Monday, May 22, 2017

Beloit Snappers 6 at Peoria Chiefs 7 (Midwest League) - May 21, 2017


On my 2001 road trip, I saw a game at Pete Vonachen Stadium in Peoria, a ballpark named for the longtime owner of the Chiefs. That was the stadium's last season as the team was ready to open a new downtown facility in 2002. At that time, I didn't think twice about it, but once I decided to visit all active minor league parks, I realized that I had to return to Peoria to add Dozer Stadium to my list.



I drove about 90 minutes using minor highways between my hotel in Mendota and Peoria, avoiding the Interstates as much as possible. It still amazes me how much of the country is still empty and you can drive miles without passing another car, even in northern Illinois. I arrived an hour before game time, surprised at the crowd out front. The ballpark is located at the corner of Oak and Jefferson, and there is free street parking around, though I'm glad I got there early to secure a spot three blocks away. Any later and I would have had to pay $5 to park in one of the lots.



Tickets are $11 for the seats between the bases, $10 for the other seats, and $7 for general admission. These are gameday prices, subtract a buck for the seats if you buy in advance and add a buck if there are fireworks after the game. Having saved on parking, I decided to splurge on this one and got a seat just four rows behind the plate. The picture below is from the last row in that section, but gives you an idea of the view.



The park has a few interesting features. Just inside the main entrance is a statue of Vonachen giving a baseball to a kid. He purchased the team in 1983 and made them and the ballpark a destination for everyone. An innovator in marketing, he is one of those that turned minor league baseball into the fan-friendly sport that it is today.



The name of the stadium reflects the fact that Caterpillar headquarters is in Peoria rather than the soporific nature of baseball. Originally dubbed O'Brien Field for a local car dealership, it became Chiefs Stadium in 2008, and then Cat bought the rights in 2013, choosing to use Dozer to represent their bulldozers, an unusual move. There's even an ancient tractor on the concourse to cement the partnership.



Most new minor league stadiums have a seating bowl that extends past the bases, an open concourse that allows views of the field, suites above, berms in the corners, picnic areas and party zones beyond the fences, and a kids playground somewhere. Dozer Park is no different, with all of those elements present. This is not a complaint by any means; this setup is successful for a reason - it gets a wide variety of fans out - attendance was 4,776 on this blustery afternoon.



The concourse is dotted with concessions stands; Burgertopia is my hearty recommendation. At $8 it is more expensive than anything else, but the burger is cooked fresh and is very tasty. There are four varieties too, should you visit the park more than once. There is also a small craft beer stand called Good Hops, with a couple of dozen different types of bottles, most costing $7. The Chiefs nickname was taken after a team that played here between 1953-57. It is not related to Native Americans (at least now), but refers to firefighting: the mascot is a Dalmatian, and the concession stands have names such as Five Alarm Grill and Engine House.



You can walk around to the outfield and take a picture of the entire seating bowl, but you cannot complete the circuit.



There are four retired numbers here: Wally Joyner, Mark Grace, Ryne Sandberg, and Greg Maddux. The Chiefs have primarily been Cardinals and Cubs affiliates, so I find it interesting that no Cards are here; Albert Pujols spent part of the 2000 season in Peoria before storming on the major league scene in 2001.



There is no Road to the Show display, which I found surprising. The stadium is also used by Bradley University and they have a list of major leaguers, but I saw nothing of the sort for the Chiefs.



The scoreboard is above right field, and quite nice for this level, with a sizeable video board above the line score.



Programs, starting lineups, and the rosters are available at guest services just next to the main entrance. If you want a t-shirt or softee ball, sit in section 108 or 109 as they toss them from the press box. I understand the value in a t-shirt, but a softee ball?



Overall, Dozer Park is another enjoyable venue to watch minor league baseball. I never get tired of attending these games; the fans and promotions are always fun, you can usually see a future major leaguer or two, and the games are played with a pace that is no longer possible in the majors.



The Game

Beloit (Oakland) was in town to take on the Chiefs, who sent Jordan Hicks (3rd round, 2015, now the #18 prospect for St. Louis, below) to the hill. Before the game, I read his scouting report on MLB.com, of which I quote a portion here:

Hicks came out with some good power stuff right out of the gate. His fastball typically sat in the low-90s but touched as high as 97-98 mph, though he didn't always maintain that velocity. He throws it with a lot of sink, resulting in a very good ground-ball rate. He can really spin a curveball, with a chance of it becoming a plus breaking pitch eventually. His changeup needs work, but it also has potential. He did struggle with command, but he also was successful against older competition at age 19.

This was exactly what happened and sitting directly behind the plate, I immediately realized his potential with his fastball touching 95 and a great curve. But his ball/strike ratio wasn't that good, although he only walked 2 and hit a batter, giving up four runs in 6 innings.



His mound opponent was Brendan Butler (30th, 2015, a Queens native) who also yielded four runs (three earned) in five frames. He was replaced by Jesus Zambrano who got two quick outs but then gave up a single, double, single, walk, and single as Peoria took a 7-4 lead, putting Hicks in line for the win. Beloit added a couple in the 8th to make it exciting, but Eric Carter (26th, 2016) finished the game with a three up, three down ninth, the first for the Peoria pitchers on the afternoon as the Chiefs held on for the 7-6 win. The player to watch was Peoria's Nick Plummer (23rd overall in 2015 and #23 prospect for St. Louis) who went 3-5 with two doubles.



The game took 2:43 but the PPM was a fantastic 1.81. To compare, Toronto's 7-5 loss to Baltimore the day before (a similar linescore) had a PPM of 1.53, 18% slower. It might not sound like much, but these long MLB games with their reviews and endless pitching changes are simply not fun to watch anymore.

Notes

I always enjoy when they announce random seat locations as prize winners. Most fans don't really pay attention to their actual section and row, so when the lady in front of me won $25 worth of dry cleaning, I had to tell her.

Next Up

I'm in Beloit tonight so I can see the Snappers take on the Timber Rattlers. Tomorrow is the first of two with the Blue Jays in Milwaukee. Just like last week, Joe Biagini will throw in the opener, while Marcus Stroman pitches game 2. Hoping the Jays can win them both!

Best,

Sean

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