Empire Ballpark – Perth Heat
Photos by Meg Minard, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43
Empire Ballpark Nicholson Rd & Wilfred Rd Thornlie, WA 6155 Australia
Year Opened: 2004 Capacity: 4,500
Originally posted 1/28/2016
The Power of Perth
Since the return of the Australian Baseball League in 2010, the Perth Heat has been the team to beat. They have been champions for the 2010/11, 11/12 and 13/14 seasons and were the runner up in the 12/13 season. Perth Heat are heavily involved in the local community and are particularly well known for their support of the Team Spencer charity, raising money for research into Spinal Muscular Atrophy.
Barbagallo Ballpark (now known as Perth Harley-Davidson Ballpark) is the premier baseball facility in Western Australia and has had steady upgrades over the last few seasons. Additional funding is already secured as part of a staged plan to continue to upgrade the ballpark. The next tranche of funding is set to upgrade the toilet block and the stadium lighting. Baseball through all age groups is played at Barbagallo approximately 250 days/year. Barbagallo is a lovely venue with lots of space for kids to run and play catch, good food and beverages, fantastic customer service, and a lovely family/summer feel.
Note: Stadium name changed to Empire Ballpark Dec, 2020.
Food & Beverage 4
There is a wide variety of food and drink options at Barbagallo Ballpark. There is one permanent concession stand/kiosk located on the concourse towards the third base side that is run by local organizations as part of fundraising for that group. It offers hot dogs, pies, sausage rolls, candy, soda, chips, ice cream, etc. ranging from $1-$6.
There’s a bar with eight different beers (lagers and ales) as well as bottled beer on offer. Draft beer is $7 and the bottles go for $5-$8. Wine and pre-mixed spirits are also available. The food specialty is in the trucks that provide a variety of food options including Dal Pizzaiolo (Woodfired pizza) full pizza for $15, Gringo’s Grill (hot dogs, chilli dogs, pulled pork sandwiches for $5-$15), Kazz’s Caribbean Kitchen (jerk chicken, corn, rice, and curry for $15), and Chillout In Style (shaved ice, ice cream, candy floss, chillers) for $5.
Except for Chillout In Style, which is located by the left field bleachers, all concessions are on the concourse. Pizzas can be delivered to your seat after ordering at the truck, or you can lean on the fence behind the corporate boxes and have a nicely unimpeded view of the infield while you wait. Pre-packaged, but unbranded food such as sandwiches, fruit, and chips are permitted inside the park.
The outfield has some tall gum trees and it is very pleasant to watch the sky take on sunset colours above them. The coastal plain of Perth is very flat and Barbagallo Ballpark has only one level – from inside the ballpark, the field is the easiest thing to see. With the reasonably large space available and a comparatively small seating capacity, Barbagallo Ballpark has some grass areas from which the game can be seen. The hill beside the left field dugout is a hugely popular spot for children, who spend most of the game hanging out, playing, and trying to snag foul balls. Both before and after the 8th inning there is the “running of the kids” across the outfield.
Reserved seating consists of three sections directly behind home plate. The stretches down to first and third base are general admission seating. The wheelchair section is next to the players’ families section on the concourse above third base. There is a small set of bleachers down the third base line and a much larger set down the first base line. At the very top of the first base bleachers is a set of resort-style outdoor lounges on fake grass. Corporate boxes line the edge of the concourse and there is a VIP Corporate Lounge above first base. The boxes and the lounge have food and drink service. Right next to the first base dugout is the On Field Lounge, which is the closest seating to the field. The reserved seating is under shade sails which also provide some shelter from rain, should something as unlikely as rain happen during a Perth summer. Shade comes to the first base side first, however shade from the reserved seating sails also moves over the third base general seating at the same time. All seating in the ballpark has a good view of the game. I would only recommend reserved seating for day games when it is simply too hot to sit in the sun.
Players in the ABL are very accessible and are often available before and after games for signatures. There are plenty of opportunities to talk to players pre and post game – the outfield in particular is very accessible. Home team players pick their own walk-up music and walk-up music for the visiting team is selected on their behalf. The ground announcer takes plenty of time to announce the players and their positions, which is helpful to those who like to keep score. There is between-innings music and crowd participation games in the longer breaks after the 3rd and 6th innings. The LED video scoreboard is clear and easy to see in both day and night.
There really is nothing within easy walking distance of the ballpark. The ballpark is within Tom Bateman reserve and the immediate area is bounded by a major north/south road, the Roe Highway, a freight rail line, and suburban housing. The Thornlie train station is on the far side of the Reserve and into the suburbs – approximately a 2km walk. That train line takes you back into Perth in under 25 minutes. You can choose to get off early and go to the cafe/restaurant suburb of Victoria Park (Victoria Park Station) or the all-night party at Burswood Casino (Burswood Station). Perth is a beautiful city and one of the most isolated in the world, located in one of the original 25 worldwide biodiversity hotspots.
The Mediterranean climate is similar to Southern California, so it can get very hot and dry over the summer. You may wish to visit earlier in the season rather than later for the best baseball weather. Take a few days if you can to explore the beaches, rivers, vineyards and forests within the city limits. There are free bus services throughout the downtown area and inner suburbs and in the historic beachside suburb of Fremantle. Perth beaches are white sand with crystal clear cool water.
The Swan River is filled with people paddling, rowing, fishing, boating and skiing. Kings Park in the heart of the city has beautiful views over the city and both Perth Water and Melville Water. The low range of hills behind the city are largely reserved for state and national parks and there are plenty of hiking trails through which to explore them. The historic town of Guildford about 20 minutes from the city centre makes a great base for exploring the still-rural Swan Valley, which is home to the oldest vineyards in Western Australia.
The Perth Heat has a solid fan base and regularly attracts first timers to the ballpark. Crowds have doubled since the 2010/11 season. Baseball knowledge is very uneven across the crowd, but people are very happy to talk with pretty much anyone about anything. The crowd and staff at Barbagallo are one of the friendliest I have encountered in my travels.
Heat stalwart Spider, who runs that Catch Card competition is cheerful, friendly, always willing to talk to everyone, the first ‘staff’ face seen inside the ballpark and really sets the tone for the evening. Funds from the Catch Card competition help support the Heat interns. It is more than 1,500 miles to the nearest city and team in the league. This is true of all other sporting codes except Australian Rules Football, where Perth hosts two teams.
Given the cost of travel, it is uncommon for supporters of other teams to make the trip to Perth. The incredibly one-sided nature of the crowd is the same across all sports in Perth and is one of the most distinctive things about attending a home game for any Perth team. If there is the odd supporter of the opposing team at Barbagallo, they are generally treated very well. Even if they are Canberra Cavalry fans. The freight train that often runs behind the outfield wall is called the Rally Train.
On some evenings the crowd will sing along with Darryl Braithwaite’s “Horses.” Take Me Out to the Ball Game gets its traditional airing in the middle of the 7th, but YMCA gets far more crowd participation.
Barbagallo Ballpark is located in the Tom Bateman Reserve, in the suburb of Thornlie, about 15km from the heart of Perth city. The reserve is home to Barbagallo Ballpark, a softball diamond, a kids playground and two large grassed sports grounds. There are really only two ways recommended to get to the ballpark. Driving is the easiest way and the ballpark is located near the intersection of two of Perth’s major arterial roads.
There is plenty of parking available for the cost of a ‘gold coin’ donation ($1 or $2). When parking, be aware that later arrivals must make a sharp u-turn onto a grassed area. Cars with larger turning circles may need to swing wide to make this turn. The other option is to go via train and walk or bicycle the 2km from Thornlie station. With the current ‘speed-up’ rules in place, games are ending in plenty of time to walk back to the train station before the last train, but the 30 minutes between trains in the evening can make for a long boring wait. Should you choose this option, a full-fare ticket is $4.40 each way to the downtown area. It is free to take a bicycle on the train.
Game tickets are easy to come by, with a caravan just to the left of the gates providing options to pick up pre-purchased tickets and cash sales taking place just inside the gates. Bag check is quick, easy, cheerful and friendly. Wheelchair access is available and the wheelchair ramp provides a view of the back of the clubhouse. It is pretty common to see the players relaxing here prior to the game. The wheelchair section itself is right next to the section for the players’ families on the concourse near the food trucks.
The toilet block is small and lines for the ladies can get very long, very quickly. There are plans and funding in place to upgrade the toilet block at the end of the 2014/15 season. It is very easy to move around the ballpark and most people are considerate about moving between batters or innings. The hills down from the general admission seating to the bleachers are steep and a little rough. High heels are not recommended in this area.
Return on Investment 4
At $19.90, general admission in Perth is substantially more expensive than general admission tickets in South Korea and is on a par with reserved seating at most minor league parks in the USA. Crowd engagement is also much lower than in those international ballparks, which is more a reflection of the laidback attitude of the Australian crowd than the effort put in by the Perth Heat staff. That said, there are regular promotions and group sales can get your ticket pricing as low as $10 each, which is in-line with international pricing. Multi-game punch cards and a range of membership options also bring the per-game price down substantially and are well worth the investment if you live in the area.
Given the small size of the ballpark, all tickets are good tickets and there are a huge range of seating options for general admission. General admission ticket, dinner, a beer and a coffee work out to more than $40 – though of course you can bring your own food and drink and limit this cost. If you are planning to get dinner at the ballpark, getting a group together for a Corporate Box at approximately $50 each including complimentary food and drink is definitely the way to go if you can manage it. Overall, a Perth Heat game is solid value for the money and a very enjoyable experience.
I cannot recommend the Perth Heat staff highly enough. They have always been utterly amazing, including times when I have been ordering tickets from overseas to be shipped to various places around Western Australia. Given that baseball is still something of a niche sport in Australia, Perth Heat does a solid job of getting out in the community and being visible.
For a small park, the food choices at Barbagallo are excellent – fresh, delicious and ranging from Aussie standards, to ballpark standards, to the slightly unusual and a little bit gourmet. The range of on-tap beer is also a solid step up from what you might expect of a park this size. The crowd in Perth really are super-friendly. I cannot say enough what a great baseball community you’ll find in the stands in Perth.