It is the corniest ballpark in the independent leagues — which is saying a whole lot. While the Frontier League‘s Normal CornBelters made waves in America’s Heartland because of the team’s unusual marketing strategies and product placement, the real story is how team ownership and ballpark architects managed to create a mid-range ballpark on an extremely limited budget.
Original Cost: $9 million (excluding land)
Architect: Pendulum Studios
Capacity: 8,600 (3,500 armchair seats, 1,000 bleacher seats, 3,000 capacity on berm, 100 on party deck)
Dimensions: 328L, 370LC, 400C, 370RC, 328R
Playing Surface: Artificial turf
Owner: Normal Cornbelters
Ticket Prices (2010): Box Seats, $11; Reserved Bleachers, $8; General Admission Lawn, $6.
Box Office: 309/454-2255
League: Frontier League (independent)
Parking: A $2 lot adjoins the ballpark. You can also park on a nearby street or Heartland Community College and walk in.
Address: 1000 Raab Rd., Normal, IL 61761
Directions: The Corn Crib is on the north side of Normal, right off the I-55/I-39 interchange. From I-55 North: Go south on I-55 and take Exit 165 towards Heartland Community College. Turn left at the first stoplight and go south on Main Street and then take a right at the next light on Raab Road. The Corn Crib is one half mile down Raab Road on the right-hand side. From I-55 South: Go north on I-55 and take the Exit 165 towards Heartland Community College. Merge off to the right and go south on Main St. Take a right at the intersection of Raab Road and Main Street and the Corn Crib is one half mile down Raab Road on the right. From I-39 North: Go south on I-39 and get merge onto I-55 North towards Chicago then take Exit 165 towards Heartland Community College. Take the ramp down to Main Street and continue south. At the first stoplight, turn right on Raab Road and the Corn Crib will be a half-mile down on the right-hand side.
From Raab Road, the Corn Crib doesn’t look like much: just a couple of buildings on top of a berm, with some light poles and incomplete landscaping.
Walk up the stairs, enter the ballpark and you’ll see something more impressive: a multiuse facility that works fairly well as a ballpark. Yes, designing a multiuse facility with baseball being the main component is always a challenge, especially when doing it on a budget. But the Corn Crib works, as most of the actual infrastructure in the place is geared toward baseball.
The Corn Crib – so named after a naming-rights deal with the local Illinois Corn Farmers – was built for around $9 million, a fairly low sum for a professional ballpark these days. The corn theme is throughout: there’s corn planted in the berm past right field, corn tassels and silk are present on the signage, and corn on the cob is served at a concession stand. This is perhaps the most integrated deal with a sponsor that we’ve ever seen.
Besides the seating bowl, the ballpark consists of eight detached buildings – two for suites, one for media, the rest for concessions, clubhouses and whatnot. The playing field is at ground level, and the buildings are built up to the top of berms surrounding the field. That gives you a nice concourse for navigating the ballpark – but, sadly, the concourse doesn’t wrap around the whole field.
All concessions are on the concourse level, including two buildings behind home plate and specialty carts at both ends (including one for local favorite Avanti’s). The area behind home plate, near the concessions, is finished nicely with landscaping and a garden area. It’s a popular gathering spot before the game. In between the suites buildings and media building is specialty seating, such as Adirondack chairs, with rocking chairs installed down the first-base line.
There are some touches that belie the ballpark’s status as a multipurpose facility. First, the artificial turf that extends beyond the playing field and covers everything, including the warning track and pitchers mound. Yes, we know turf is a much more economical proposition for a facility that must host a wide variety of events, including soccer and football. But the pitchers mound? It’s removable so Heartland Community College softball can be played on the same diamond.
The problem with most multiuse facilities is that they usually don’t excel at any one task, coming up mediocre (at best) in all. On that scale, the Corn Crib actually comes out ahead: it is pretty much configured for baseball, and it works well as a baseball facility.
Set on 22 acres, the ballpark is a sprawling affair, perhaps too sprawling. There’s not a ot of signage, which is a good thing, but some of the signage is extremely hard to read: the videoboard is set off far from the playing field and the signs there are difficult to read from that great a distance.
One interesting touch: the screen in the parking lot allowing the facility to support drive-in movies. Now, strictly speaking, the ballpark doesn’t support movies: the outbuilding is far, far past the playing facility and the right-field fence. Still, it’s one more offering possible for a facility designed to work far past the baseball season.
The emphasis at the Corn Crib is family entertainment. On that level, it works well; you can bring your family to the ballpark and let them roam. It also works well as an example of a ballpark being built on a budget but not feeling cheap. As we noted, the cost of the ballpark itself was only $9 million, one of the least expensive pro facilities we’ve seen come down the pike in some time. But the place certainly doesn’t feel cheap – and give the CornBelters ownership and architect Pendulum Studios credit for pulling off a higher-end facility on a low-end budget.
You’re never too far from concessions. In a nice touch, a kids’ playground is located in the left-field corner, and the closest concession stand is geared toward kids and families, with nothing (except beer) over $2.
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