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Banner Island Ballpark
Not a strike out or a knock-off
Before stepping into the new Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton, CA, I had pretty much convinced myself that the park was going to be a knock-off of the stadiums in Round Rock and Corpus Christi, TX. After all, the same architect (HKS) designed all three, and all of the renderings of the project that I'd seen made it look just like those two facilities.
|First game: April 28, 2005|
|Capacity: 4,200 fixed seats, about 1,000 more are permitted for General Admission|
|Price: $23.9 million|
|Home dugout: 1B side|
|Field points: Southeast|
|Playing surface: grass|
|Betcha didn't know: The site was once an island, but today it's bounded by water on only one side|
Boy, was I ever wrong. And I'm very happy that I was.
The new home of the Stockton Ports of the California League is both beautiful and unique. And one other adjective I can use to describe it is intimate, and that's not a description I can apply to too many parks that have opened recently. The reason for this intimacy is that absolutely everything -- seats, concessions, press box and even the luxury suites -- is on one level.
The result is that you when you're watching a game here, you feel like you're part of the action. Even when you're walking along the concourse, you have the sense that you're never very far from the game.
Let's take a look at what makes Banner Island Ballpark special.
On Deck -- The Setting
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright.
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout.
But there is no joy in Mudville. Mighty Casey has struck out.
The name of the facility, Banner Island Ballpark, is not only unofficial, it's probably also temporary (that's why it says the generic name "Stockton Ballpark" over the main entryway in the photo at the top of this page). The City of Stockton owns the rights to the name, and they'd like to sell it to a corporation one day. Now, the first thing you'll notice about the park's setting is that by no means is it on an island. So why is it being called Banner Island Ballpark? Now, Commerce Bank Park in Harrisburg, PA is definitely on an island. Stockton's ballpark is next to the Deepwater Channel, which is noteworthy because the city claims to be the busiest inland port in the country. That's why the team's nickname is the Ports.
So why is this area called Banner Island? The team's Director of Corporate Sponsorships, Michael Swope, explained to me that many decades ago, this plot of land was indeed surrounded by water. I assume that much of it was drained so that houses could be built. But the area's original name of Banner Island stuck.
There's more to the story, however. Legend has it that a ballpark that once sat in approximately the same place as the Ports' new stadium was the setting for Ernest Lawrence Thayer's famous "Casey at the Bat" poem, written in 1888. Yes, the probably fictitious Mudville Nine's home field might have been right here. That alone is reason enough to place a new ballpark here!
Believe me, this new beauty of a ballpark is anything but a strike out, so there is joy in Mudville now!
The location is near downtown Stockton, and the park's proximity to water does provide some wonderful views as you walk along the concourse in the outfield, a la Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati and PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Apparently they've measured the distance from home plate to the edge of the water, and since it's under 400 feet, a home-run ball or two should find its way into the Deepwater Channel, like at SF's SBC Park.
The view from the seating bowl will change dramatically when the city's new arena is finished. This project is being constructed just beyond the foul pole down the third-base line, and when it is completed, its glass exterior will tower over left field. It should be quite attractive.
First base -- The Exterior
Typically you can see most, if not all, of a ballpark's exterior by walking or driving around it. Not in Stockton. Unless you happen to be on a boat in the Deepwater Channel or on the opposite shore, the only part of Banner Island Ballpark's exterior that you can clearly see is the what's behind the third-base side of the facility.
The main entryway isn't behind home plate like at most parks. While there is a gate there (see the photo above), it is used only by season-ticket holders. It does have nice landscaping and stairs leading up to the gate itself.
No, most fans enter through gates roughly behind the on-deck circle on the third-base side. This is shown in the photo at the top of this page.
Because the concourse is "open" there, you can immediately see the field upon entering. There is a certain "wow" factor to doing it this way, and I think this is a good idea. In Corpus Christi's new park, most fans enter behind home plate, and you can only see the field after climbing quite a few steps. If you happen to enter Stockton's stadium behind home, you can't see the field at all because the structure for the press box blocks your view.
Second base -- The Design
After the initial plans for the ballpark had been created, a design change was implemented that altered everything about the park. And it's fortunate that it did.
That decision was to change from a two-level structure to one having everything on the same level. I suspect that this was done to save money, but regardless of the reason, it improved the look and feel of this ballpark immeasurably.
That's because when everything is on ground level, everything can be closer to the field, especially the luxury suites and press box .... and, significantly, the bar area known as the Comcast Club, which is behind first base.
Another brilliant aspect of the design is the Jackson Rancheria Back Porch in right field (see the two photos below). The idea is that you can sit on a double-level deck, like, well, your back porch, and watch the game in a rocking chair. The bar in this area can also be accessed from the side opposite the field. Sometimes there is live entertainment there prior to games, too.
Another innovation was placing the Big Valley Ford Batting Cages right along the concourse behind first base. Fans can easily peer through the bars and watch a future big leaguer taking some practice cuts prior to games, and while the games are going on, fans can pay to take a few swings of their own against a pitching machine.
Third base -- The Essentials
So the architects did a great job ... but what does it cost to attend a game here and what are the food options like?
Until the garage that is attached to the new arena is completed, parking is somewhat limited at Banner Island Ballpark. Less than a block away is paid parking ($5), but it fills up long before game-time.
The ticket prices are more than reasonable, as the box seats closest to the plate cost $9 and $8, and the general admission tickets are only $4, down a dollar from 2004.
While there are several stands selling hot dogs, corn dogs and pizza (make sure you get some garlic fries. They're a big deal in northern California), the best food is at the grill in center field. Try their tri-tip sandwiches or grilled chicken. I also have to mention the food stand down the first-base line, just beyond the batting cages. It's called Casey's Corner Grill. The name comes from the fact that "Casey at the Bat" was possibly based on events that occurred here on Banner Island (see above).
The number of concession stands is certainly sufficient, while the areas devoted to quenching your thirst are surprisingly numerous. Hey, you're never more than a few steps away from finding a beer or mixed drink. There's even a coffee bar behind first base.
The best location for having a drink and watching the action is the aforementioned Comcast Club, behind first base. The vantage point is perfect, as you can see in the shot below.
There is an adequate souvenir shop, although my personal bias is that I always want to find lapel pins at such establishments, since I collect them. This shop doesn't carry any (boo). The Ports sell a scorecard, complete with rosters and stats, for only a $1, although they give you a program of sorts for free when you enter the park. This program has a few articles, and a lot of ads, but no scorecard.
Diversions for kids are always a welcomed addition to any park. Banner Island Ballpark features several large inflatable games in right field, and the mascot, a fuzzy creature named Splash, is appropriately cute.
Finally, I was really impressed by the lighting. Because technology has advanced to the point where fewer bulbs can generate more light, you'll be surprised by how few bulbs are at the top of these light standards. You'll also be amazed at how bright the field is during night games. In fact, the Ports' excellent play-by-play guy, Toby Hyde, told me that several players have told him that this is the best lighting they've ever played under, particularly in the infield.
Sliding into home -- Summary
I expected Banner Island Ballpark to be nice, but I did not expect it to be this intimate or different from Corpus Christi's and Round Rock's stadiums. It's worth a trip to Stockton to take in a game here. You'll definitely find joy in Mudville!