Taunton Stadium is, at first glance, pretty reminiscent of other ballparks in the summer-collegiate Northwoods League. Then it hits you: the grandstand is exactly the same as found in Copeland Park, home of the La Crosse Loggers; the grandstand, put up in 2005 after a tornado wiped out the old grandstand, was built off the same cozy design provided by “Stadium Steve” Snyder, a Minnesota-based designer. Page 1: Introducing Bill Taunton Stadium.
Opened: Renovated 2005-2006
Cost: $1M+ for renovations
Capacity: 2,000 (give or take), including 988 seats in the grandstand
Dimensions: 324L, 373C, 326R
Architect: “Stadium Steve” Snyder
Playing Surface: Grass
Ticket Prices (2010): Diamond View Seats, $10; Box Seats, $8.50; Reserved, $6; Senior Reserved, $5; kids 4 and under, free
League: Northwoods League
Parking: Lot next to ballpark; free street parking as well.
Address/Directions: 1401 SW. 22nd St., Willmar, MN 56201. County Road 23 runs east-west through town; the ballpark is to the south on 22nd Street. Willmar Avenue interects both versions of Hwy. 23 and is west of both.
Baker Field at Bill Taunton Stadium, home of the Willmar Stingers and the Minnesota state amateur baseball tournament, isn’t the showiest or most historic ballpark in summer-collegiate circles, but it’s certainly one of the most pleasant. Ryan Voz and Marc Jerzak, both vets of the circuit with various franchises, took a chance on bringing a team to this small central-Minnesota community, and we’re guessing it’s paid off: crowds have been consistently good, and we got the sense there’s already a lot of local support for their efforts.
Taunton Stadium, located in the midst of a huge park area on Willmar’s south side, really isn’t much: the grandstand and a food stand was all that was there before the Northwoods League came to town. Voz and Jerzak added a separate concession building, a bar rail used for premium seating and a party area down the left-field line. It doesn’t take much to fill the ballpark; a crowd of 1,100 or so will feel downright cozy.
It is not always easy for an outside group to come into a ballpark so clearly the result of community involvement. A little background: baseball has been played here for decades, as Willmar is one of the centers of amateur baseball in the state of Minnesota. However, the ballpark was overhauled in 2005 and 2006 after a tornado wiped out the old grandstand; the city took the insurance money, combined it with private contributions, and then constructed a much better facility.
One of the nicest things about Taunton Stadium is the room to grow. There’s a lot of space surrounding the actual playing field; lots of foul territory and unused land down the first-base line. We’re guessing another group area and more premium seats are on the way for 2011. Right now there are some temporary bleachers on a right-field berm, pushing capacity close to that 2,000 mark.
We’re a little biased toward the Northwoods League, since it’s in our backyard. And we’re a little biased toward Voz and Jerzak, two of the nicest operators out there. So we’re pulling for the two to succeed in Willmar – but it appears as through our support isn’t needed in any case, as the team is off to a solid start, averaging over a thousand fans in the team’s inaugural season.
Brats ($3.50), hot dogs ($2.50) and burgers ($5) are grilled behind the concession building and are supplied by a local vendor, Wicks Meat Shoppe from nearby Kandiyohi. The concession stand has a limited selection; beers are from Miller and pop is from Pepsi. No beer on tap yet, but then again we weren’t entirely sure we would see any beer at all: Willmar has a history of being horribly restrictive when it comes to beer and alcohol.
We were a little surprised not to see any turkey on the menu; 22nd Street is also marked as Earl Olson Avenue. Earl Olson was the founder of Jennie-O Turkey (named for his daughter, Jennie), and Willmar is one of the larger turkey producers in the world. A smoked turkey leg would go down good at the ballpark.
Willmar is not exactly a party town. Don’t expect to find a thriving nightlife in the city; it’s a place where tight controls have always been in place when it comes to alcohol. Good, clean living is the motto in these parts, so the list of things to do pretty much begins and ends with outdoors activities like boating and sports.