that I attended the MAC baseball tournament, I did really enjoy the event. A full tournament pass is only $35 (and $25 for youth/student). It is hard to argue with that price. Single day, evening, or championship only prices are also available. If you come to see only your team and want to avoid the risk by buying a ticket each day, then it will still only cost you $44 at most to see four games.
Programs are $5, which I thought was a little too expensive, but I did appreciate that there were two areas to score a game. Parking is free, and concessions are reasonably priced. All in all, I think the amount you pay is well worth the overall experience.
Noisemakers were prohibited for the MAC Tournament, something I appreciated. For the most part, this was a no frills event, where fans of baseball could just relax and watch the games.
There were four umpires used during the tournament (versus the normal three seen in the regular season). This didn't prevent the fans from berating calls of the men in black, but it was nice to see the MAC invest the extra dollars to cover all the bases.
If your team is playing in the MAC baseball tournament, then you should make the trip to Avon, Ohio to cheer them on. It is a worthwhile investment, and a great chance to enjoy the late spring weather of northern Ohio. Sprenger Health Care Stadium has hosted the MAC baseball tournament every season since 2012.
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1100 Crocker Rd
Westlake, OH 44145