This is the eighth post in my 2012 “Down on the Farm” series that chronicles visits to various minor league parks throughout America. (Prior articles, including the entire 2011 edition, can be accessed here.)
Joliet, Ill., is 40 miles southwest of Chicago, making the “City of Champions” a separate town, which adds to its appeal. With nearly 150,000 residents, Joliet is known for hard work, architecture, Rudy Ruettiger, a Civil War-era prison, the railroad and, since last summer, the Joliet Slammers.
And rarely in my travels have I been treated better, or seen a more interesting facility, than Silver Cross Field.
Though the City of Champions moniker emanates from local high school sports titles, the Slammers franchise added another to the city’s list in their inaugural season, immediately after replacing the Jackhammers (2002-2010).
Downtown Joliet, sitting along the roaring DuPage and Des Plaines Rivers, was revitalized beginning in 1990 with a large casino, shops, and now the jewel of the city: Silver Cross Field. The railroad is as heavily involved with the ballpark as the town, with folks riding commuter trains to the stadium, and BNSF railcars passing by throughout the evening.
Situated in an erstwhile rough area, I was informed the park, which opened a decade ago, also “protects” the 111-year-old historic Joliet Central High.
Readers of this series know I adore brick on any building, especially red, and Silver Cross Field does not disappoint. A massive brick exterior greets fans, and the ballpark fits in naturally with its surroundings.
Like PNC Park in Pittsburgh, visitors walk up a flight of stairs to get to the main concourse; however, with its orange bird mascot, green gates, and old warehouse in right field, Silver Cross actually resembles Camden Yards in Baltimore.
The character of the town and stadium leads to creativity in other areas. Joliet was awarded the logo of the year during their inaugural campaign, and mascots include Spikes the Bloodhound and J.L. Bird, who dresses in prison stripes. The Slammers offer three unique slogans as well:
“Guilt-free family fun.”
“New team. Same joint.”
Inside the yard, there are 19 rows of all chairback seats on the lower bowl and a well-maintained berm down both foul lines. The concourse wraps around the entire premises with great views, including a little league field and gothic-looking Joliet Central High, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. A two-level bar is found in left field with picnic tables below. The “Bud Beach,” replete with chairs in the sand, is beyond right field, next to the aforementioned warehouse.
Silver Cross Field contains a modern two-tiered press box, with 14 comfortable luxury suites situated down the baselines.
Downtown Joliet offers free metered parking after 5pm, and I was able to park 80 feet from the ticket office 45 minutes before first pitch.
Specifically, the Joliet Slammers formed in December 2010, and the team finally received their name and logo in March 2011, just in time for the franchise’s first Frontier League game May 19. Roughly one-third of the players from last year’s squad are on the 2012 roster, and five current Slammers have experience all the way to Triple A.
The stadium has a capacity of more than 6,000. This season’s top attendance was 4,356, though only 1,126 attended on this warm summer evening. When the Slammers aren’t in action, the University of Saint Francis calls Silver Cross home.
In comparison to the cost and hassle of attending an NFL game or a baseball tilt in Chicago, Boston, New York, San Francisco or elsewhere, it’s clear why Minor League Baseball is so popular: easy, safe, inexpensive, and enjoyable.
Silver Cross Field stands as the best ballpark I’ve visited in the Frontier League and arguably the best Minor League stadium in Chicagoland.
A few particulars on the Frontier League:
-Formed in 1993, its 96 game season runs from mid-May through the end of August. It is the oldest current independent league.
-The league is comprised of 14 teams in the Midwest (and as of this season, Canada) and is not affiliated with Major League Baseball.
-Team salary caps are $72,000.
-All players must be under the age of 27.
-Players that are selected come from a minor league farm system or went undrafted in Major League Baseball’s Amateur draft.
-Though about half the locales are near major cities with big league clubs (Chicago and St. Louis, in particular), no stadium holds more than 7,000 spectators.
-More than 200 players, coaches, managers and trainers have moved on to Major League Organizations.