Ashford University Field is living proof of one prime rule for ballparks: Never, ever tear down an old facility. There are precious few ballparks out there that so successfully combine the old and the new as Ashford University Field, and any community trying to figure out what to do with a historic, old facility should use this ballpark as a blueprint.
Opened: 1937; renovated 2005-2006
Budget (renovations): $3.8 million
Architect: Populous (2005-2006 renovation)
Dimensions: 330L, 395C, 401RC, 325R
League: Midwest League (Low Class A)
Parent: Seattle Mariners
Ticket Prices (2010): Box, $7; General Admission, $6; Seniors and Student General Admission, $5.
Parking: Limited parking on paved lot to the west of ballpark; more parking across Sixth Avenue and on local streets.
Address: 537 Ballpark Dr., Clinton, IA 52732. (If your GPS unit chokes on that address, use: 91 6th Av. N.) Directions: The ballpark is north of downtown Clinton. From Hwy. 30 or Hwy. 67: Take the highway to 4th Street north. At 6th Avenue, hang a right (east). After crossing 2nd St., the ballpark will be on your left. (If you’ve not been in Clinton recently, take note: Hwy. 30 has been upgraded in recent months; it’s now a set of one-ways.)
It is a scene right out of a Norman Rockwell print. The grandstand dates back to 1937 and is typical for that era: the canopy completely covers the seating area, and there are plenty of support beams to mar the views. Still, it’s a remarkably well-maintained canopy, and the white paint with green highlights lightens up what could be a dark area at dusk and night. Sit in the grandstand and you’ll have a prime view of a riverboat anchored in the Mississippi River.
Of course, this is 2010: the river isn’t used for travel anymore, and the riverboat is permanently anchored, used for gambling. And Ashford University Field has been upgraded in recent years. True, a baseball fan from the Norman Rockwell era would indeed recognize the ballpark, but take a closer look and you’ll find things more than adequately updated for 2010 and beyond.
This is a pretty old ballpark; true, it’s not been that long since Ashford University Field was known as Riverview Stadium, its name since its construction under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and the appearance of this facility didn’t change a whole lot after it opened in 1937.
The ballpark shown in the postcard above still exists. The 2005-2006 renovations didn’t touch on the exterior, which sports the same brick lines as it did when Riverview Stadium opened as the home of the Three-I League’s Clinton Owls. The Art Deco detailing — so prominent in the front marquee — is still there, updated with an LED board.
The major changes came in 2005-2006, when new gift-shop/team-office and restroom buildings were added to the outer portion of the ballpark. This created a natural concourse to the ballpark, giving the LumberKings some sorely needed administrative space. Much credit should be given to LumberKings GM Ted Tornow, who oversaw the renovations.
Also added in recent years: two group areas in the left-field corner, a training facility with clubhouse space and batting cages, and a right-field deck (the Lumber Lounge, of course).
The renovations did one great thing: add a bunch of discrete seating areas to the ballpark, all the better to lure in groups. During our most recent visit a local college alumni association comprised a huge group deal: it was actually hard to move about the ballpark in places because of the crowd. The left-field concourse past the grandstand is certainly a party area: there are plenty of picnic tables, including several right against the playing-field fence.
The other left-field group area is a covered picnic area with its own concessions. Combine the group public tables with the outfield berm and you’ve got another noteworthy place to view the game.
You’ll also have a view of one of the most unusual outfield fences in affiliated ball. During recent renovations the home-run fence was changed; it now curves in the corner and down the line. While it’s possible the interestingly curve fence could impact play if a ball bounces at a bad angle, the overall impact is certainly interesting enough to outweigh that issue. The curve is cool.
There are very few ballpark renovations carried out as successfully as the overhaul of Ashford University Field in 2005-2006: the essential nature of the WPA-era ballpark remains intact, while the LumberKings are better able to serve fans today and tomorrow, ensuring affiliated ball will stay in this small Iowa community. The charm of the ballpark remained intact, making it one of the best baseball experiences anywhere. When making a list of must-visit ballparks, Ashford University Field easily belongs in the top five.
The original concession booths in the grandstands are still functional, serving up a variety of ballpark food and beer, including Old Style and Shiner Bock. The workers operate in some pretty tight confines to serve patrons.
The left-field group area also features a concession stand open to all; besides the usual ballpark food there are a number of other grilled and deep-fried items on the menu. Try the assortment of all the fried items (veggies, mushrooms, French fries).
FOR THE KIDS
There’s a large kids’ area in the left-field corner: bouncy houses, permanent playset and more. It’s easy enough to watch the game in the left-field corner and keep an eye on the kids.