What would my grandfather have said about attending a minor league baseball game in this day and age; could he have possibly fathomed the concept of happy hours, live concerts, and all-you-can-eat sections? What would he say about wrap around concourses, grass seating and party decks? You know what; he probably might like some of what he saw.
I have seen almost everything at ballparks during my last decade of travels. The more I see certain teams indulging the masses with absolute decadence, the less I see your typical baseball rooting crowd-unlike my grandfather who would attend Wilkes-Barre Barons’ games during the post war years. He would keep score, yell at the umpire and teach his two young sons about the game of baseball, but does designating a special night for beer and food attract a wider arrange of patrons to the yard?
At First Energy Park in Lakewood, N.J., Thirsty Thursdays have become as popular as the game itself. The concourse behind the batter’s eye in centerfield is fancied by both young and old who appreciate a dollar beer or two; however, if you are not careful you might forget you are at a ballgame. Lakewood Blueclaws’ GM Geoff Brown had more than a few happy praises about the recent phenomenon that has his team leading the South Atlantic League in attendance with an average close to 6,000 a game.
“It’s been great for us especially because we are able to bring a new group of people out to the ballpark: the 21-35 group,” exclaimed Brown who noted that Thirsty Thursdays alone bring in an additional 1,000-1,200 people a game on a good night. “Thursdays are now our second best day of the week behind Fridays: when we have fireworks.”
At Louisville Slugger Field along the Ohio River in Louisville, Ky., the team has their own version of Thirsty Thursdays that has become common vernacular amongst the baseball populace in the area. The home of the Louisville Bats ranks a close second in average attendance this season in the International League, but when the temperature is prime it is a great place to arrive a little bit early for a game, a brew and a little music.
The Bats’ version of Thirsty Thursday consists of dollar beers between 5:30-7:00 PM along with a local band above right centerfield. The crowds can get long and you might find yourself waiting in line a little longer than expected, but the spacious ballpark with beautiful views of the river and city skyline just turned into possibly the largest open bar in the area.
However, in Madison, Wisc., a team is blowing away the competition at every game with their brand of merriment of food and drink that is overwhelming to say the least. The Madison Mallards lead the Northwoods League in attendance and have taken a vapid ballpark and transformed into the number one party spot in the capital.
For a flat sum of around $30 dollars you can choose from 18 different beers along with brats, burgers and other assortments of delicacies inside a section called the Great Dane Duck Blind: located in the right field corner. It is not Thirsty Thursdays, but all-you-can-eat sections are also becoming prevalent in minor league baseball stadiums. Fans revel throughout the game with either friends, peers or a random ballpark hunter.
The Duck Blind has been very successful, but is not the main reason why people are at the game according to Mallards’ GM Carlo Caloia.
“On its best night, the Duck Blind accounts for no more than 25% of our total attendance. On a sold out night we will have about 1,250 fans in the Great Dane Duck Blind. We have sold out every Saturday night this season and most Friday nights.”
Perhaps, many of you have witnessed such splendid decadence at your nearby ballpark, but what would have my grandfather said if he was able to bear witness to such a treatment at a ballgame. For a man who sworn off his alliance to the Brooklyn Dodgers after they relocated to Los Angeles, it can only be theorized. To all future grandfathers who are walking back to your stools with a couple of beers and one too many brats in your stomachs: you will have time to reflect at a later date. I might just be there to ask a few questions.
Marc Viquez is a contributing author for Ballpark Business (www.ballparkbiz.com). A fan of baseball for most of his life, Marc has been traveling around the country writing about minor league baseball since 2001 for various websites and print publications. When he is not searching down a ballpark, he can be found teaching middle school in Indianapolis, Indiana.