There are many reasons to visit a minor-league ballpark: the ballpark itself, promotions during the game, great ballpark food, or the affordable entertainment. I really hate it when you attend a minor-league game and few of these aspects are present. However, that is not the case at GCS Ballpark in Sauget, Ill. It is what a visit to a minor-league ballpark should be: nothing but a good time.
Year Opened: 2002
Architect: Kuhlmann Design Group
Dimensions: 318L, 385C, 301R
Playing Surface: Grass
Ticket Prices (2009): Field Reserve Box Seat, $9; Bleacher Seat, $7; General Admission Lawn Seat, $5; Reserved Picnic Table, $36 (6 tickets)
League: Frontier League
Address/Directions: 2301 Grizzlie Bear Blvd., Sauget, IL 62206. Located directly off I-255 at exit 15 (Mousette Lane).
Text and Photos by: Marc Viquez
The Gateway Grizzlies (independent; Frontier League) have called the little ballpark off I-255 home since 2002, and it’s continued to be a popular place to be during the baseball season, setting league attendance records (since broken by the Traverse City Beach Bums) in 2004.
I was greeted at the ballpark by the sounds of steel drums and guitars, along with a friendly staff that helped me park my car (for free). When I was inside the player uniforms were decked in floral print, so that means it must be Jimmy Buffet Night.
I was then met by Grizzlies GM Tony Funderburg (since departed for the NBA D-League), who has created a festive environment with the club the past few seasons. Along with his staff he’s created an array of unique ballpark cuisine that has gained the team national attention.
“I’m a food guy,” said Funderburg, who has experimented with foods ranging from toasted ravioli to Italian beef sandwiches. “We offer foods that you can’t get anywhere else. My job is to find ways to get people into the stadium.”
Funderburg was more than willing to show me Baseball Best Grand Slam option from the Great Grizzlies Grill menu. The Grand Slam consists of Baseball’s Best Slider, Hamburger, Hot Dog, and Swiss Brat. If you order all four you are given a souvenir t-shirt. They all were very unique and indigenous to the ballpark.
The Baseball Best Slider is new this season: a deep-fried squared patty hamburger a la the sliders at White Castle. My friend enjoyed the slider, but it was extremely greasy and reminded me somewhat of zeppoles at the Jersey Shore without the powder sugar on top. The brat, imported from the Brat Shop in Kenosha, Wis., was very common compared to the next two sandwiches I tasted.
The Best Burger is a bacon cheeseburger between two Krispy Kreme doughnuts; it’s been extremely popular since its inception last season. The burger tasted just like it sounds, but surprisingly pretty good. The cheddar cheese was sharp, and the doughnut glaze made for a very different kind of experience.
The Best Hot Dog was the best out of the four I tried that night. The hot dog itself would have been perfect with a little mustard and relish, but it was served on a nice thick bun with grilled onions, sauerkraut, bacon, and topped with melted cheese. It was a great item. If you order and eat all four (for $16), you gate free t-shirt for your efforts.
“The doughnut burger is pretty good,” said fan Bryan Taylor, who was at his first game. “It definitely tastes like it sounds, but it is much better that what I expected. It has an interesting taste to it.”
You can also find roasted corn on the cob, chocolate frozen bananas, pulled pork nachos, and, at times, a local favorite: toasted ravioli. The team even has its own line of beer produced by the local O’Fallon Brewery. There are almost 100 different items to choose from throughout the concession stands.
The food is not the only reason to attend a game here in Sauget, whose population is 249. The ballpark is a cozy little gem that seats 6,000 people, and the rows are 13 deep at the most. It is built like many other Frontier League ballparks, but there is grass seating down the third baseline and in the outfield. Many parks incorporate grass berm seating, but most do not have them in the outfield.
“This is my favorite place to a watch a game,” said Anne Kessler of St. Louis. “I love going to Cardinals games, but you are much closer to the action here at a Grizzlies game.”
There is a hot tub and Senor Izzy’s Cantina (Mexican food) in the right-field corner and a picnic area with elaborately shaped tents in left field. There are also aluminum bleachers in back of the concourse on the right-field line, but even they looked fine here.
“We are affordable entertainment,” said GM Funderburg, who also stressed the importance of getting out into the surrounding communities to local schools and charities. “We have a clean ballpark that has good food and baseball.”
GCS Ballpark is not too far from downtown St. Louis on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. It is one of two Frontier League ballparks in the metro area, the other being T.R. Hughes Ballpark in O’Fallon, Mo.
When you think of the quintessential ballpark experience, a Gateway Grizzlies game ranks up with the best of them in any affiliated or independent league. The cozy little ballpark is a great place to have a little fun and feast on some interesting ballpark edibles.