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Banner Island Ballpark / Stockton Ports

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Banner Island Ballpark is the centerpiece of Stockton's urban revitalization, a lovely waterfront ballpark that serves well as home to Single-A baseball. The ballpark design is basic: a single level of seating with a concourse wrapping the entire ballpark. Though the effect comes off a little sparse -- the 4,200 fixed seats are between the foul poles, while there's additional berm and patio seating in the outfield -- the end result is that most fans will have a good view of the game without feeling too confined.

FAST FACTS

Year Opened: 2005
Capacity: 5,200
Architect: HKS Architects
Dimensions: 300L, 399C, 326R
Playing Surface: Grass
Website: stocktonports.com
Phone: 209/644-1900
Ticket Prices (2009): TBA
Parent: Oakland A's
League: California League (High A)
Parking: There are a number of $5 lots surrounding the ballpark. Metered street parking is free after 6 p.m. and on weekends. If you want to park in the shade -- and believe me, you will want to do so on a sunny day -- head north of the ballpark and look for shaded street parking or else pay to park in the adjoining ramp.
Address/Directions: 404 West Fremont Street, Stockton. From Interstate 5, take the Hwy. 4 exit to downtown Stockton. A large arena and the light poles in the ballpark are visible to the north. Take the El Dorado Street off Hwy. 4 (also marked as the Crosstown). Travel north on El Dorado four blocks and turn left on Fremont Street. The ballpark is on the left, at the corner of Fremont Street and Van Buren Street.

With such a large concourse, there's plenty of room to stand around and watch a game. During our visit -- when the temperature had already hit 100 degrees before an early-afternoon gametime -- fans were taking advantage of the many shaded areas for a good chunk of the game. (As were the players.) The Ports drew well in their initial season at Banner Island Ballpark, finishing with more than 200,000 attendees.Banner Island Ballpark is the centerpiece of Stockton's urban revitalization, a lovely waterfront ballpark that serves well as home to Single-A baseball.

The ballpark design is basic: a single level of seating with a concourse wrapping the entire ballpark. Though the effect comes off a little sparse -- the 4,200 fixed seats are between the foul poles, while there's additional berm and patio seating in the outfield -- the end result is that most fans will have a good view of the game without feeling too confined.

With such a large concourse, there's plenty of room to stand around and watch a game. During our visit -- when the temperature had already hit 100 degrees before an early-afternoon gametime -- fans were taking advantage of the many shaded areas for a good chunk of the game. (As were the players.) The Ports drew well in their initial season at Banner Island Ballpark, finishing with more than 200,000 attendees.

The concourse behind the seating is almost totally shaded -- something that's very welcomed during day games. For the hoi polloi seeking shade, there's the Comcast Club Bar, located on the concourse behind the third-base dugout. The bar is shaded and features full bar liquor service, as well as a selection of microbrews and wines, while there's plenty of seating with good views of the action. Sadly, access is limited to those holding Suite, Scout or Club tickets. Also featuring limited access: the Jackson Rancheria Back Porch, located in right field. Again, this is an imaginative way to sell some pretty ordinary space with lots of amenities. It's basically a group seating area, complete with Adirondack-style rocking chairs and plenty of legroom. The elevated views are great, and there's a concession stand in the back. In addition, there's live music out there as well. An additional section in center field -- designed for groups of 25 or more -- rounds out the group areas.

And if you don't like the seating, you can bring your own. The Ports do allow fans to bring their own seats and sit in the back of the outfield berm. The right-field berm is also adjacent to the kids' play area, featuring a jump house and a speed-pitch game. Throw in the concession stand at the Back Porch and you've got everything a family could want in the right-field berm area.

Though it's not marked anywhere in the ballpark, Banner Island -- upon which the ballpark was built -- holds a special place in baseball legend, as it was the original home of pro baseball in the area. Locals hold that Ernest Thayer wrote his famous poem, "Casey at the Bat, a Ballad of the Republic," after watching a baseball game in Stockton, with the verses published in the middle of page 4 of the Daily Examiner of San Francisco on June 3, 1888. Now, there was professional baseball in Stockton in 1888 -- the four-team California League consisted of a Stockton team, the Oakland G&Ms, San Francisco Haverly and San Francisco Pioneers -- and the names of some of the players appearing in the poem were the same as players in the league that season. The town even embraced the connection to where the Ports played a spell as the Mudville Nine.

But how strong is the connection? Thayer insisted to his grave that the poem was simple fancy, not tied to anything he ever saw. There was no Casey on the roster of the 1888 Stockton baseball Club, through several players -- including some actually named Casey -- insisted they were the basis for the poem. Residents of Holliston, Mass., claim their city is the real Mudville and legendary slugger Mike "King" Kelly is actually the model for Casey. The biggest chunks of evidence: the Banner Island area was indeed known as Mudville as the area was drained, and Thayer was was widely known as a huge baseball fan working in the San Francisco area. But we'll let him have the final word. Thayer wrote the following to a Syracuse daily newspaper shortly before his death:

"The poem has no basis in fact. The only Casey actually involved, I am sure about him, was not a ballplayer. He was a big, dour, Irish lad of my high school days.

"While in high school, I composed and printed myself a very tiny sheet, less than two inches by three. In one issue, I ventured to gag, as we used to say, this Casey boy. He didn't like it and he told me so, and, while he discoursed, his big, clenched, red hands were white at the knuckles."

In any case, it all makes for a great story. And baseball is all about great stories.

CONCESSIONS
Any ballpark serving deep-fried asparagus is OK. Of course, only someone running a ballpark would take something as inherently healthy as asparagus and deep fry it. The end result isn't nearly as gross as you would assume: the breading on the asparagus is light and the deep-frying is done quickly so the asparagus doesn't turn to mush.

If deep-fried asparagus is too healthy for you, there are three full-service concession stands with the standard ballpark fare: hot dogs, chicken strips, pizza, fries, Slush Puppies, pop, ice cream and beer. A freestanding Jesus Mountain coffee booth offers fresh-brewed coffee, coffee drinks, and blended drinks.

In the outfield is the Centerfield BBQ Grill, featuring ribs, hamburgers, sausages and chicken sandwiches. You can take your food from the grill to the adjoining picnic area in back of the bullpens if it's not occupied by a group.

All in all, the concessions are pretty decent for a Class A operation.

FOR THE KIDS
As mentioned, there's a kids' play area past the right-field wall. Combine this with berm seating and you've got the perfect family setup.

PARKING
There are lots to the north and west of the ballpark open to the public for $5. In addition, there's a large parking ramp between the ballpark and the neighboring arena.

BALLPARK HISTORY
The Stockton Ports previously played at Billy Hebert Field, which opened in 1927.