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Official Review by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey Co-Founder
Situated off the Indiana Toll Road know as the Chicago Skyway is the U.S. Steel Yard, home to the Gary SouthShore Railcats. The city of Gary has long been known as an abandoned industrial center and the home of the Jackson 5. Remnants of both can be found nearby the park.
Less than a mile from the Steel Yard is the Palace Theatre where the marquee still reads in perpetuity, "The Jackson Five." It's a must see for any music lover and photographer, so make sure you take some extra time for the short diversionary trip.
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".
There really are no items that would be considered to be unusual compared to any other stadium selection, but there is one item that is unusually good. Quite possibly the best ballpark brat that I have had can be found in Gary, Indiana. What makes it special is both the moistness of the sausage, as well as the ground mustard seed that can be found in the sauerkraut.
Other food items include dippin' dots, Connie's pizza, buffalo chicken bites with fries ($7.50), mini corn dogs with fries ($5), nachos, and popcorn. There's a hot dog stand down the third baseline with some pretty good looking offerings, but unfortunately it was closed for my visit.
Draft beers go for $5.50 for a large and $4.75 for a small. There's also a beer stand offering more exotic bottles including Corona, Fat Tire, Pacifico, Red Stripe, Sierra Nevada, Woodchuck, Sam Adams, and Goose Island 312. Bottles cost $5.50, and there are some 22 ounce beers available for $9. Pepsi products are also served throughout the stadium and souvenir cups are available ($4).
The Steel Yard really is a great place to see a game. It all starts with public address announcer, Tommy Williams. He does a great job of engaging the fans, without giving you the feeling that he's intruding on the baseball action. He has the perfect naturally improvisational approach and really adds to the overall experience.
Seats are comfortable with plenty of legroom and a good view of the field. It's a very walkable stadium with a wide concourse encircling the field. Although the din of the highway past the outfield fence does not exactly add to a baseball ambience, it does seem fitting to the heavy industrialized feel of the area and the stadium itself.
This is where the experience suffers. There is really nothing redeeming about the area near the park, and I found no options to spend time within walking distance. It's worth the drive past the Palace Theatre, especially if you're a music lover or historian, but other than that, it's the game and little else.
Most fans were very much into the game, and many knew the players as if they were franchise players. One of the advantages to being an unaffiliated team is that you can actually have a guy spend a few years with the club, as is the case with shortstop Jay Pecci and outfielder Cristian Guerrero. The fans also belted out one of the more enthusiastic versions of the Take Me Out to the Ballgame, this side of Wrigley Field.
There is plenty of free parking right next to the stadium. The bathrooms were less tidy than what I have found in many other minor league facilities, and there was a significant line to use the women's rest room. The stadium was very handicap accessible, with good viewing areas.
Tickets are extremely affordable, with nothing costing more than $10. The food is solid and reasonably priced, and parking is free. Overall, it is a great way to experience professional baseball on a budget. On top of that, the RailCats have been the most competitive team in the league over the past 5 years, so it's likely that you will be able to witness some of the best that the Northern League has to offer.
PA announcer, Tommy Williams is worth an extra point without a doubt. He's one of the best that I have encountered in my travels.
Mascots are an essential part of the minor league experience, and the RailCats have two- Rusty and Rascal. They also have a good back story, which can be found in their programs. A little character development goes a long ways towards improving any plot.
Finally, the best brat that I've had at a game is saying something, and is worth an extra point in my book.
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