It's not quite a Field of Dreams setup -- there aren't any corn fields on the edge of the ballpark, just some open spaces and seemingly random development -- but a "build it and they will come" mentality permeates Wuerfel Park, the home of the Traverse City Beach Bums. It took a lot of passion and drive to get this ballpark built, and the end result is a charming small ballpark that's been taken to heart by the greater Traverse City community.
FAST FACTSYear Opened: 2006
Capacity: 4,200: 3,518 fixed seats; 48 four-person tables; 27 suites; plenty of outfield berm space
Owner: Wuerfel Sports Development, LLC
Architects: William C. Fuller, Fuller Nichols Architects, Harbor Springs, Mich.
Construction: Wuerfel Sports Development, LLC; John E. Wuerfel, President
Dimensions: 320L, 400C, 320R
Original Cost: $6 million
Playing Surface: Turf
Ticket Prices: Table (seating for 4), $80; Chair Back Seats, $10; Berm Seating, $8
League: Frontier League
Parking: $2 per car, free if four people or more are riding together
Address/Directions: 333 Stadium Drive, Traverse City, MI 49684. Wuerfel Park is located three miles south of the Grand Traverse Mall, off US-31 and M-37 in Chum's Village. Enter on Chum's Village Drive (first road to the right south of Rennie School Road, or first road to the left past Tile Mart,) two quick right hand turns puts one on Stadium Drive. Wuerfel Park has three entrances.
By: Kevin Reichard
That the ballpark was built at all is a story in and of itself. The Wuerfels are mainstays in the local community: John and Leslye Wuerfel have years of experience as local resort developers, while son Jason Wuerfel lettered four times with the University of Michigan baseball team and played for the Mid-Missouri Mavericks (independent; Frontier League) out of college. Their first attempt to bring the Frontier League to a ballpark within Traverse City proper was met with resistance. Undeterred, they regrouped and found land south of town for their own privately financed ballpark. Today Leslye is GM/CFO of the team.
While it's not the most scenic locale, the site south of town does provide easy access to the ballpark and helped keep down the costs of the ballpark. Traverse City is a resort community, and the architecture of Wuefel Park reflects that mentality: the grandstand does indeed look like a resort from the seating bowl and the parking lot. That's not a bad thing, but it is an unusual thing; in an era where too many ballparks adopt a retro look, the Wuerfels went ahead and designed a ballpark in the vernacular they felt most comfortable. And why not? It's an attractive, clean design, although it may come at a price: the suites are cut off from the rest of the park. There's no outdoor seating in front of the suites and a rather small view of the action, leading to a remote feel among luxury-box dwellers. Part of this was a nod to the temperature extremes of the Traverse City climate, as it can get cool at night throughout the season.
Down each line -- well into the outfield -- is a section of private tables, each seating four. Seats down the line tend to be a hard sell, so this is an ingenious solution to the issue of filling tough spaces: the tables are sold out and proving to be popular both for families and corporations. The table areas are tiered, so there's a good view even from the back row. Additional tables are located in back of the home-plate seating.
There are no bleachers in the ballpark, with the comfort enhanced by cupholders at each seat.The wide concourse -- which rings the field -- gives fans access to concession stands in the grandstand and the action past the seating. It's also partially covered by the upper level, giving some relief on hot days and raining nights. There was plenty of land for the Wuerfels to work with when designing the ballpark, and they used it well, placing berms next to the bullpens and lots of space in the outfield. Fans can get right up to the bullpens; they are popular gathering spots for kids still thrilled with the possibility of getting close to a player. Meanwhile, plenty of fans set up shop with their own chairs on the outfield berm.
With a unique design, some great concessions and the passion of owners who worked hard to bring professional baseball to their community, Wuerfel Park is a special place among minor-league ballparks.
Traverse City is known for three things: fudge, cherries and pies. While you can't find the former at Wuerfel Park, you can find plenty of the latter in the form of $3.25 slices of pie from Grand Traverse Pies at stands down each line. We had a piece of cherry pie, naturally; it was delicious. Add to that a pretty good cup of locally roasted Leelanau coffee and locally produced Moomers ice cream for pie a la mode and you have the makings of a great dessert.
The beer is inexpensive, though there's not a wide selection (Bud, Michelob, Labatt Blue, Blue Light).
Concession items include the standbys -- all-beer hot dogs, burgers, pizza, etc. Rather than buying your hot dog from the grandstand concession stands, head down to the grills down each line and buy a freshly prepared dog or a burger there.
FOR THE KIDS
A supervised play area down the first-base line appeals to the younger set. For older kids bored by baseball, there's a game room down the third-base line.
BEFORE/AFTER THE GAME
Traverse City is a resort community, so the locals are used to dealing with tourists.
Staying in Traverse City can be an expensive proposition, though there are plenty of choices. Those planning on a longer stay may want to check out a lakeside cottage, where rates can easily be under $100 a night. The full-service resorts can easily run $200 a night. Though there are many chain hotels that claim to have rooms under $100 a night, we didn't find many at that rate when we searched for a room, so be prepared to pay a little extra.
Wherever you stay, a trip to downtown Traverse City should be on your agenda. It's one of the most vibrant downtowns in the Upper Midwest; by day the sidewalks are filled with shoppers and by night they are filled with folks hitting the many bars and restaurants. Two stores are worth a stop: the Cherry Stop, where you can find all things cherry-related (including cherry wine and all sorts of cherry preserves), and Horizon Books, one of the best independent bookstores on the planet.
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