Sportpark Pioneers - Hoofddorp Pioniers
Photo by Michael Rusignuolo, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43
Sportpark Pioneers Nieuwe Molenaarslaan 10, 2134 AS Hoofddorp, Netherlands
Year Opened: 2004 Capacity: 1,000
Fit for the Majors
The Pioniers don’t have as long a pedigree as some other Dutch baseball teams. The club was founded in 1966, a relative latecomer, but they quickly picked up a corporate sponsor, Konica Minolta, in 1969 and were known as the Konica Minolta Pioniers until as recently as 2010, when the sponsorship ended. Looking to bounce back after the separation–and returning to their original name of Hoofddorp Pioniers–the Pioniers started an ambitious new stadium project that looked to lure the MLB to Dutch shores.
The 1,000-seat Sportspark Pioneers opened in 2014, but it is extendable to seat over 30,000. The $13-million stadium is the newest in the league and the only one to compete with Rotterdam for title of the best in the country. They went all-in on catering to the MLB, even going so far as shipping in tons of American clay for the playing surface foundation. Sadly for them, London won out for the 2020-1 MLB series, but they still hope to attract the MLB in the future.
Sportpark Pioneers is the newest and best baseball facility in the country, but it both benefits and suffers from its location in a suburb right next to Schiphol Airport, though it is an unbeatable value.
[All prices are in Euros. At the time of writing, one Euro is worth about $1.15.]
Food & Beverage 3
Even if this ballpark is designed to attract the MLB, the food and drink options are on a small scale. All the consumables are found in the “DuckOut,” the bar/lounge on the second floor of the clubhouse.
The food selection is a little limited, but it is cheap and tasty. There is a wide selection of cold and hot sandwiches and sausages (€3.50 and under), as well as small, medium, and large pizzas (€3.50/€6.50/€8.50). There is a requisite selection of frites (€2.30 and under, a gigantic “team-sized” basket is €16), as well as Dutch meatballs in 10, 20, and 30 pieces (€4.95, €9.95, €15.00).
Beer is served up at the large U-bar in the DuckOut. There is a small selection of mostly regional brews (Hertog Jan, Jupiler, Corona) as well as wine, but for alcohol prices topping out at €3, you really can’t complain too much. Coke rules the roost for your non-alcoholic beverages.
Take your pick of local beers and try some Dutch meatballs (€4.95 for 10). Popping these while watching the game may make you a convert from corn dogs.
Sportpark Pioneers is one the premiere baseball facilities in The Netherlands, with only Rotterdam to contest them for the title. Most of the Honkbal Hoofdklasse stadiums are about the level of Rookie-level ball in the American minors, but this stadium is easily on the AA facilities level.
The seating area of the park is located behind a three-level building that serves as the stadium facade. An automatic rotating door provides access. On the ground floor are the small team store, restrooms, and access to the player areas. Getting to the second level, there is a long corridor, holding the “business lounge” and patio, and further down the hallway, the DuckOut clubhouse bar and grill. Doors lead out onto the main deck overlooking the field. The third level is taken up by a professional announcer’s booth that has the best view of the field.
Smoking is still quite popular in The Netherlands, and the patio overlooking the seats has several picnic tables with ashtrays built in, as well as two small plazas at either end of the building, to accommodate smokers. Stairs run down at intervals to the one row of seats that runs from about first base above the home dugout to about third base above the visiting dugout. The seats themselves are modern fold-down models, a rarity in a league with mostly molded plastic monstrosities. A digital scoreboard sits in left-center above the outfield wall, against the backdrop of trees and a few buildings.
As is the case in most Honkbal Hoofdklasse games, there are no mascots or between-innings entertainment you will have come to expect in all levels of American baseball. Sportpark Pioneers goes further than most, for in addition to the batter walk-up music and Seventh Inning Stretch, the press box will also throw in minor league standard sound effects, such as breaking glass when a foul ball heads towards the parking lot, for example. The Dutch don’t even play the national anthem before games or fly their flag. Since this is a step up from club ball, however, there are some nice vestiges of sportsmanship. Each batter coming the plate for the first time usually shakes the hand of the umpire and the opposing catcher.
You can sit wherever you want except in the dugout, so choose what suits you best. Spread out on a picnic table on the plaza or grab a seat behind home plate so close you can have a legitimate beef with the umpire.
There are the good and the bad with being right next to the airport. On the one hand, you do okay with restaurants and really well with hotels. On the other, it is a bit of a cultural wasteland.
There are a good number of restaurants a short distance from the park, mostly in central Hoofddorp. Right by the park is the hip eatery Toolenburg Restaurant Long Island. In Hoofddorp itself, there is the Trattoria Buoni Amici, Arabesque, Restaurant Elders, PLEIN 14, Da Rosario, and Nooristan Restaurant.
The locale by the airport doesn’t provide much for attractions. There are a couple of minor historic sights nearby, but all your points of major interest lies in Haarlem to the northwest and Amsterdam to the northeast.
Being this close to the nation’s major airport means that there are hotels aplenty. Closest to the park is the Floriande Bed & Breakfast, and just to the north are Courtyard by Marriott Amsterdam Airport, Bastion Hotel Schiphol Hoofddorp, B&B Schiphol Airport, and the Hotel Restaurant De Beurs. There’s a dozen more slightly further to the east and perhaps a hundred within a short drive, so take your pick.
Baseball (or honkbal, as it is known locally) is very much a fringe sport in The Netherlands, and for all of Europe for that matter. The Dutch Honkbal Hoofdklasse is one of the only semi pro/professional leagues on the continent, sharing the distinction with the Italian Baseball League.
The Pionier’s regular season games get the average Dutch crowds across the league (between 100-250 people per game), but on the higher end of that range. After games and practices at the surrounding ball fields end, the players and spectators come over to watch the top-level men play. Another out-of-the-ordinary status quo is that there are usually pet dogs at every game. It is a welcome change for dog lovers, less so if you don’t like them.
Those fans that are there (both home and visitor alike) are into the game. A small fan base is generally a dedicated one, and they are into the action as the game went on to conclusion.
Although it is only a short distance from the nation’s main airport, it is pretty hard to get to Sportpark Pioneers unless you drive.
Given the overall efficiency of Dutch public transit, it is difficult to get to Sportpark Pioneers, even from the airport. You have to use two buses (Connexxion Bus 300 to Connexxion Bus 169 to Sportc. Kon. W-Alexander stop, €3.51) taking over a half hour and for a relatively expensive price. You’re better off driving or taking a cab or ride share from the airport, which is only a 10-15 minute trip for not a lot more money.
The stadium has its own parking lot attached to the stadium, there is plenty of free bicycle parking, and cabs and ride shares can drop off right at the front gate.
The only entrance to the stadium is the main gate outside the parking lot. Entrance to the seating areas are either through the main building grandstand or stairs at the end of either terminus.
There is a large plaza outside the park that lets you walk around and access the other fields in the complex. There is a spacious walkway at the top of the grandstand leading down to the seats and ending in two raised plazas at either end of the clubhouse.
Return on Investment 5
There is no admission fee for Sportpark Pioneers. (They’ll need to fix that situation if they want the MLB to show up.)
Most of the food and drinks are €3.50 or under, including alcoholic drinks, and only the larger, shareable food items are more than that (and well worth the cost for what you get). You simply can’t beat those prices.
As with all the Dutch stadiums, extras are at a minimum. The clubhouse has a selection of baseball memorabilia, as well as club trophies and awards. The team store in the first level sells a selection of generic baseball merchandise and a small set of team and league goodies. There is a small playground outside the park for kids, and the main facade of the stadium has a whimsical giant bat column holding it up.
There are several memorials, including five retired numbers on the outfield wall, the plazas on either side of the grandstand named in memory of local baseball luminaries (Van Zullien and Fysio Cura), the plaza in front of the park named for another local baseball legend (Koene), and two plaques in the building honoring softball sponsors and the Club of 100.
As Dutch clubhouse personnel are almost all volunteers, they are polite and helpful to a person and are always glad to talk to and assist visitors.
Sportpark Pioneers was built to attract the attention of the MLB, and it certainly can turn heads with its new, modern facilities. As with most Dutch baseball, it has an unbeatable value, but it is hard to get there without driving, and it must content with the double-edge sword of being right next door to a major airport.