There is nothing ostentatious about Community Field, the home of the Burlington Bees. Yes, there are some theater-style seats behind home plate — but not too many. There’s a single suite on the second level of the grandstand, but there’s no private entrance or even an elevator leading up there — you need to walk through the stands to reach it. There’s no wraparound concourse, no huge videoboard blasting commercials between innings. And regulars have laid claim to some of the better spots in the ballpark without management charging extra for the privilege. All of this makes Community Field one of the most charming ballparks in all of baseball, and certainly one of the best.
Opened: 1947. Fire destroyed ballpark on June 9, 1971, with rebuilding completed on Opening Day, 1973. Renovated: 2005
Architect: Metzger Johnson Architects (renovations)
League: Midwest League (Low Class A)
Parent: Kansas City Royals
Ticket Prices (2010): Box Seats, $7; General Admission, $5.50; Senior/Student/Military, $4.
Address: 2712 Mt. Pleasant Av., Burlington.
Parking: Plenty in paid lot next to ballpark.
Directions: From U.S. Hwy. 34 (which runs east-west through Burlington), take Hwy. 61 North. Hang a right on Mt. Pleasant Avenue. The ballpark will be on your left.
There’s a long tradition of baseball in this southern Iowa city: Professional baseball was first played there in 1889 with the debut of the Burlington Babies, with the Burlington Bees first hitting the field in 1924 in the Mississippi Valley League.
In 1947 the first version of Community Field opened as the home of the Burlington Indians of the Central Association. It served as home to a series of Three-I League and Midwest League teams, with the likes of Billy Williams, Sal Bando and Vida Blue hitting the field and earning early attention from fans and management alike. But fire leveled the original Community Field grandstand in June 1971; fans sat in temporary bleachers until a new grandstand was unveiled on Opening Day 1973 — which was pretty much state-of-the-art in minor-league baseball when it opened.
That grandstand (shown above) is still the center of the ballpark; the original clubhouses and restrooms are still in use. A 2005 renovation added new office space, new concessions and one of the most distinctive piece of minor-league ballpark architecture: a large canopy covering the grandstand and the concourse. Most photos don’t do it justice in terms of scale: it’s huge without being overpowering, providing essential shelter on those rainy and sunny days alike.
Despite the size, the canopy isn’t too much. In fact, nothing is this ballpark is too much, and the focus is on the game, which can be viewed from multiple vantage points. Four rows of theater-style seats and cupholders for season-ticket holders are in front of the grandstand, while aluminum seating (sans backs) makes up the rest of the grandstand seating.
One thing the 2005 renovation also did: add a new building to the back of the grandstand. This building features team offices, a boardroom (the Bees are owned and operated by a community nonprofit) and lots more concession space, including a separate beer window. There’s certainly a civic spirit to the ballpark: the boardroom and umpire dressing room bear the names of donors. A second level on the grandstand encompasses the press box, two radio boxes and a single suite. No separate entrance to this exclusive space: everyone must walk through the grandstand seating to make their way to this level.
The grandstand is only one portion of the 3,200 seats at the ballpark. Indeed, given the nature of the rest of the seating at the ballpark, it’s easy to envision a successful night at the ballpark where most of the grandstand is half-full and the rest of the park packed with fans and groups.
Two party buildings/decks are down each line. Down the left-field line is a beer garden with group area on the rooftop seating. Don’t be fooled by the “RESERVED” sign on the wall: these aren’t spots actually sold by the team. Instead, they’re spots claimed by the regulars, who are often among the first to show up when the gates open. And why not? With beer going for $2.50 a can, it’s cheaper to buy a $5.50 GA ticket (or a $4 senior ticket; many of the hardcores inhabiting the area appear to qualify for this discount) and plant yourself in the beer garden than spending the evening at a bar. The wall juts out into foul territory, giving you a good angle toward home plate.
(There’s a lot of foul territory in this ballpark. If the Bees wanted to add more premium seating – a doubtful proposition given the way the community board runs things – there’s plenty of room to add more seats and party areas in foul territory, as well as down each line. In addition, there’s a lot of space beside the grandstand as well: the ballpark’s footprint is quite large, even though the actual facilities are pretty compact.)
The rest of the ballpark pretty much looks like it did in 1973. The scoreboard is a simple line board with essential information, with a small mono display below. No huge videoboard here; no cameras roaming the ballpark; no commercials between innings. (As a matter of fact, there’s not much between innings. If you detest the frenetic atmosphere found at most minor-league baseball games these days, Burlington will be a welcome antidote.) On the outfield wall: your standard set of banner advertisements, with two levels in each corner. Past the home-run fence are trees, trees and more trees.
Down the left-field line is a picnic area and another group-seating area.
Community Field is strictly old-school, with a few nods toward the modern. As such, it’s a welcome relief toward the high-amp atmosphere you find in most ballparks these days. If actually watching a baseball game is your goal, then head quickly for Burlington — and have one of the best experiences possible at a ballpark.
Most of the concessions are located behind the grandstand, with the standards on the menu: hot dogs, brats, pop, candy, etc. There’s also a small satellite concession stand down the first-base line.
The left-field beer garden is where the adult action is. There, you’ll find cans of popular beers for $2.50: Bud, Busch Lights, Coors Light and our personal faves: Old Style and Pabst. For an extra fifty centers more you can upgrade to Landshark or Boulevard Wheat.
FOR THE KIDS
In case your kids aren’t totally into baseball there’s a play area located on the first-base side of the ballpark, past the picnic area. You could camp out at a picnic table and watch both the kids and the game at the same time.
WHERE TO SIT
For an evening game, sit in the left-field seats or left-field bleachers. Or, better yet, commandeer a table in the Homer’s beer garden (risking the wrath of the regulars, of course). You’ll have a good view of the action and not be fighting the sun. Otherwise, sit in the back of the grandstand; the press box and the suite level will afford you some shade on a sunny evening.