The grounds crew is setting up the field so the teams can take batting practice. Tarps are being laid on the ground and a big cage is set up around home plate. Protective screens will be set near third, second and first base as well as where the batting practice pitcher will throw. This work is being done by two guys. One looks like he is the Head Groundskeeper and the other is his assistant, or an intern. I am sitting in the stands behind home plate at Alliant Energy/Ashford University Field in Clinton, Iowa.
It is about five hours before game time. The Clinton LumberKings will take on the Quad Cities RiverBandits in a Midwest League Class A game. I came to Clinton because of a book I am in the middle of reading called “Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere”. The book is by “Award-winning essayist Lucas Mann” who “delivers a powerful debut in his telling of the story of the 2010 season of the Clinton LumberKings. Along the Mississippi River, in a Depression-era stadium, young prospects from all over the world compete for a chance to move up through the baseball ranks to the major leagues. Their coaches, some of whom have spent nearly half
a century in the game, watch from the dugout. In the bleachers, local fans call out from the same seats they have occupied year after year.” I recommend the book to anyone that is associated with baseball, along with those that like to read an off beat perspective about America’s national pastime.
I came early to the stadium since Clinton didn’t have a Starbucks I could hang out at all day. Currently, I am fighting the gnats that are swarming around me. I want to write about the great time I had at the Omaha Storm Chasers game. There were so many things that excited me about my visit; but, one of the nicest things was that the President and General Manager Martie Cordaro took a huge interest in my story. He found out I was going to be attending the game from Andy Kendiegh, from one of the local news stations. Andy needed permission to do the interview on the grounds so he texted Martie. After the interview, Martie gave me a tour of the stadium. He seemed to know all the fans and kept thanking them for coming out.
Martie always had time to chat with them for a few minutes, listening to their ideas or stories. This guy was awesome! I was amazed at his ‘list of responsibilities’ along with personally showing me the facilities. He would have to run off to take care of things, then he would come right back. He introduced me to all the people working in the Press Box, the radio play by play announcers. He explained to me why they built certain things or how things operated. I wondered why he didn’t grab a intern to show me around, but I wasn’t complaining.
Before I even met Andy or Martie, I got to the game early, purchased a ticket and went in. I was impressed immediately by the ushers and people working the concessions. All were telling me to enjoy the game, etc. I felt like I was back in Reno! I have been very critical of the “Baseball Entertainment Complex” and how it seems that all they want to do is suck every last dollar out of you with very minimal effort. I have also mentioned how frustrated I have gotten with all the extra activities that go on that distract from the game. Well, I can tell you that Omaha has found the right balance of all these things. Their stadium is truly a park that caters to the entire family. The kids can run around and play while the parents enjoy the game. The Storm Chasers have a basketball court, an area kids can play catch with a regular baseball, a wiffle ball field, a couple of carnival rides and much more. They designed it with the family in mind. There are areas where the parents can go to keep an eye the kids; but, also, have a cold refreshment while watching the game.
I have my ideas of what I want to see baseball do with some of the historical parks. I haven’t been a big fan of the parks that try and half-heartedly do what Martie and the Storm Chasers have accomplished. Martie admits that some of the ushers and interns turn into babysitters and that you never truly can tell how many people are in the stadium since so many are running around. However, he says the important thing is to know your demographic and be consistent with your strategy.
I agree with you, Martie. I also believe with how their stadium is laid out, he can do even more with some of the people that are hard core baseball fanatics. I won’t lecture Martie with those ideas because he is one guy that has won me over to his way of thinking. The great thing is that he wasn’t even trying. He just showed me his facility. I will talk more about my experience with the Storm Chasers tomorrow. I spent a bulk of my evening with the grounds crew and have gotten the inside scoop on how the field is cared for and what their responsibilities consist of. I can tell you this, if you are ever in the Omaha area get out to a game, hunt down Martie and say hi. Also, thank him for thinking “outside the box”.
I need to finish this post because these gnats are driving me crazy! Cheyne Reiter, the play by play announcer of the LumberKings, said, “they are pretty bad.” But, he had heard on the news that they are suppose to die off in about a week. Speaking of Cheyne, I am going to profile him in a couple of day since he is the voice of the LumberKings!
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