Mark Twain once remarked, “Clothes make the man.” While this statement is often true when it comes to ballparks, such is not the case at Joannes Stadium. Through no fault of their own, the Green Bay Bullfrogs’ home field has little outside beauty connected to it. There are no trees swirling behind an outfield fence. There is no pictorial skyline to ponder. Indeed, the ballpark is located on the edge of downtown Green Bay in a complex that includes a swimming pool. From the outside, it looks like a neighborhood park and rec field. Finding beauty here requires one to look deeply. Page 1: Introducing Green Bay’s Joannes Stadium.
|Owner||City of Green Bay|
|Dimensions||328L, 365LC, 392C, 365RC, 320R|
|Ticket Prices (2010)||Dugout Club Seats, $8; Reserved Seats (w/backs), $6; General Admission, $5; Leinie Fan Deck (All you can eat plus ticket), $25 (kids $15); SMET/Land Shark Landing Terrace, $10|
|Address/Directions||1450 E. Walnut Street, Green Bay. Take I-43 to the Mason Street exit, and then go west on Mason to N. Baird Street. Turn right on Baird and follow to Walnut Street. Turn right on Walnut and follow to parking lot on right hand side of the street. The ballpark is located near Green Bay East High School and the municipal swimming pool.|
Jeff Royle, the man who brought baseball back to Green Bay this summer in the form of a Northwoods League team after a long absence, seems to understand all this. He couldn’t do much to the outside façade of the ballpark. So, he and his staff went to work on the inner sanctum, spending $250,000 for a series of necessary items. The result is a pleasant place to watch a game where fans can get close to the action. The farthest seat from the field is still closer than some box seats at major-league parks.
A small history lesson first: The ballpark has been a town fixture for nearly 80 years. When Joannes was first built — for that matter, for most of its existence — its main tenant was the Billy Goats, a local semi-pro team with a decent following. (The nearest pro team was Milwaukee, an American Association fixture from 1902-52.) In addition, it was used — and still is — by the local high school and legion baseball teams. The Packers, the town’s only pro sports team of any consequence, played at nearby City Stadium and weren’t the passion they are today.
Green Bay has had a few brushes with pro baseball. There was a 1935 exhibition game between the St. Louis Browns and the Pittsburgh Pirates: 3,500 fans attended that affair, seeing Rogers Hornsby playing first base and Honus Wagner serving as a coach. The Green Bay Blue Jays had two tenures (1940-42, 1946-53) in the Class D Wisconsin State League. For the last six years of their existence in the WSL, the Blue Jays were a Cleveland affiliate. The Indians had a strong farm system at the time (Phil Seghi, later the team’s GM, had winning seasons in all five years he managed there) and drew well. In fact, in its last season — 1953 — the Blue Jays went 80-42, swept Wausau in the playoff series and led the league in attendance with 71,013.
Mark Twain once remarked, “Clothes make the man.” While this statement is often true when it comes to ballparks, such is not the case at Joannes Stadium. Through no fault of their own, the Green Bay Bullfrogs’ home field has little outside beauty connected to it. There are no trees swirling behind an outfield fence. There is no pictorial skyline to ponder. Indeed, the ballpark is located on the edge of downtown Green Bay in a complex that includes a swimming pool. From the outside, it looks like a neighborhood park and rec field. Finding beauty here requires one to look deeply. Page 2: Bringing in the Bullfrogs.
When the WSL folded, Green Bay was without pro baseball until the Dodgers came in with a team in the Three-I League in 1958. The Dodgers sent some big names to town. Pete Reiser managed the 1958 team, which had Frank Howard on it. In 1959, George Scott and Pete Richert — both of whom had long major league careers – played there. The team did well on the field (the 1959 team finished second in the regular season and won the playoffs) and drew decently. But the Dodgers wanted teams closer to their new base in Los Angeles and left town.
As a result, Joannes went back to being a field for the locals. There was a brief interlude in 1996 when the independent Prairie League tried its hand. The team wasn’t very good and drew just 16,038 for 36 dates.
The above history is important to understand why Royle had his work cut out for him. The Billy Goats paid their rent and had their small, consistent following. The high schools and Legion teams performed as expected. But it had been a long time since anybody had anything more than a personal reason for coming to Joannes Field.
Putting lipstick on a pig isn’t easy. The Sultans (the Prairie League team) had installed backed seats behind first and third base that were in good shape. The Bullfrogs then went beyond that to improve the ballpark. The team tore out several rows of bleachers behind home plate and installed more backed seats. A press box was constructed behind the home-plate seats. Thinking ahead, it was built in such a way that it can be moved if more rows of seats are needed. Bleachers seats were added down the lines.
The most interesting seating addition, however, was the construction of the 4,000-foot plus Fan Deck in the right field corner. This is used to fit baseball’s newest trend — all you can eat and drink for a fixed price. Get there early and you can have a seat where you can almost touch the Green Bay pitcher in the bullpen. Or you can sit where the foul pole used to be located. (Like Madison, these seats are in fair territory, cutting down the distance to the right-field fence.) “We can get 300 people in there,” Then said. That seems a bit optimistic. On the night we were there, the fellow taking tickets said some 200 plus people had passed by him. The lines were long for the beer and burgers. But, as often seemed the case at Joannes, people seemed patient enough about it.
Even with the new additions, Joannes only has 1,643 total seats. Space is not an issue on the third-base side. Indeed, there is a huge play area, a ticket booth and a small concession stand behind the third-base bleachers. First base, however, is a different story. The main concession stand and a smaller beer and burger stand are behind the reserved seats/bleachers. The team’s small gift shop is tucked back between the two concession stands. This is also where the home team locker room is located. All of this makes for a bit of tight squeeze. On the night we were there, things seemed even more complicated because former Packer great LeRoy Butler was signing autographs in a tent near the Fan Deck.
But things seemed to go along smoothly and we heard no complaints. “People have been very understanding,” Then said. “We just don’t have a lot of extra room here.”
For five bucks, the bleachers are a great deal. This is first-come, first-served seating and there were no ushers nearby to direct traffic. The highest seat is not far from the field. If the team ever wants to add seats, they can do so in deep left field. There were a couple of tables nearby for people to stand with their drinks. A father and son tandem found a picnic table located near the visitors’ bullpen and perched themselves for the night. Although we didn’t see anybody do this, you can bring lawn chairs into the ballpark. Presumably, they would encamp in the left-field corner.
Mark Twain once remarked, “Clothes make the man.” While this statement is often true when it comes to ballparks, such is not the case at Joannes Stadium. Through no fault of their own, the Green Bay Bullfrogs’ home field has little outside beauty connected to it. There are no trees swirling behind an outfield fence. There is no pictorial skyline to ponder. Indeed, the ballpark is located on the edge of downtown Green Bay in a complex that includes a swimming pool. From the outside, it looks like a neighborhood park and rec field. Finding beauty here requires one to look deeply. Page 3: Concessions and More.
Wisconsites love their brats and their beer. You have no problem finding a lot of both at Joannes. As a precaution, fans intending to drink beer need to get a wristband. This rule appeared to be enforced strictly. In one case, an intern ran and got a wristband for a wheelchair-bound senior fellow. Most of the concessions are located in that tight area behind first base. Bullfrog’s Brewhouse offers a good selection of suds for $3-4. The cheeseburger was a very good deal at $3.25. The brats and chicken breast sandwiches looked yummy. There are also some unusual choices, such as Taco In A Bag. Joannes is the first park we have encountered in a while that sells sunflower seeds. All in all, the prices seemed reasonable and the service was quick.
Like many ballparks, Joannes is smoke free. We spotted very few people lighting up outside the park.
Parking is free and rather plentiful. The ballpark is at the end of Walnut Street. There is a decent-sized parking lot about 500 feet from a ticket gate near first base. However, we chose a spot in a lot past the left-field fence that allowed a person to get out faster after the game. Presumably, this is for City Stadium, the Packers’ original home field that is still used for high-school games. (It is located about 1000 feet past the left-field fence). If you really get stuck for a parking space, there is a small lot at the front of the football stadium. There appeared to be some room on the street as well. Bottom line: you should be able to find a parking spot without too much trouble.
For the kids
There is plenty of open space for the young ‘uns to run wild behind third base. A play area seemed to draw a steady line of small fry ready to jump up and down, tumble and then slide their way down a short ramp. A nearby speed pitch wasn’t nearly as busy. Jeremiah Bullfrog, the team mascot, wandered the stands often, working the crowd.
Among the changes made to Joannes was a new sound system. In order to be able to have the fans on Fan Deck hear what is going on, it was necessary to jack things up around home plate. “We’re working on that for next year,” Royle said. “I know it is too loud around home plate.” Royle is a very active, hands-on owner. He greeted the crowd on the field before the national anthem, reminding them to spread the word baseball is back in Green Bay. Then is more visible than many GMs during the game. On the night we were there, he was serving as a Monty Hall-type host, doing a “Let’s Make a Deal” routine in the stands between innings. (Fortunately, the contestants picked the top prize nearly every time.)
Jeremiah wandered through the crowd as well as helping out on the field. Perhaps because they haven’t had organized baseball for a while but Green Bay fans seemed content to watch the game rather quietly. There was a bit of a stir when the Bullfrogs hit a pair of two-run homers in the sixth inning that resulted in a 4-3 victory. The souvenir program is free and was very well done. The PA announcer kept the crowd interested without being overwhelming.
A work in progress
First-year teams are always this way. The announced attendance the night we were there was 1,067, nearly a hundred fans above the season average. While there were seats available and people were able to move around, it did feel a bit cramped in some areas. Royle and Then maintain Joannes can handle a crowd twice that size. If so, they better hope the portapotties don’t explode because the place isn’t overrun with facilities. One small complaint: the lineup and standings boards, on a wall behind first base, were shoddily done (two teams were left out of the standings altogether and the lineups were hard to read). It had the look of something done quickly.
Unless one is in very good shape, there are no hotels within walking distance of Joannes Stadium. However, downtown is only a 5-10 minute drive away. There, you can find hotels that will fit any budget. We can recommend the Days’ Inn (406 N. Washington St, 920-435-4484). It had clean rooms and — a rarity for that chain — a restaurant that turned into a small bar at night. The Holiday Inn City Centre (200 Main St, 920-437-1199) got a favorable review from a family sitting near us at Joannes and looked very nice as well. As for restaurants and night life, all you need to do is find your way downtown and you can pick your own.