Game attended: Buffalo Bisons 4, Indianapolis Indians 3 on May 8, 2010. The Bisons are the Class AAA affiliate of the New York Mets, and the Indians are the Class AAA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. They play in the International League.
Weather conditions: Cloudy, windy, and a very light drizzle in the middle innings. Game time temp was 51 degrees and it was in the 40s by time the game ended. Winds were in the upper teens with gusts above that. Overall, not a night for the faint of heart.
Mode of transport: Walked. Stayed at the brand spanking new Springhill Suites at Marriott Place across the street.
Seats: Section 111, row E. This was just to the third base side of home plate, close to the Indians dugout. Between the dugouts at Victory Field, the first row is row C, so I was actually in the third row.
Cost of game: Ticket: $22.05 via Ticketmaster, $4 program, free transport – although hotel overnight parking was $20, $6.50 for a hot dog and bottled water. Note that AAA hot dogs are cheaper than A hot dogs by $0.25 – but were not as good. Total: $32.55.
Hot dog rating: single. When they reach under the counter to hand you a pre-wrapped dog, it is not a good sign.
Victory Field in Indianapolis is the 108th stadium in which I have seen a major league, minor league or spring training game. The park is 15 years old, and one that I would describe as a timeless classic. It has aged and will age very well. Bob Costas visited early in the park’s tenure and called it the finest minor league ballpark. I do not think it deserves that distinction but I do think it is a very nice ballpark. Its best features are its 360 degree concourse, its lack of commercial assault on your senses, its timeless design and its views of downtown Indianapolis. Its worst features – parking and too many seats in the upper deck. And yes, I know, I did not park there. But I’ll get to that. The main entrance to the park – at the southwest corner of West and Maryland is in dead center field. There is almost – but not quite – a dead straight line from the batter’s box to the centerfield entrance to the dome of the Indiana State Capitol building two blocks east and two blocks north. There are no outfield seats other than the grassy berms above the outfield fence, which surround the outfield in fair territory except for a small patch in center field where an area of pine trees forms the batters eye. There are also no outfield ads, other than a video score board on the left field fence which has major league and International League scores. The 360 degree concourse is wide and all on one level. The trees behind the concourse in left and right field give the park a very classic, timeless touch. There are great views of downtown, including of course, the state capitol dome, from the home plate and infield seats. All of this combines to give the park a very classy feel and makes it a great place to watch a ballgame. Another nice touch on the concourse is that in the covered, main section there are overhead posters commemorating famous Indianapolis Indians players – Harmon Killebrew, Randy Johnson, Herb Score, Dave Concepcion, Don Buford and Razor Shines were amongst those honored. Concession choices were varied and catered to both healthy and junk food eaters. As noted, I stuck to a hot dog and bottled water.
Towards left field, the view becomes more of the geothermal plant next door and Lucas Oil Stadium next to it – Lucas Oil really towers over the park. I took a great photo from the left field corner of the geothermal steam plant and Lucas Oil side by side towering over the stadium. Towards right field, the views are almost exclusively of Marriott Place – a new hotel complex to garner convention business. The flagship of the complex, a circa 30 story tall J. W. Marriott has a striking blue glass exterior. The sign out front says that the hotel, which will open in 2011, will change the landscape of Indianapolis. That it does.
The drawbacks on the park start with the design of the main seating bowl. The lower deck has fewer rows by a noticeable amount than Parkview Field, a Class A facility. There is a very large proportion of seats in the upper deck. Granted, the upper deck is not as high as in any major league stadium but it is an upper deck, nonetheless. The night I was there it seemed sparsely populated. I would think most fans going to a minor league game would want to be closer to the action. I think if anything dooms Victory Field in the longer run, it will be that the high proportion of upper deck seats makes the park less attractive than “state of the art” Class AAA stadiums, and causes an attendance decline. There is certainly nothing else artistically about the stadium that will likely ever make it obsolete. Interestingly, access to the upper deck was off the main concourse through a series of not real wide stairs that climbed from the back of the concourse towards the field – a design unique to the best of my recollection to the stadiums I have visited.
The other negative is parking. For the out of town visitor who is willing to warm up the plastic, this should be of no concern. There are beaucoup hotels in walking distance. Even if you’d prefer to stick to the close by and the main streets, three of the four Marriott Place hotels are now open and there is a “regular” Marriott (you can’t miss seeing it from the seating bowl), Westin and Hyatt in easy walking distance on Maryland. There are other hotels in walking distance, but after a night game, there may not be too many people joining you in the walk. For the local folks, parking would appear a bit of a challenge. You’d have to use public garages – I’m sure everyone soon develops their favorite. The Indians web site details several options. I’d strongly suggest however that the out of town visitor warm up their plastic, join Marriott Rewards, and stay in town and walk.
On the whole, I liked the park very much and it has a mix of the timelessness of such ballpark classics as Kauffman and Dodger Stadium with the city skyline designs of PNC, Comerica, Camden Yards and Busch. As a Class AAA ballpark, it falls a bit short of AutoZone Park (Memphis). I visited Louisville Slugger Field the day after visiting Victory Field. LSF as it is frequently referenced as, is another highly rated Class AAA stadium and is about four years newer than Victory. I like the lower deck seating bowl slightly better at Louisville Slugger, but for everything else, I would go with Victory Field as the better ballpark. Victory Field is well worth a visit. Stay downtown and enjoy your visit. There is quite a bit to do and see in downtown Indianapolis, not to mention the opportunity to visit a certain race car track a few miles west of downtown.
Interesting game factoids:
1. * Indians starting pitcher Mike Crotta gave up eight hits and four runs, all earned, in eight innings. He walked one (intentional) and struck out two. Doesn’t seem impressive, but it was his second career Class AAA start and he retired the last thirteen batters he faced. Actually fourteen of the last fifteen, with the interruption the intentional walk.
2. * The Buffalo Bisons did not record an outfield putout. They recorded thirteen strikeouts, thirteen groundouts, and one outfield assist on a putout at the plate.
3. * The Bisons road uniforms have a nice touch. Across the chest, the uniforms read “Buffalo,” and then where the numbers might go is the Mets “NY” logo. Nice touch to tie the Class AAA team to its parent affiliate and its home state. Well done.