Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.86
Jack Couch Baseball Park 400 East Ave Kitchener, ON N2H 1Z6
Year Opened: 1967
Over 100 Years of Panthers
The Kitchener Panthers are one of the founding franchises in the Intercounty Baseball League, which services Southern Ontario. An amateur baseball league featuring collegiate and former professional baseball players, the Intercounty League has shown surprising staying power among the changing landscape of baseball in Canada. Kitchener originally began as the Panthers and played as the Legionnaires and Dutchmen before reverting to the Panthers as the moniker in 1960. They are truly a community team and are a not-for-profit organization that is run by a community Board of Directors.
Home for the Panthers is Jack Couch Baseball Park. Although not the flashiest of IBL stadiums, it has served its purpose since 1967 and sits on the grounds of the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex. The park is named after Jack Couch, who was involved with Kitchener baseball for over 40 years.
Food & Beverage 3
Concession options are pretty basic at Jack Couch Park. The main structure does have a concession window where soft drinks and light snacks are available. There is a tent where beer and seltzer’s are available as well. Any food that is more substantial would need to be purchased from a food truck if there is one on sight. If a food truck is not on site, a BBQ with hot dogs and sausages is present. The rules regarding bringing outside food into the park are pretty loose and many fans bring in their own small cooler bags.
Jack Couch Park is part of the larger Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex. The Auditorium, which is home of the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers, is on the other side of the parking lot.
The ballpark is a very basic design. There is a permanent structure housing the concession window, washrooms and press box behind home plate. Seating consists of seven sets of aluminum bleachers. The field is a typical symmetrical baseball design and the proximity to the players and bullpens is very close. The sounds of the game are front and centre and hearing the comments and conversations of players, umpires and fans is part of the atmosphere. There are some sightlines issues as the backstop consists of full, chain-link fencing and the posts can provide some obstructed views.
On the fence behind the concession stand on the north side of the diamond are banners for the Panthers Hall of Fame. Inductees include Harry Psutka, Rich Jack, Court Heinbuch, Bob McKillop, Gary Ebel, Tom McKenzie, Paul Knight, Bruce Klaehn, Kevin Curran, Randy Curran, Jason Rausch, Brad Hagedorn, Scott Medvin and Jeff Pietraszko. Some of the Panthers Hall of Fame members also have Major League Baseball experience. The Panthers have also won thirteen league championships (1941, 1950, 1952, 1957, 1967, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1990, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001) but any commemoration of these championships is not apparent. Upon entry into the park, a rock with the dedication of the diamond to Jack Couch is prominently displayed on a rock.
The gameday atmosphere is fairly simple. On field promotions are not overbearing, if there are any. The main promotion is the 50/50 draw. The Panthers run a tight ship and remind fans that baseballs that are hit out of play are the property of the team. This is not an uncommon practice for Intercounty Baseball Retrieved baseballs can be exchanged for a freezie at the concession stand.
Jack Couch Park is part of the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex and located in the Auditorium neighbourhood in Kitchener, east of downtown. The neighbourhood is predominantly residential and there is not much in the way of food and beverage options within walking distance. StrykerZ Kitchen & Bar is a short walk west on Ottawa Street. A Tim Hortons and Dairy Queen are also found in the same plaza. Continuing west to King Street will bring fans to downtown proper and more options. Crabby Joe’s, TWH Social, The Rich Uncle Tavern and McCabe’s are decent options. The hidden gem is probably The Grand Trunk Saloon on Ontario Street, but all will require some travel.
For fans interested in other sports options, the Dom Cardillo Arena inside the Auditorium is home to the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, however, their schedules rarely cross. Other options include some USports options found at Wilfrid Laurier or the University of Waterloo just across the border in the twin city of Waterloo. For another cultural option, checking out TheMuseum on King may be of interest.
Staying near the Auditorium is best done at the Walper Terrace or Crowne Plaza in Downtown Kitchener.
It is very difficult to assess the fan situation in the Intercounty Baseball League. For most games the attendance figures are not published. However, it is fair to say that the Panthers attract an average crowd compared to their compatriots in the league. This is only a couple hundred fans at the most. For the most part the fans are diehards or friends and family. Promotions like the KMBA appreciation night will bring out a larger crowd.
Getting to the Auditorium Complex is best done by car. There is plenty of free parking to be found there and it is conveniently located at the Ottawa Street exit off of the Conestoga Parkway. Fans should consider the possibility of fly balls in the parking lot before selecting a spot. Fans wishing to take public transportation can catch the Grand River Transit bus on Ottawa Street. A bus trip or significant walk will be required to bring fans to the nearest Ion LRT station at Borden Street. Fans should check out the GRT website for fares, schedules and maps. The ballpark is fairly spread out and getting from spot to spot is not difficult at all. The washroom situation is a little cramped, but not terrible for the number of fans who are usually in attendance.
Return on Investment 4
The investment in a Kitchener Panthers game is not huge at all. Adult tickets go for $12 with discounts for high school students and seniors. Elementary School students can get in for only $2 and preschoolers are free. Ticketing is done online for the most part. Concession prices are very reasonable and parking is free. The baseball on the field is good quality and fans will have a good time at the game.
An extra mark for being a charter member of the Intercounty Baseball League dating back to 1919.
An extra mark for the community ownership and operation of the team.
A trip to see the Kitchener Panthers is a good way to spend a summer evening or weekend afternoon. The team has been around for over 100 years, survived the pandemic and are still charging to an IBL title. If in Waterloo Region in the summer months, take some time out to catch the Panthers.
Follow all of Dave’s sporting adventures on Twitter @profan9.