Saturday, May 20, 2017

Cedar Rapids Kernels 2 at Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 9 (Midwest League) - May 19, 2017


In 2001, I spent 7 months on the road watching baseball. I saw 108 games - 72 in the major leagues, and 36 in the minors. On only one occasion was a game rained out where I could not attend the next day, and that was a Midwest League tilt in Appleton, home of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. I spent a couple of hours in the stadium hoping for the skies to clear, but the game was called and I drove away disappointed. I never thought I'd return here, but now that I live in the States and am on a ridiculous quest to see a game in all active minor league ballparks, I had to put Fox Cities Stadium back on the list.



With Appleton just over a hundred miles from Milwaukee, I decided to wait until the Jays visited the Brewers so I could combine the two trips, and that opportunity arose this season. The Timber Rattlers are away next week, so I had to see them on the weekend before the Jays arrived. I therefore combined the Atlanta visit with this one, and flew to Milwaukee direct from Atlanta on Friday morning, rented a car, and then drove to Appleton. It was 90 degrees in Atlanta and 45 in Milwaukee when we landed, but it actually warmed up as I drove north, reaching a balmy 54.



After a brief stop at my hotel, I drove over to Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium, another brainy example of a team finding someone to sponsor the field without changing the name of the stadium. The Fox Cities are the communities along the Fox River, of which Appleton is the largest. There was a car sale out front, making for an interesting picture.



The stadium is located in the northwest area of town, surrounded mostly by an industrial park, while I-41 passes by the outfield fence. There is a single entry point, with parking costing $5, though there was an Uber drop-off point if you wanted to avoid that. There are three ticket options for the average fan: $14 for box seats, $11 for bleachers, and $8 for general admission. There are 10 rows of maroon box seats (matching one of the team colours) and 10 rows of bleachers across most of the seating bowl. Right next to the entrance is a giant bobblehead of the mascot, Fang, which seems to provide unlimited amusement to children.



There are two special seating options. For small groups, the patio seats are sold in packs of 4 for $76 and include wait service.



There's also an all-you-can-eat buffet down the first base line for $30, which you can see as the thin black line to the left of the dugout in the photo below.



The concourse is more than enough for the crowd, which was surprisingly robust on this chilly evening. Perhaps drawn by the promise of fireworks, over 4,700 were on hand, more than double the season average for the Timber Rattlers.



Food here is among the most varied I have seen at any minor league ballpark. There are several concession stands each with very detailed menus as you can see below.



My recommendation is the Authentic Wisconsin Grill, where a freshly made grilled cheese sandwich is just $5, though there are other heartier options such as a helmet mac'n'cheese for $5 or a grilled Cajun chicken mac'n'cheese sandwich for $10. As you are in the Dairy State, cheese is mandatory.



You can walk along a boardwalk to the bullpens in the outfield, from where you can see the entire stadium (above). However, you cannot complete the circuit, and must return along the boardwalk. The view from behind home plate is below.



In terms of history, the Legends Lounge is a great place to see past stars who started their career here. There has been minor league baseball in the area off and on since 1909, so many famous names can be found honoured on the walls, such as Cal Ripken Sr. and LaMarr Hoyt (below).



Past jerseys are also on display; previous teams included the Appleton Foxes and Appleton Papermakers. The Lounge is also heated and thus a good spot to warm up during inning breaks.



For more recent success stories, the Call-Up Worthy board lists previous T-Rats who have made the show. This is part of a larger sponsorship across the minors, but this is the first such display I have seen.




There are suites and club seats above home plate, with the press box below.



Overall, Fox Cities Stadium is a very nice minor league park that has aged well since its opening in 1995. I really enjoyed my time here, with the food and fans among the best that the minor leagues have to offer. Appleton is not on many tourist itineraries, but if you are a ballpark chaser, this is one that you should not miss.



The Game

The Cedar Rapids Kernels (Minnesota's affiliate) were in town to face Wisconsin, who now belong to the Brewers. Wisconsin sent Trey Supak (2nd, 2014, by Pittsburgh and now the Brewers #29 prospect, below) to the hill, while Cedar Rapids countered with Clay Beeker (33rd, 2016). Both were strong, with Supak lasting 6 innings giving up just one unearned run, while Beeker completed seven, giving up just 4 hits. Unfortunately, 2 of those were home runs from Trever Morrison (12th, 2016) and Nathan Rodriguez (21st, 2016) and Beeker left trailing 3-1.



The game was being played at a fast pace, but then Max Cordy (40th, 2015) came in for the Kernels. The following chaos ensued: walk, groundout, stolen base, walk, wild pitch, walk, hit batsman, hit batsman, single plus error, single plus error. Cordy left having thrown 0.1 innings while giving up 6 runs (4 earned). In the top of the 9th, Jermaine Palacios hit a monster home run that cut the deficit to 7, but that was it as the Timber Rattlers won easily. The three home runs were the only extra-base hits on the evening.



Even with that rather prolonged meltdown, the game thankfully took only 2:27 with a PPM of 1.73. Having just come from Atlanta, I was quite cold by the end of the evening and happy to get back to my heated hotel.

Notes

It was Pirate Day, so the scoreboard had every Timber Rattler looking like a buccaneer, including Mario Feliciano (2nd round, 2016, now Milwaukee's #23 prospect). The fans took the promotion to heart, with many dressed in costume, while kids were given an eye patch. The player who best fit was Ryan Aguil-Arrrrrr (31st, 2016).



Next Up

I'm heading to Peoria to see another Midwest League ballpark. The weekend weather is questionable, so I'm not sure if there will be a game tonight, but as you know by now, updates will be posted here in a timely manner.

Best,

Sean

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