Indianapolis has quickly become one of the best sports cities in America. One could argue that this ascension began with the completion of Victory Field in 1996. Combined with Conseco Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium, two of the best stadiums in their respective sports, the downtown is a thriving sports-centric extravaganza.
Basketball always comes to mind first when thinking of sports in Indiana, but this town has a long history of professional baseball. Since 1887, there have been baseball teams in Indianapolis, including a stint as part of the National League for four years. Since 1902, the team has been known as the Indians, even though they have been affiliated with the White Sox, Phillies, Expos, Reds, Brewers, and currently the Pirates.
As a result of their many affiliations, stars from several MLB franchises have played in Indy. The list includes Harmon Killebrew, Roger Maris, Dave Concepcion, Randy Johnson, and Paul Konerko. The wide concourses are filled with banners honoring this history.
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Victory Field offers all of the ballpark classics. They even place them at a stand called "Ballpark Favorites," allowing you to easily find the obligatory hot dog, cracker jack, peanuts, and popcorn. Other concessions include the Bullpen Pizzeria, Build-a-Burger, and Rowdie's Ice Cream- all of which are self-explanatory, and don't provide any surprises.
The Backstop Grille, located behind home plate, offers up some of the best smells, and most of the better protein options. I went with the Rowdie's Rib Sandwich, in part because of the very affordable price of $4.50. It was a pretty simple offering, reminiscent of a McDonald's McRib sandwich, but well worth the price.
Drink offerings include Pepsi products, and a large souvenir cup will cost you $3.75. The lite/light version of macro-brews like Coors, Bud, and Miller can be found at most concession stands, and there is a lone stand that allows you to find bottled premium beers. Guinness, Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams, Bell's Oberon, and Heineken go for $5.50. I recommend the Upland Wheat, brewed down the road in Bloomington, IN.
The Indianapolis Indians 2010 Souvenir Yearbook includes a quote from baseball enthusiast Bob Costas, who said of Victory Field, "It's a beautiful ballpark and it's part of one of the best sports downtowns anywhere in America." That sums it up pretty well. Views of the state capitol building can be seen past the park in center field, reminiscent of the Old Courthouse seen in the skyline view from Busch Stadium in St. Louis. From the left field line, a view of Lucas Oil Stadium can be seen juxtaposed with the smoky factory next door.
The wide concourses call out for you to take a walk around the stadium, and it seemed as if there were groups of kids who did nothing but talk and take laps as a pack. Beyond center field a small carnival atmosphere can be found with several games for the kids, and the kids-at-heart, to try during the game.
Seating provides for plenty of leg room, and drink holders throughout. There are no bleacher seats, so anywhere you sit you will have a great view and be able to see the game in comfort. I appreciated that there were no on the field games played between innings like what you see at most minor league parks. All the fan interaction was kept in the stands, making the experience feel a lot more focused on baseball, and not on peripheral entertainment.
The field itself has bullpens down the line with very little room in foul ground, making all the action feel very close to you as a fan. The deepest part of the ballpark is in left center field at 418 feet, a nice quirk that can lead to triples, arguably the most exciting hit in the sport.
As mentioned previously, Victory Field is an integral part of a great downtown area. There are plenty of hotels within walking distance of the park including the Westin, Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriott. Pretty much any option you would be looking for is within a reasonable walking distance from the field.
My recommendation goes to Loughmiller's Pub & Eatery located at 301 W Washington, just a couple of blocks from Victory Field. Everyone inside was packed at the bar engaged in jovial conversation, and it made for a very inviting and happy feel. There was a nice looking variety of sandwiches, but I went for the bacon and cheese fries appetizer, because how could that combination possibly be bad? They also offer burgers with bison meat, a personal favorite of mine. No item on the menu exceeds $10, and the beer list includes 36 bottled selections and five more on tap. I tried the Upland IPA, and liked it quite a bit. I always prefer the most local beer available, and this one certainly did not disappoint.
The bar is kitty corner to the state capitol building so the interior is filled with political memorabilia both local and presidential. Included is the front page from the Indianapolis Star from November 23, 1963 with the headline "President Kennedy is Assassinated". It's sort of a sports bar meets political bar.
The Indiana Repertory Theatre is also in the area for those who want to take in a doubleheader of a show and a ball game.
I was fairly disappointed by the fans in attendance during the game I visited. For the most part during game play, I heard little to no talk of baseball, and very few seemed to be following the action. The crowd erupted on a 3-run homer by the Indians, but by and large, they seem unaffected by the results on the field. In a town with this much baseball tradition, I expected more.
There are plenty of parking lots available throughout the downtown, and parking for the game costs only $5. Bathrooms were never a problem during the game, and the Indians provide plenty of quality seating for disabled fans. The field is in easy reach from I-65 or I-70, so getting in or out is relatively easy.
Tickets start at $9 for lawn seats, $10 for reserved seats, and $14 for box seats. I would recommend reserved seats as they are just as comfortable, and you can easily move to any section you like once the game has reached the third or fourth inning. Food feels like the price is just about right, and maybe pushing it slightly, and I found merchandise to be more expensive than I wanted to spend as a first time visitor. Overall though, this really is a great park, and nothing is out of the stratosphere as far as price.
The history in this town for baseball is important, and I appreciate the homage to some of their past great players. In fact, I would really like to see more of a historical presence. There is so much space in centerfield that perhaps a museum may be in order.
The downtown location and the toned down nature of the promotions help to make this a great baseball experience.
Lead photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Indians organization, photo credit to Bill Gentry
I love this ballpark. It's definately in my top five minor league parks. Lot's to do in town, but the parking sucks. Good food, fun time.
One South Capitol Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46204