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  • Steve Ohnsman

LMCU Ballpark – West Michigan Whitecaps


Photos by Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

LMCU Ballpark 4500 W River Dr Comstock Park, MI 49321

West Michigan Whitecaps website LMCU Ballpark website

Year Opened: 1994 Capacity: 9,500

 

A Wave of Success in Western Michigan

In February of 2021, Fifth Third Ballpark was renamed LMCU Ballpark. The ball club and Lake Michigan Credit Unit entered a 10-year naming rights deal that would be effective imminently at the baseball stadium.

The West Michigan Whitecaps came into existence in 1994 as an affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, and three years later the stars aligned for them to become the Class A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. Clearly, this is a geographic affiliation that makes good sense and leads to greater fan loyalty to the farm club. The team has found solid success in the Midwest League, with six league titles (1996, 1998, 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2015). In January 2014, a fire broke out and destroyed most of the first base side of the ballpark.

The club worked feverishly to have the ballpark ready for opening day that season and had completed all repairs in time for the Midwest League All-Star Game that summer. In some ways, the fire was a blessing. It allowed the club to move ahead with some renovations that needed to be made including a new team shop, new craft beer area, offices and a new deck area in right field, and improved wi-fi throughout the ballpark. Overall, Fifth Third Ballpark is a lovely stadium with good food, many comfortable viewing options, and an ideal affiliation with the Tigers across the state.

Food & Beverage 5

First, a moment of silence, please, as we respectfully note the demise of the Fifth Third Burger after a ten-year run. They sold more than 12,000 of these gastronomic behemoths, coming in at 4,889 calories each. Originally, they gave a t-shirt to anyone fan who ate the “whole thing” along with a photo on the wall. The Caps had a referee with his/her own black and white striped shirt there to make sure the rules were followed. Fans can preview all of the dining alternatives before attending a game at Caps Grub Getter.

Each year, the Whitecaps invite their fans to vote for proposed dining options for the upcoming season. Unique current choices include three ounces of roasted crickets with coconut lime seasoning; Mount Wing-Suvius (Onion rings piled high with mac ‘n cheese, buffalo chicken, beer cheese, and green onions); the Westsider Sandwich (1/2 lb. cheddar-infused kielbasa sausage wrapped in bacon, fried, served in a sub bun), and Beer Cheese Poutine (waffle fries with pulled pork, bbq sauce, beer cheese, and green onions. That doesn’t mean the standards are ignored.

Fans can “Build Your Burger” behind home plate; standard burgers are $4.75 and hot dogs $3.75; Pepsi products go for $3 or $5; $7 for the pulled pork sandwich; $5 for Nutella Poppers; mainstream beers for $5.50 or $8.50 (including Bell’s Oberon); fried elephant ears for $5.50 or $7 with fruit; $7.75 for a gyro; even a “create your own” noodle bowl for $7.75. If you can’t find something good to eat here, you just aren’t trying. The Craft Clubhouse sponsored by locally famous brewer Founders offers sixteen craft beers from Michigan brewers at a very fair price of $9 for 20 ounces or $13 for 32 ounces. Fans can buy a 24-ounce refillable mug for $15 and a refill is only $9. Mixed drinks are $7 or $10 for a double.

There is also an extensive selection of gluten-free items available and that is a plus. The city of Grand Rapids is promoting itself as “Beer City USA,” promoting its many high-quality breweries that include Founders Brewing Company, Brewery Vivant, Grand Rapids Brewing Company, Mitten Brewing Company, and many more.

Atmosphere 4

The Whitecaps have replaced most of the metal bleacher seats with plastic seats and are considering the replacement of the remaining bleachers. The lawn areas are smaller now. Fans can enjoy the open concourse which runs from the left field corner around to right field; the outfield seating is for groups. The centerfield scoreboard is large and features lots of clear replays that display fans enjoying themselves. They also have the manual “old school” scoreboard in left field. For day games, there is very little shade available; night games, we recommend sitting in the third base seats as the setting sun is bright on the first base side.

Neighborhood 3

Here’s the good news: driving to Fifth Third Ballpark is easy. Take US 131 and exit at the West River Drive and park in one of the large lots. Given its location, there is no “neighborhood” within walking distance. The stadium is located just north of the Grand River but no access is available. In recent years, quality dining choices in the area have increased.

Mad Dogz is a mile south and offers over 25 unique versions of hot dogs, while nearby Nick Fink’s is an old-school bar. Downtown Grand Rapids is a short drive away. The Butcher’s Union opened recently and is excellent, HopCat is well known for its “crack fries” and draft beer selections, and the Chop House offers great steaks and seafood. As far as breweries, the Grand Rapids area abounds with very high-quality options. Founders Brewing is located downtown and is very well known. Perrin Brewery is north of the stadium and the Mitten Brewing Company is very popular among locals and visitors. Well-known tourist spots are the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, the Gerald R. Ford Museum, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, and Public Museum.

Fans 4

The Whitecaps fan base is robust. Currently, their average attendance is 5,788 which is second in the Midwest League. The club has also captured six league titles in 24 years and their affiliation with the Detroit Tigers means that the fans get to see their future major leaguers early on. At the end of each half-inning, the staff offers an on-field activity to keep the fans involved. A large “bounce park” in the right field area offers fun activities for the kids. Netting has been extended to the end of each dugout, thus improving fan safety.

Access 3

Large parking lots surround the park. Cars are $7; oversize vehicles and buses are $10. Even with the large crowds, the number of restrooms seems to serve the fans well. Physically challenged fans should consider using the elevator on the north entrance to the park; wheelchairs can go up the ramp at the main entrance.

Return on Investment 3

Premium box seats behind home plate cost $16, featuring thick and wide comfortable seats. Other seats in the main bowl vary from $12.50 to $14; we recommend the field box seats which are closest to the field. Lawn seats on the berm in the corners are $8. For a special event, consider the 4Topps (get it? Just like the Motown group) behind home plate where four people have a reserved table and service is included for all drinks and food at normal prices. Kids 2 and under are free.

There are many promotional and entertainment options at each game, check the schedule for half-price tickets for senior citizens and people who bring in a worship or community bulletin. Thrifty Thursdays include hot dogs, some beers, and soft drinks for $2 each as well as $5 seats for fans with college or military ID. Sunday, the first 1,000 kids eat free. Most of the Saturday games have post-game fireworks. These options make the cost of the games more affordable.

Extras 4

Each fan receives a quality free program at the gate. Check with the guest service window for free statistic sheets for the two teams. The high quality, inventive and wide variety of food and drink options, especially at the minor league level increase fan enjoyment. A big plus is noted for the quality craft beer choices.

Final Thoughts

The West Michigan Whitecaps have made attending a baseball game a lot of fun. The creative food choices, local craft beer selections, and fan interaction make attending a game an event more than a game. The City of Grand Rapids is also a great place to enjoy a few days while taking in a game, creating the ultimate baseball road trip.

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