Note: Elfstrom Stadium was renamed Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in 2012. This visit was filed in 2009.
The stated goal of the owners and management of the Kane County Cougars is a simple one: operate a county fair that happens to have a ballgame in the middle. And now that county fair has a new roof, as improvements made to Elfstron Stadium before the 2009 season dramatically changed the look and feel of the Midwest League facility — in a very good way.
Year Opened: 1991, renovated 2009
Ballpark Owner: Forest Preserve District of Kane County
Capacity: 7,400 seats (does not include berm seating)
Suites: 15, plus one supersuite that can be divided into four spaces
Dimensions: 335L, 400C, 335R
League: Midwest League (Low Class A)
Parent: Oakland Athletics
Ticket Prices: Field Box, $10; Box, $9; Grandstand Reserved, $8; General Admission Lawn, $7.
Parking: Parking is free in a nearby parking lot; there is also a $2 preferred parking lot closer to the ballpark.
Address/Directions: 34W002 Cherry Lane, Geneva. The ballpark is part of the Kane County Events, Cultural and Conference Center, and sometimes you’ll see highway signs pointing to this rather than specifically to the ballpark. From I-88, take the Farnsworth Road/Kirk Road exit and head north; the exit from Kirk Road is actually located far south of the ballpark (on Cherry Lane) and is clearly marked on a game day.
In the offseason the Cougars and the Kane County Park District installed a second level and new administration building to Elfstrom Stadium, dramatically improving what had become a pedestrian baseball facility. The original Elfstrom Stadium — which, admittedly, had been upgraded over the years — featured a grandstand with a single level of buildings, three party decks in the outfield, a huge outdoor good area down the right-field line, and tons of group spaces and kids play areas past right field.
While almost everything in the original Elfstrom Stadium configuration remained intact, the addition of a second level dramatically changes the look and feel of the ballpark.
For starters, it makes the place feel more intimate. The lack of a second level made it seem like the ballpark stretched on forever. Now, with the second level, there’s a very defined space encompassing the ballpark.
Second, it adds some sorely needed shelter to Elfstrom Stadium. During our first visit to the ballpark this lack of shelter was our biggest complaint about the ballpark: on a hot day the only shade in the grandstand was in the small team store, and fan were pretty much screwed if it was raining. With the second level sheltering the concourse, fans have a place to hide, come rain or shine.
Third, it let the Cougars front office do their jobs a little easier. In previous seasons the concourse points of sale had to be struck every night; now they can sit under the covered concourse. The team previously offered two suites in the press building; today those are birthday spaces, and a full set of suites are upstairs. The old team offices are now an expanded team shop.
But it’s the added second level that steals the show. Amazingly, it doesn’t look anything like a retrofit. The new structure is asymmetric — extending farther down the first-base line — and it sits on top of the original buildings in back of the grandstand. The support beams extend to the top of these buildings, and the fronts of these buildings were extended upward, fitting around the beams. In addition, the buildings were painted a uniform brown, giving the impression that the second deck was part of the building from the beginning.
On the second deck are 15 suites, one large suite that can seat up to 200 but be divided to accommodate groups of 30, and two rooftop patios at each end of the structure.
A new external building was also added. A three-story atrium in this building provides a dramatic entrance to the ballpark for suiteholders, while also adding expanded office space for the Cougars. The old team offices are now the team’s primary gift shop.
The total price of the renovation: $10.5 million. And the project came in within $20,000 of the budget, according to team officials.
The ballpark’s bowl is below ground level, which makes a nice experience when you walk into the ballpark in a relatively remote entrance down the right-field line. A concourse winds from this entrance to the back of the grandstand seating and down the third-base line to a deck (which sits where bleachers were formerly located). Along that concourse there are six concession areas, so you’re never too far away from a hot dog or beer.
Elfstrom Stadium was always a good place to take in a game, mostly because the team owners were committed to providing a fun, festive atmosphere. Now the Cougars have the facility to match their hospitality — making it one of the best experiences in the minors.
Elfstrom Stadium still does sprawl, but in a good way. There are group picnic areas in both outfields. They both feature some outstanding views of the action; it’s a shame that one of the areas isn’t open to the general public instead of being restricted to groups or closed.
In addition, there’s a group tent area down the third-base line and a large picnic area beyond the right-field group area, which also features a kids’ area.
There are only nine rows of theater-style seating, while the remaining 14 rows are metal backed seats. On a hot day, these metal seats can be very uncomfortable, to say the least.
If your hunger and thirst cannot be slaked at Elfstrom Stadium, your tastes are truly bizarre or obscure.
For starters, there’s the standard ballpark fare: hot dogs (regular and foot long), Chicago Red Hots, Angus burgers and cheeseburgers, brats, chicken tenders, corn dogs, funnel cakes and grilled chicken sandwiches. Papa Murphy’s pizza and nachos. Then there are the more exotic offerings: BBQ pulled-pork sandwich, BBQ pork-chop sandwich, rib-eye steak sandwich, churros, Philly cheesesteak sandwich, turkey legs, roasted sweet corn (offered seasonally), carver sandwiches and Italian beef sandwiches. Not all of these foods are offered during every game (many of the exotic offerings are from the Hot Corner area down the third-base line, but almost all will be available during a well-attended game.
On the liquid side, there’s a wide variety of beers (including a full assortment of Goose Island, Leinenkugel and Bud brews) and pops (all from Pepsi), fresh-brewed ice tea, lemonade, Caribou coffee, Icees and more.
For those with a sweet tooth there’s a wide range of cold treats (Sno Kones, Dippin’ Dots, ice-cream bars, Edy’s soft-serve ice cream, and Oberweis ice-cream cups) and candies. And, of course, there’s a mandatory Cracker Jack.
For the Kids
A kids’ play area is located past the left-field group areas, so parents cannot watch the action while keeping a watchful eye over their kids. This area features an inflatable obstacle course, an inflatable slide and two moon walks, and you must buy tickets for participation. There’s no playground equipment for younger children.
In addition, kids can burn off some energy playing on the first-base or third-base berms. Or the kids can follow around the team’s relatively animated mascot.
There is free parking in an adjacent lot.
Before/After the Game
You are out in the county when you visit Elfstrom Stadium — literally.
You don’t want to spend a lot of time either before or after the game in the general vicinity. Instead, you should head west to downtown Geneva, where over 100 merchants have set up shop in a quaint, downtown environment.
Downtown St. Charles is actually closer and features its own set of unique locally owned businesses, such as Prairie Gourmet, as well as Century Corners, a group of storefronts housed in Victorian buildings.
The Country House is located south of the ballpark on Kirk Road. It’s won a slew of awards for its burger, including the coveted “Best Burger in Chicago Award” from the Chicago Tribune. The rest of the menu is roadhouse fare: ribs, steaks and more.
Where to Stay
There’s nothing strictly within walking distance of the ballpark, although the Comfort Inn Geneva is within a mile; it’s north on Kirk Road, at the corner of Kirk and Fabyan Parkway.
Other hotels within three miles of the ballpark — and thus requiring a drive — are Best Western Inn of St. Charles, <http://www.hiexpress.com/hotels/us/en/st.-charles/chisc/hoteldetailHoliday Inn Express St. Charles and the historic Hotel Baker in downtown St. Charles.