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Official Review by Paul Donaldson, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Where Texas and Louisiana meet at the Gulf Coast, you'll find the oil-town city of Beaumont and the pride of Southeast Texas, Lamar University. Nicknamed the Golden Triangle, the area is known for high school football talent, but Cardinal baseball has built a reputation as a perennial Southland Conference front runner and is no stranger to NCAA Regionals with 13 appearances since 1976. The Cardinals call on-campus Vincent-Beck Stadium home and have since 1969. The ballpark boasts a seating capacity of 3,500.
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".
Vincent-Beck Stadium has your average baseball concession fare offerings. You can grab a hot dog with chili or cheese ($4.50), nachos ($4.75), or a BBQ sandwich ($4.50) as major items. The price is definitely high for the quality as the hot dogs and nachos are nothing special and the BBQ sandwich tastes like someone mixed Sloppy Joe mix with pre-packaged brisket (I was hoping for a little more from a BBQ labeled dish in Texas). Snack items include peanuts ($3), pretzels ($2.75), popcorn ($3), a pickle ($1.50), and assorted candy ($2). Drink options are Coca-Cola products ranging from $3-$4. Concessions are cash only. Being in an area with a unique blend of Cajun, BBQ, and Mexican cuisines, it would be nice to have a unique item like street tacos, jambalaya, or some authentic Texas BBQ. That's probably asking for a little much from a mid-major program, but the Cardinals certainly have a fan base that could support an expanded concession menu. The stand does not accept credit cards so make sure to take some cash out prior to arriving to the stadium.
The atmosphere at Vincent-Beck is what you'd expect at a classic small college baseball park. The stadium has undoubtedly enjoyed serving as home to a Lamar Cardinal baseball team which is regularly in the mix for a regional berth. The combination of strong teams and a dedicated fanbase adds to the overall atmosphere.
The ballpark is one of the largest for Southland Conference baseball and the sheer capacity of the facility is impressive. Chairback seats are available in the section immediately behind homeplate and the remaining facility has bleacher style seating. At both ends of the stadium sits a unique strip of bleachers which are designed to allow for fans to plop down a fold-out styled chair and enjoy the game from their personal choice of seating. Just beyond the right field fence is the Lamar scoreboard with includes a small video board with replay capability. Lamar does a great job with honoring the past with large murals listing major accomplishments and another with pictures of Cardinals which have gone pro. There's also plenty of picnic benches in the concourse which allow you to enjoy your concessions items without having to bring them to the stands.
Though the ballpark is clearly one of the better in the Southland Conference, there are many enhancements which could be made to improve the environment. For one, the artificial turf infield just doesn't sit well. Southeast Texas is a fertile region so the need for an artificial surface just really isn't there. NCAA baseball seems to be leaning towards a trend of artificial surfaces, but you either need to go all in or stay out. The point where the artificial infield and the grass outfield meets is rather unsightly. Another sore spot is the outdated green painted wood which can be seen throughout the stadium. The press box is covered with it and the fence lines past the dugouts are made from it as well. Though it would take a little money, bricking in these areas would greatly enhance the atmosphere. There's also a rather interesting trailer office just inside the gate. Though this obviously provides needed office space, it's a trailer and no attempt is made to blend it in or fancy it up. Something that can't be fixed is the huge electricity tower which dominates the right field skyline.
Beaumont, Texas is the home of Lamar University and the Lamar Cardinal baseball team. Vincent-Beck Stadium is located on the campus of Lamar University which is just south of downtown Beaumont. The locals will tell you that you can only experience the area by going a little off the map. In other words, don't judge this book by its cover. Some great examples of this are the Big Thicket National Preserve and Neches River Adventures. If you're into outdoor activities, this area will offer a great time with plenty of space for hunting, boating, fishing, backpacking, and wildlife viewing. A couple of nice attraction areas in-town are the McFaddin-Ward House and Gladys City Boomtown.
If you don't do your research before heading to Beaumont, you'll be sorely disappointed in the mainstream restaurant options. The areas directly around the university and off the surrounding interstates don't offer much quality. However, if you're reading this review, you won't have to worry about that. A great place for seafood in the Beaumont area is Larry's French Market. Located about 20 minutes south of the Lamar campus, Larry's is a Cajun inspired market/restaurant in the Groves area. Be sure to stop in and taste their BBQ crabs. Madison's on Dowlen and Sugas Deep South Cuisine and Jazz Bar are both good dinner and nightlife options. Try the shrimp embrochette at Madison's. No doubt the best lodging option in the area is the MCM Eleganté Hotel.
As mentioned, Vincent-Beck Stadium is one of the largest baseball stadiums in the Southland Conference and Lamar fans do a pretty decent job of showing up here to support their Cardinal baseball team. Attendance has waned a bit over the last few years with attendance figures averaging between 600 and 1,000, but that's still pretty strong for the level of play. The fans in attendance are fairly knowledgeable about the game and supportive of their team. It's fun to see fans stand and clap along to a Texas favorite "Deep in the Heart of Texas" during the seventh inning stretch.
Beaumont isn't the easiest place to get to. The closest major airport is about 1.5 hours west of Beaumont in Houston, so if you're flying in, expect to put in a decent drive to get the park. Granted, most of the visitors to Vincent-Beck are likely fans of fellow conference teams so driving in is the more likely mode of transportation. Beaumont is conveniently located off I-10. This strip of interstate is really hit or miss when it comes to seriously bogged down traffic. The greater Beaumont area is pretty well populated, but there doesn't seem to be an intuitive reason for why they have traffic issues similar to a metropolis city. If you catch it at a good time though, the entry into town and down to the Lamar campus could be a breeze. Free parking is available beyond the outfield fence of the stadium. Ticket lines are usually very short and you'll walk right in with no problems after that. The concourses are very spacious and the seating area aisles will give you enough room to move around. Access to the restrooms shouldn't be a problem, but they could use an upgrade.
Individual tickets range from $5 (bleacher) to $7 (chairback). That's an exceptional price for high quality Southland Conference baseball. Add to that free parking and the deal gets sweeter. The concession options and high prices that go along with it bring the ROI down a bit. If you're a big fan of the aesthetics and landscape environment of the ballpark and surrounding area, this will no doubt be a bit of a negative with the massive power tower out in right field and a facility that is in need of a facelift. However, it's hard to say $5 is a bad deal for top of the line college baseball action.
Every great live sports experience is highlighted by certain 'extra' features which are unique compared to other venues or make the overall experience memorable. For Lamar baseball at Vincent-Beck Stadium, be sure to consider the following during your stadium experience:
• Be sure to take the trek south to the Groves to try Larry's BBQ crabs.
• Lamar has a pretty strong baseball history. Expect a pretty entertaining game with quality opponents from the Southland Conference. You can also catch the occasional home game against larger programs like the University of Houston and Rice, who don't mind making the 1.5 hour road trip east.
• If you are looking for a fairly inexpensive college baseball experience, this is a great option. If you avoid the concessions and apparel, you're looking at $5 per person since parking is free. That's a great deal.
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