With the St. Louis Cardinals being a regional draw since their inception, generations of baseball fans from the surrounding twelve states have grown up cheering one of the National League’s most historic franchises. Still, there has been opportunity for minor league franchises to establish an image and brand catering to a more localized market. In the case of the River City Rascals, St. Charles County residents have a team to call their own.
Located in O’Fallon, Missouri, about 35 miles northwest of Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis, the Rascals were established in 1993 as the Zanesville Grays (Ohio) before moving to their current location in 1999. They have enjoyed an intimate setting amidst an upper middle-class marketplace just a mile north of exit 219 along Highway 70, the main artery connecting Kansas City and St. Louis. The stadium is part of the Ozzie Smith Sports Complex and provides a family-friendly setting to enjoy a nearly four-month baseball season.
The Rascals have enjoyed success in O’Fallon winning five division titles (1993, 2000, 2009, 2010 and 2011) and two league titles (1993, 2010) as a member of the independent Frontier League. The Rascals averaged about 1,600 a game during the 2011 season, but are already averaging 2,100 for 2012, thanks to a revamped look and some unique fan offerings from a new and innovative leadership team.
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There are three major concession areas at T.R. Hughes Ballpark; behind section 105 as the primary location down the left field line, behind section 106 down the right field line and far down the right field line near the foul pole in the all-inclusive area. All provide a good variety of staples and a few very special delicacies.
First, let's get through the regular ballpark staples, things you would expect served within one-hundred feet of any diamond. We'll get to the "special items" later.
In the way of drinks, bottled soda, bottled water, frozen lemonade, AllSport or a fountain drink is just $3 while a 16oz. beer or margarita is $5.
For main courses, bratwursts are $4, a Mayor Bill's Big Dog is $2, hamburgers and cheeseburgers are $4, chicken strips, either regular and buffalo style are $5, a grilled chicken breast sandwich or a Riley's Cajun chicken sandwich is $4. Nachos are $3 while corn dogs are $2.
For snacks, cotton candy is $2, peanuts are $3, and popcorn is $2 for a small, $3 for a large, a small bag of kettle chips, known as Billy Goat Chips here are $2 and a super pretzel is $3. Add a cheese cup for $0.50. French fries are $2. Save room for dessert with local Fritz's Frozen Custard is $4.
Before you decide on what to eat, though, make sure you consider the following two choices.
The first is new for the 2012 season. The Rascals are proud to offer, the Arch Nemesis, a unique twist on an already succulent and popular burger. In an effort to rival their fellow Frontier League foe across the Mississippi River who offers several unique options, the Rascals may have topped the Gateway Grizzlies with this creation.
A creation from the head chef at T.R. Hughes Ballpark, the only thing ordinary about this tasty item is the bun. Beyond the bread, they take a 3 oz. grilled teriyaki chicken breast and place it between two quarter pound all beef patties with two slices of white and two slices of yellow American cheese in between. It might end up being the best $6 you ever spend. Through fifteen dates, the club has sold an average of 90 per game. Start with this item before game and consider grabbing a few extra napkins. Most people split this item with another pal.
The second choice is the concession booth featuring a Taste of St. Charles County stocked exclusively with tasty items from local restaurants. The schedule of offerings changes based upon the day of the week. They are all good, but I am particularly fond of Stefanina's Italian offerings on Wednesday games and the Thursday and Saturday offerings of sponsor, The Den Deli which feature pulled pork sandwiches.
This small and very narrow booth appears like an afterthought and can be found just to the left of the main concession stand. It is weakly merchandised and the team would be well-served in giving it more attention. The local flavor of food sponsors to a ballpark provides added-value and can further enhance the unique local identity from which a team can capitalize.
The field at T. R. Hughes Ballpark sits below the main outside level in a bowl design with the exterior built up around the seating area blended in with a delicate grade. The field surface is all grass. It includes an all-dirt infield between the bases edging into the outfield and a dirt path leading from the pitching mound to home plate as a nice, classic touch. The warning track near the outfield wall is laden with red clay gravel.
The only entrance is on the northwest side of the ballpark to the right of the ticket office and the team store entrance. Upon entering the ballpark, the main concourse and home dugout along the 1st base line are directly ahead of you with the press box to the left and right behind section 100.
When considering where to sit, be aware of a few things first. The view for the batter as he watches the ball being thrown from the pitcher is southeast. The first base line travels south and the third base line travels east. The Rascals dugout is along first base side while the visitors occupy the third base side. The home bullpen is to the left of the scoreboard behind the outfield wall in right-center field. The visitors take up an area far down the left field line in a very wide foul territory.
From home plate, the distance measurements are 320 down the left field line, 354 in left center, 382 in straight away center, 325 in right center and a shallow 299 down the right field line. The foul area is quite wide from the seating area, but narrows to within a few feet as it stretches toward the outfield wall.
The wall stands eight feet high from the left field foul pole until it reaches right center field where the manual clock spins and the team's only retired number appears, #22 for inaugural manager and former Cardinals slugger Jack Clark. It is at this point along the fence where the wall height drops to four feet until it gets to the scoreboard some thirty feet to the left. The scoreboard is about forty feet high. The warning track is a wide fifteen feet in depth from grass to hard wall.
The scoreboard is fully manual and quite the spectacle. The operator is often seen waving to fans while hanging out of an open square where a digit might be placed once a half inning is complete or a scoring play needs to be documented. Sadly, there is no pitch speed or replay board to keep fans engaged between pitches and plays.
The seating area is even-numbered down the right field line and odd-numbered down the left field line. Section 100 is directly behind home plate. The netting behind home plate begins at section 107 and stretches to section 119 covering quite a distance, but good to know for those who do not like to view games through an obstruction from close distances.
Sections 109 and 110 are directly behind the home dugout while sections 116 and 117 are behind the visitor's dugout. Lawn seating is available down the left field line beyond third base.
In the main bowl, tickets are $10 in advance, $11 day of game. These are the closest seats to the action where you are never more than eleven rows from the field. These also are the only seats in the regular seating area offering a comfortable chair back.
Infield bleacher seats are $8 in advance, $9 day of game. These areas are down the left field line for several sections, but more plentiful down the right field line extending all the way to the outfield wall curling inward to face the action the further down the line you go to the foul pole and scoreboard.
Outfield bleacher seats are $5 in advance, $6 day of game. In these seats, you are the furthest away from bathrooms, the action, civilization, etc.....you get the picture. Consider this seating option only when all other options are unavailable, including watching the game from your car outside the ballpark.
Lawn seating is $5 in advance, $6 day of game and exclusively down the left field line just beyond the infield bleachers on this side of the field. The pitch in the slope is good enough for fans stacked along this area to get a good view of the action. Like most lawn seats, it is first come, first served.
An all-inclusive food area can be enjoyed for $25 at the Dog Pound Patio. For the one price, you get a ticket to the game and a box seat down the left field line. Fans wanting cover from the sun may enjoy one of the patio tables with umbrellas in this exclusive section as well.
For shade in the seating area other than the Dog Pound Patio, you will find just four places and they are also premium options.
Shield yourself from the hot sun in the party deck suites down the left field line behind the main bowl and grass seating. With a minimum of 20 people at $12 a ticket, you will enjoy covered seating and can add catered food for an additional $12 per person (includes draft beer). Tents hold up to 25 people.
A second option is the open air box with two of the six boxes available for game-by-game use during the 2012 season. These private suites are equipped with more comfortable chairs than the rest of the ballpark and covered by appropriately arranged pop-up tents down the right field line in the outfield area behind the main seating bowl.
For $12 a ticket and a minimum of 10 people, maximum of 30, fans can enjoy the best seating in the house for comfort and shade. Optional all-inclusive catering at $12 a person is available.
For a smaller group of four, the team provides high top tables with umbrellas behind section 109 down the left field line and section 106 down the right field line. Currently the 2012 season is sold out; however, if the seats are unattended, you might consider asking guest relations for an upgrade.
If you don't have a seat in the aforementioned areas, bring lots of sunscreen or wear your Brockabrella (a creation by Hall of Fame base stealer Lou Brock that is an umbrella worn as a hat). Don't laugh. They used to have a store inside the St. Louis airport devoted to just this product when I was a kid in the 1970s.
The completely covered portion of the concourse can be found in just two places. You can enjoy cover behind the home and visiting dugouts leading to the main concession stand along the third base line or on the right field side where the restrooms and several food stands operate.
T.R. Hughes Ballpark is built within a beautiful middle-class residential community which has grown up around the sports complex over the years. There is an upscale fueling and food station across the street from the ballpark to the North, but no restaurants exist within walking distance.
What you will find is a nicely landscaped area with beautiful homes owned by middle-class families in a pleasant environment. The complex is just a mile north of Highway 70 which provides access to nearby Lake St. Louis to the west and historic St. Charles to the east..
Fans of the Rascals get it, they know how to have a good time and they love their team. They have created their own identity and are passionate in their support. While most, if not all, fans also enjoy the Cardinals, the close proximity to the action and affordable pricing gives cause for local visitors to embrace their own team and the support is unwavering.
Access to T.R. Hughes Ballpark is very easy. No matter where you are in St. Louis, you can get to the game in no time. Highway 70 is what you will need to reach exit 219. Travel north a mile or so as you meander through the O'Fallon, Missouri neighborhood and you will find the Ozzie Smith Sports Complex on the right.
For those who are stadium hoppers, consider a few things. Travel three hours west of the O'Fallon, Missouri exit and you can be at Kauffman Stadium to see the Royals play.
An hour east of this exit and you can be in downtown St. Louis to see the Cardinals. Go another ten minutes east of Busch Stadium across the river and you can see the Rascals' rival, the Gateway Grizzlies and GCS Ballpark.
Parking on the Rascals paved lot is free, but across the street from the VIP parking area and west of the stadium. Fans parking in this area will leave their car, climb several dozen steps and use an overhead walk bridge over T.R. Hughes Boulevard to enter the stadium complex. VIP Parking is reserved for pass holders and media only.
Restrooms are found in one place, along the right field line behind section 106. No worries though as they are spacious and designed to accommodate a steady flow of traffic.
The concourses are about 30 feet wide at most points. Still, the concession stand behind the third baseline gets so crowded it impedes traffic flow as lines extend from the counter to the back row of seats in those sections. Seems like there is a better way to shape the queue and keep waiting fans out of major walkways.
The Rascals and T.R. Hughes Ballpark provide good value. You will depart the game, regardless of the outcome quite satisfied. Much of this is greatly benefitted through the engaging team officials eager to ensure your visit is enjoyable and fulfilling. Take advantage of their hospitality as they are there to be sure their guests are satisfied.
Unlike nearby Busch Stadium where the Cardinals allow you to bring in your own food and beverages with few limitations, you cannot bring anything to eat at a Rascals game. That's all right though because the set prices provide value to what you buy and worth every penny.
Game programs at $2 each are a hand-held, small size and can be purchased inside the team store across from section 100. Be sure to pick-up the separate insert with updated rosters which are complimentary. I have seen better programs that are given complimentary to fans, though.
The team store is designed to have just enough merchandise to satisfy fans of all ages and not overdone. The floor is laid out as an infield with sections for fitted caps, authentic jerseys, collectible merchandise and programs.
You will find some good values including the logo baseball for just $5, official team fitted caps at $24 and team t-shirts which are $10 for children, $15 for adults.
For kiddos, Ruffy the team mascot spends lots of time roaming the seating areas lightening the atmosphere for the young kids. The lovable pooch is a big part of the promotions each game spending time on the field to help with the events. Also, deep behind the left field wall in the corner is a collection of bounce houses for youngsters to enjoy.
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