This serves as the first post in my third season of a series called “Down on the Farm” that chronicles visits to various minor league parks throughout the 2013 campaign. (The entire 2011 and 2012 editions can be accessed here.)
It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate place to begin this year’s journey than in Davenport, Iowa. This hard-working river town — part of the Quad Cities region,which also includes Bettendorf, Iowa; Rock Island, Ill.; and Moline, Ill. — has a gem of a stadium with views to match. I visited Modern Woodmen Park on a 100-degree summer afternoon upon return from the 2007 College World Series in Omaha (on my way back to Indianapolis), but April 15 marked a far different experience. (You’ll see photos of both trips.)
Temperatures on an early spring evening hovered in the 40s with a stiff breeze and darkening skies. This was a week that, in addition to the Boston Marathon bombings and West, Texas fertilizer explosion, saw near-record late April snow and floods throughout the Midwest.
MSF’s Amanda Lawson joined me with plans to enjoy a Monday night contest versus the Clinton LumberKings, who came down river roughly 40 miles for the series. But said event was not to be, as the game was postponed at 7:45 p.m., and fans reluctantly departed the wet grounds.
One of the oldest ballparks still in use, Modern Woodmen has been pleasantly perched along the nation’s chief river for more than 80 years. Originally known as Municipal Stadium with room for 5,500, expansion brought capacity to 8,500 by 1962. Major renovations in 1989 and 2004 lowered seating to just more than 4,000.
The beauty of the stadium’s setting is clear, and it’s also a good place to amble around, considering one can nearly stroll around the entire facility, while keeping a great view of the action.
However, the most stellar sight is the 73-year-old Centennial Bridge with the Mighty Mississippi flowing beneath it, as the structure feeds cars south from Davenport to Rock Island.
Seats contain slightly above average leg room and cup holders. While most have chair-backs, even the bleacher section gets you close to the action, offering good views from either side. There are also tables for standing and eating, and a grassy berm for lounging.
Railroad tracks run along the outside of the stadium where free parking and easy access await fans. I personally love red brick, and Modern Woodmen has retained its classic brick facade through the decades.
Though baseball is my favorite sport, I’m not necessarily a purist. Many of those purists miss the field’s pre-enhanced version, lamenting the 20 luxury suites, HD scoreboard, indoor sports lounge, sky deck, two team shops and modern press box
However, all the recent additions, including retaining walls constructed to prevent floods which plagued the park in past years, helped Modern Woodmen capture the “Best Ballpark Improvement” Award from Ballparkdigest.com in 2008 and 2009. The Midwest League awarded the 2006 and 2011 All-Star Games to the Quad Cities, and the yard has hosted six others dating back to 1964.
Attendance in Davenport was decent in 2012 at 3,500 per game, which is near-capacity in the small venue. Like many clubs, Quad Cities is off to a slow start drawing fans this April due to frigid weather across the region.
Professional baseball in the Quad Cities traces back to the 1879. Major League affiliation commenced with the 1936 Brooklyn Dodgers and a dozen current franchises have called eastern Iowa home since.
The 2013 season marks the city’s first year of association with the Houston Astros after eight seasons a St. Louis Cardinals farm team. Having gone through seven nicknames in the past 50 years, the River Bandits last captured the MWL crown in 2011.