This serves as the 12th post in my third season of a series called “Down on the Farm” that chronicles visits to various minor league and amateur ballparks throughout the 2013 campaign. (All prior editions can be accessed here.)
Perched on both sides of America’s longest river, one finds the thriving city of St. Cloud, Minn. And from early June to mid-August since 1998, grateful fans of all ages have been entertained at Joe Faber Field.
Known as the River Bats their first 15 seasons, the St. Cloud Rox play in the Northwoods League, now 20-years-old and more popular than ever. Considered the second-best Summer Collegiate Baseball League, Northwoods has more teams (16), draws more spectators (nearly 1 million combined), and plays more games (70) than any other summer college program. Enthusiastic, involved fans flock to see their local squads throughout the brief northern summer.
Teams are predominantly located in Minnesota (six) and Wisconsin (seven), with one club each in Iowa, Michigan and Ontario. Alumni are a who’s who of MLB stars, including Allen Craig, Andre Ethier, Curtis Granderson, Juan Pierre, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmerman and Ben Zobrist.
Faber Field, which also hosts St. Cloud State University baseball, holds roughly 2,200 spectators, though there is plenty of standing room. Despite playing in one of the smallest stadiums in the league and finishing a mediocre season last Sunday, the Rox were near the top of the league in attendance in 2013. St. Cloud last won a championship in 2007 when the franchise was still the River Bats.
The pleasant venue on the city’s west side is part of a municipal park complex with a golf course, hockey rink, hundreds of pine trees and a older, professional size ballpark adjacent, which hosts high school and other amateur tourneys.
A tree-lined, lighted walkway along the golf fairways connects fans with a free parking lot. The entire facility is well-maintained and clean, lying along the Sauk River, a tributary of the Mississippi.
The physical facility features a single concrete grandstand with the first set of seats roughly 10 feet up from the playing surface. There are two box seat rows, an aisle, then 20 more, all benches with backs.
Seating is almost entirely behind home and doesn’t extend down the lines. The steep structure, however, keeps one close to the action. Chairs are perched atop the dugout area for good sight-lines, while the highlight of the yard is a three-tiered bar-railing party deck down the left-field line that’s regularly full. Auxiliary metal bleachers offer general admission prices down the right-field line.
Though considered a hitter’s park with wind blowing to right, not many homers were hit by these college underclassmen — often using wood bats for the first time — when I attended a few games late in the season.
Other unique aspects of Joe Faber Field are concessions, restrooms and souvenirs completely situated under the grandstand in an indoor concourse to escape any elements.
There are some local players on the roster each summer, but St. Cloud recruits from around America, especially perennial powers like Cal-Berkeley, Cal State Fullerton, Nebraska, Tennessee and Wake Forest. Northwoods League players, who live with host families, are very invested in the community and have stronger camaraderie with each other and fans than you see at the professional level.
The Rox keep fans active and engaged with promotions between innings and a stellar audio system offering constant music — all genres, not just modern — and other timely television and movie sound effects. This, and a humorous but not overbearing public address announcer, more than makes up for the stadium’s lack of a video board.
Not surprisingly, I enjoyed Joe Faber Field, the St. Cloud Rox, and the amenities offered upon my visits last week.