Introduction

Introduction

I have never heard a man laying on his death bed with seconds to live mumbling how he just didn't spend enough time in the office. What's wrong with us Dad's? Why do we keep telling ourselves that this year is going to be different? This year I will lose 20 pounds. This year I will read my Bible cover to cover. This year I will be a better father! Well, this year I will be a better father.


When you close your eyes and vision that perfect childhood memory, what do you see? For me, it was the smell of Wrigley Field (for better or worse). It was the sound of the organ, the roar of the crowd, and the electric energy that follows the game that I loved best...Baseball! I wanted those same memories for my kids. We live just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina which puts us right in the middle of some of the best minor league baseball in the country. I figure I have a good 12 years left with my kids in the house and time is flying by. I cancelled a few meetings and took them to our local ballpark.


I have 3 kids ages 6, 12, & 14. They are great kids and I love every minute that I get to spend with them. I want to start creating a legacy of memories that continue for many generations. Baseball will live long past me and will continue to provide those memories in my absence. The purpose of this blog is to not only document the moments I get to spend with my kids, but analyze every minor league ballpark in the United States. My kids will be doing the analysis as well as many of the blog posts. What ballparks are family friendly? What parks give your family the most for their money? What do the players have to say about their team and the park they play in? Who has the coolest uniforms? Right from the mouth (or fingers) of babes. That's 240 teams in 12 years, an average of 20 games per year. We might not reach our goal...but man is it going to be fun trying!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Peoria Chiefs

PEORIA CHIEFS - 7.7
     Welcome to my home baseball stadium!  Well, that is not exactly correct.  The Peoria Chiefs are part of the Midwest League and have played host to a large amount of baseball's greatest talent.  For example in 1985, the Chiefs were coached by a younger Joe Madden on his way to now being the manager for the Chicago Cubs.  The team has bounced back and forth from a Cards/Cubs affiliate for 30 years.  Some of the talent I had the pleasure to witness as a child were Greg Maddux, Joe Girardi, Albert Pujols, Rafael Palmeiro, and Ryne Sandberg to name a few.
      I remember meeting Albert Pujols and his wife at the stadium.  She would walk around the park handing out signed baseball cards of Albert, each one having his testimony written on the back.  I have never really cheered for his teams, but you just can't hate a guy like that.  Another fond memory was the day I got to meet my childhood hero...Ryne Sandberg.  He was coaching the Chiefs at the time and my kids were selected to have a picture taken with him for the local paper to support the Susan G. Komen Foundation.  They had no idea who they were in the presence of, but I was as giddy as a little school girl waiting for the grand opening of an American Girl store.  For those of you fathers that have only boys, let me translate...that's a pretty big deal!
PawPaw's First Selfie!
    This is where it all started for this blog.  Let me quickly explain how it happened.  My wife and I (mostly my wife) have been homeschooling our 3 kids for over 6 years.  I am at work during most of their school day and have always struggled with not playing a major role in their education.  I was looking for a way to get involved.  Fast forward to present day.  We are visiting our family in Illinois and decide to go down to the ballpark.  I am sitting in the seats looking at 3 generations enjoying the sport that I have always loved and it hit me!  I can take something that is a passion for all of us and turn it into a learning event.  Hanging With The Minors was born.  I get to travel with my kids, watch baseball, eat, meet players, see unique ballparks, eat, collect really cool hats, teach the kids how to promote their brand online, and did I mention...eat!  I never knew teaching could be so fun.
     Dozer Park, the newest stadium named after Caterpillar, is located in downtown Peoria, IL just off of the Illinois River.  Free parking is a challenge at this park.  There is not a designated parking lot owned by the Chiefs.  You can brave parking on the street if you get there early, park down closer to the river for free and walk a ways, or pay to park in the Caterpillar office building across the street.  Having family in the area, we got dropped off at the front gate.  Considering all of the parking options and feeling generous because we got dropped off, my oldest gave the Chief's parking an 8 out of 10 on the Family Friendly Scale (FFS).  Downtown Peoria has tried to re-invent itself many times but has never seemed to find it's niche.  There is only one restaurant within a baseballs throw of the park and it's immediate neighbors are the police station and the unemployment office.  There is a lot of real estate available and right investment could be very lucrative, but for now...this is a day game park for families.  My son gave the the Out of Park Experience a 5 and I tend to agree.  Put some money into the building across from right field and that number quickly jumps up a few points.
     If you purchase tickets ahead of time, you can enter at the left field entrance and either head straight to your seats or make a quick left to the bouncy house and playground equipment.  We already had tickets, but there is just something magical about entering the front gates of a ballpark.  The Chief tickets cost us $9 per person and put us in the field box on the third base line.  This is a great deal for a clean well designed baseball park.  Ethan scored the ticket price as an easy 9 and the seating selection a 9 as well.  There is not really a bad seat in the house.  You still have your lawn of sadness if you want to brave the kids or the Legends Landing area if you want to picnic with the family.
     You enter the ballpark greeted by Big Pete.  The Chiefs owe a lot of their success to their founder Pete Vonachen, a long time friend of the thick glassed icon Harry Carey.  A rather large and odd shaped bronze statue can be found in the entry paying homage to his contribution.  Note to my wife...please do not duplicate my image in bronze.
     Located directly behind Section 112 is the team store.  I could feel my empty head (no pun intended) being magnetically pulled in that direction.  I had to get my hands on a New Era.  I have grown up with this logo and have seen it change over the years, but I must say that this is my favorite conception of what a Peoria Chief should be.  As you can see in the middle picture, it features a fire dog with a nasty sneer.  In the past it has been a cardinal and even an Indian.  I am not usually on the PC bandwagon, but from a branding standpoint this reduces issues from both club switches as well as keeping the local tribes at bay.  The prices were affordable and considered average as far as team stores go.  Ethan gave the appearance and prices an 8 on the FFS.  In regards to the logo and the uniforms the Chief score an 8 for originality and brandability of their mascot.
   As we do in all of the parks, we took our seats and performed our pregame ritual.  Take a look around and see who is joining us.  Take a deep breath...close my eyes...listen to the sounds of the park.  Listen for the pretend sounds of an old pipe organ, a bat cracking for BP, metal cleats on concrete, and ever popular phrase "Peanuts!".  That is what this game is to me, and my kids and I encourage you to approach this game as a kid.  It will always stay fresh that way.  Every site and smell is a little different, but they always say one thing...baseball.  After my brief moment of nostalgia, we strapped on our hunting gear and went in search of a bathroom and the best food deals in the ballpark.
     I would like to say that our hunt for deals was successful, but there really weren't many to be had.  The prices weren't outrageous, but I couldn't really say that I got a deal either.  With sodas and drinks, the cost was just over $20 for 3 meals.  I can say that Ethan rated this hot dog pretty high on his pig intestine scale.  Overall all he gave it a 7 on the FSS.  A quick stop at the bathroom also proved uneventful.  The bathrooms were clean, but nothing special.  I am still waiting for the ballpark that takes advantage of that 30 second captive audience to continue to build that brand relationship with their ever changing customer.  With that said, we gave the average bathrooms a on the FFS because they were clean and the plumbing made everything go in the direction it should.
     Ethan was quite impressed by the pregame entertainment.  The Chiefs were graced with the presence of two world superheroes...Captain America and Ironman.  They seemed friendly at first until Captain America threw out the first pitch.  Ironman called it a ball.  Cap was visibly upset over the call and it went south pretty quick. Soon superheroes were flying in from all sides of the park.  Punches were thrown (much better than the first pitch I might add), seats were getting broken, and the crowd was running for the door.  It turned into a real Civil War!  Just kidding. They did a great job and the kids enjoyed it.  This made up for the fact that the hype man really had no rememberable presence for the rest of the game.  The crowd was left to enjoy the game without any distractions.  The lack of a hype man is good for baseball watchers, but does not cater to a family atmosphere.  We gave the overall experience a 7 on the FSS.
We saved the ballpark bling for last because it had the greatest impact on our experience.  Ethan, my dad, and I gave this score a 9 and here is why.  We felt welcomed here in Peoria.  There was something for everyone to do.  Adults could grab a not too expensive beverage as their kids wondered over to the Kids Zone to play on the playground behind center field.  Not only were we greeted by friendly smiles from the staff but also a fantastic firework show that would rival any 4th of July celebration.  Like many clubs, they are dealing with the sad decline of minor league fans across the country.  These parks are assets to our community that need to be frequented by families.  The Peoria Chiefs are well on their way to realizing this goal.  If the city and local investors would rally behind their efforts and what they have already accomplished, Peoria would be a small gem in the minor league heart of America.  So until next time...see you in the batter's box!



  Family Friendly Score
CategoryScore
Parking   8
Out of Park EXP   5
Ticket Price   9
Team Store   8
Team Hat/Logo   8
Ballpark Bling   9
Seating   9
Food   7
Bathrooms   7
Hype Man   7
Total:  7.7

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