Down on the Farm: Nothing “standard” on Chicago’s South Side

This serves as the 11th 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. (All prior editions can be accessed here.)

Standard Bank Stadium

If you’re going to watch Independent league baseball in person, a 10:30 a.m. weekday start and temperatures hovering around 70 degrees with a breeze is hard to beat — even along the mean streets of the South Side of Chicago.

Standard Bank Stadium

My morning with the Windy City Thunderbolts became even livelier as a result of numerous summer camps attending for “Splash Day,” which I gleaned meant team mascots and occasionally players toss water balloons at boisterous children. Eventually a dunk tank was erected for counselors to take plunges as kids guffawed. Even the Stanley Cup passed through the yard following the game. This wasn’t a traditional experience.

Standard Bank Stadium

Standard Bank Stadium sits in the small village of Crestwood, Ill., some 20 miles southwest of downtown Chicago, and 10 miles south of Midway Airport along famous Cicero Ave.  If the public housing and urban decay visible from the parking lot doesn’t indicate you’re far from Glencoe or Lake Forest, fans clad in White Sox attire should.

The ballpark, which opened in 1999, holds 3,200, the smallest capacity of any Frontier League facility.

Standard Bank Stadium

The first thing fans notice upon arrival are power lines running through the actual parking lot due to spatial constraints in this tight neighborhood. Inside the stadium, the scoreboard in right field is simple and lacks graphics, but provides good audio with continuous statistics and pitch speeds.

Despite being relatively new, Standard Bank is not a cookie-cutter park and does have character. Asymmetrical seating is evident, and the most unique aspect is an upper deck with five sections along the third base side that actually stops at the press box behind home plate. The first-base side has no upper deck. Lower level seating on both sides is only six rows deep, placing fans very close to the action.

Standard Bank Stadium

Renovations to the stadium between 2004 and 2006 included a new fan deck on the first base side, a beer garden, kids’ zone down the left field line and new ticket office. There are also three luxury suites behind home plate.

Standard Bank Stadium

And then we have the half-dozen “Pole Men” who, donning their homemade blue t-shirts, are rough-talking Chicagoans that stand by a first base line light pole. When not shouting encouragement or insults at players, they engage in diatribes about sports, life and politics, adding to the appeal of this venue. The men were tailgating and guzzling beer when I arrived at 10 a.m., planning for the White Sox game that evening.

Though the Thunderbolts are struggling this season, they captured Frontier League titles as recently as 2007 and 2008.

Standard Bank Stadium

The ballpark doesn’t offer the best sight-lines or amenities, but I enjoyed seeing a yard that breaks the general template. Standard Bank Stadium is therefore another interesting baseball facility among the Frontier League’s diverse collection I’ve seen, especially across the Land of Corn and Lincoln.

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 is not affiliated with Major League Baseball.
-Team salary caps are $72,000.
-All players must be under the age of 27.
-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.

About the Author

AJ Kaufman

A former schoolteacher and military historian, A.J. now works in public relations. As an MSF columnist since 2009, he supports anything baseball-related. Raised in San Diego, A.J. has since resided in numerous parts of America, including Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Ohio and Washington State. After departing the coasts in 2005, he's traveled the back roads of all 50 states and prefers the Heartland. Married to Maria, A.J. is the author of three books and enjoys reading presidential biographies.