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Official Review by Steven Burke, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Gary, Indiana has long had a reputation as a city that its best days have past. Once a thriving steel town, Gary has fallen on hard times. Known best as the hometown of the Jackson 5, Gary has seen its population and reputation diminish. For many, Gary is a place to drive past on the toll road from Chicago to Indiana, but there are a few good reasons to stop in Gary. One of the best reasons to pull off the highway is the U.S. Steel Yard, home of the Gary SouthShore RailCats of the independent American Association. The ballpark opened in 2002, and has a capacity of just over 6,000.
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".
U.S. Steel Yard has all of the usual ballpark items one would expect, and the quality of the products are good. The Chicagoland specialty Italian beef sandwich will run you $7, a meatball sandwich or chili dog are $5, with a Polish sausage or pizza ($4.50), and regular hot dog ($3.75) rounding out the menu.
Nachos are available for $4.75 and popcorn is $3.75, however the popcorn is also available in an unlimited tub for $6.75.
Draft beer comes in regular ($4.75) or large ($6.75) domestics, and $7 for craft drafts. Cocktails are available for $7.50 and wine for $6.50 at the craft beer stand. Fountain Coke products are $3.75 for medium and $4.75 for souvenir, with bottles running $4.25 for Gatorade, $4 for Coke products, and $3.75 for water.
There is also a dessert stand with Oreo Churro for $4, one scoop of ice cream ($3.75), or two scoops of ice cream ($4.50), and lemon chills are $4.50.
Also available at a tent on the concourse are Ben's soft pretzels which are delicious and will cost you $5 with dipping sauces for an additional $1.25.
The Steel Yard is a great ballpark to take in a game, with an open concourse that circles the field entirely so you don't have to miss any of the action on the field to go to the various concession stands. The concourse is wide and easy to navigate even with larger crowds. In the seating bowl the chair backs are comfortable and provide ample space.
The atmosphere of the ballpark is adversely affected by the Indiana toll way towering over the left field fence, the abandoned Bennigan's attached to the ballpark down the right field line, and a general lack of maintenance. The U.S. Steel Yard opened in 2002, and is beginning to show some wear and tear. Small issues such as cracks in the concrete, sun faded signage, and dirt on the exterior of the ballpark could easily be addresses to spruce things up, but unfortunately seem ignored instead. The ballpark is still a wonderful place to watch a baseball game, but it is in need of some TLC.
There isn't much to speak of in terms of a neighborhood unfortunately; the ballpark is in some ways an oasis in an area full of overgrown lots, vacant buildings, and weeds growing up from the sidewalks. Clearly seeing a baseball game is the sole motivation to drive to this part of Gary.
With that said, there is quality to be discovered at 18th Street Brewery. While not within walking distance of the ballpark, the brewery is a short four miles away. It is located at 5725 Miller Avenue in Gary and has a full kitchen menu to go along with all of the beers they brew in house.
The fans in Gary are always into the game, and many of them attend games regularly. They seem to know the names of the players and how they are performing. These fans bring their families to the games, but also seem to genuinely care about the product on the field.
There is plenty of free parking right next to the stadium on both ends. A lot is located near the ticket booths across from the area behind home plate. Another parking lot is located behind right field in what used to provide parking for the ballpark and the Bennigan's. However the restaurant space has been empty for quite some time now.
Easy access to Interstate 65 is just one mile from the ballpark and traffic is generally not a concern following games. Please be aware however that especially on a weeknight this area can be hard to access before a game due to the masses commuting through Chicagoland.
Tickets are extremely affordable at the U.S Steel Yard. Box seats are $10, reserved seats are $9, and the outfield terrace seats will run you $5. Reasonable priced tickets combined with affordable concessions and free parking make a trip to see the RailCats a very affordable night out for a family. The only things that are priced on the high side are located in the merchandise store, although sales racks have good deals in there as well.
One extra point for the team. Providing affordable family friendly entertainment is never easy, and Gary seems like it would be a challenging market for any owner and team to operate. However, the RailCats have consistently put a competitive product on the field and have catered to the community for well over a decade.
Another extra point to the family fun areas of the ballpark. There is a trampoline jump down the right field line, a playground behind the batters eye, and an arcade down the first baseline. These extras don't always appeal to the baseball purists, however they are increasingly present amenities that help attract families to the ballpark.
Member Review by paul
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.
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