Game & Stadium Review – Calgary Vipers Foothills Stadium
The first Golden League game was held in Calgary last night and MUD.com was there.
The pregame was solid. Calgary Flame great Theo Fleury threw out the first pitch. He is rumoured to be playing in a game this year for the Vipers. Fleury drove a motorcylce around the bases in reverse, threw out the first pitch and then went to the beer garden to sign autographs. A 6-year old Calgary girl sang the national anthem and nailed it. The mike unfortunatley cut out on her a couple times, she did not get flustered and the Foothills crowd helped her out. There was a pregame ceremony honouring ‘Billy’ who is not the offical mascot but is the cheerleader. Dispite his Down’s Syndrom he is incredibly charismatic doing his breakdance routine on the dugout roof and dawning an Elvis mask to dance to YMCA. Billy and Slider (the offical mascot) make a solid entertainment duo during the side changes.
Calgary won 8-3 over the Edmonton Cracker Cats. The Edmonton starter was rocked and was left in way too long. Calgary got out to an early 8-0 lead. Darryl Brinkley led the way, reaching base in his first two at bats and stealing bases at will. He does not seem to run fast but gets great jumps on the Cats battery.
The level of ball was decent. The most glaring lack is the poor fielding. In the top of the first a ball was crushed, I was sitting right behind home plate and I thought the ball was headed over the fence but the Calgary left fielder took two steps in and then had to double time back. He almost made the catch, the ball clanked off the outfield fence just foul.
The Vipers committed 3 errors. Two were errors in turing a double play in the same inning on different play. I guess it is early season mistakes.
I was impressed with the stuff Vipers reliever Ryan Olsen had. He is a lanky lefty and made the Cats look silly until the Vipers defense made themselves look silly.
The win puts the Vipers at 3-2 and in first place in the North.
Being new to Calgary this is the first game I had seen at Foothills. The stadium is not new by any means and has housed the Vipers since 2005 and the PCL Calgary Cannons for many years before that.
Foothills is located in the North West quarter of the city. Very near the University of Calgary and is surrounded by athletic fields. From behind home plate you can watch an amatuer soccor game being played beyond right field. McMahon Stadium, home of the CFL Stampeders is very present in left field. The stadium is very accessible. Take the C-Train (which is an electric train but is sometimes under ground, sometimes a streetcar and sometimes a monorail style) from downtown or the southend and get off at Banff Trail station. There is also lots of parking but the traffic situation in Calgary can be crippling. There are a few restaurants and bars across the street from the park but the area is mostly a resiential/university neighbourhood.
It had rained in Calgary for a week before the opener last night and as a result the natural field was a pristine green. Daytime temperatures were in the mid 20’s and at game time there was a mix of sun and clouds. There was a stiff wind blowing in off the Rockies, which, unfortunatley are not visible from the grandstand. I went down to field level before the game and the field looked great. The infield was not too sloped or bumpy around the basepaths. The outfield fence is black and about 20 ft high. The outfield distances are a normal 345-400-345. Calgary’s many lilac trees are in full bloom and the fragrance was subtle but mixed with the normal ballpark smells splendidly.
Foothills is very bare bones. It is older but I cannot date it by looking at it. The roof, pressbox and any buildings are red CGI and it makes it look older than it is. Foothills seats about 10,000. The grandstand goes up about 30 rows and wraps from first base(Calgary side) around to the end of the visitors dugout. There are no private boxes to speak of. There is a full section shorter third base than first base grandstand. Beyond the third base grandstand is a General Admission bleacher section that is about 15-20 rows. I watched some warm up from here, the backless aluminum bleachers feel you are right in the third base coaches box. There is a grandstand roof that covers maybe the top 10 rows. It only covers the seats behind homeplate and towards the third base side. The upper seats are red, the lower seats yellow. Beyond the Vipers dugout there is a beer garden with patio chairs and beyond that a little picnic area. Beyond the bleacher section and down the third base line there are some picnic tables. There is no outfield seating.
A little Indy Minor League team is beyond the marketing types at Rogers Centre and dispite the meagre means have a Party Zone. There is bar style seating between the red and yellow seats in the grandstand. There was, surprise, surprise a twenty something crowd in the Party Zone and they were partying and enjoying the game at the same time.
The Vipers do not draw well, but opening day had a crowd of about 2,000. Walking around the stadium before game, it looked like it had not been cleaned for years. The rows covered by the roof were also covered in pigeon plop. Hose this down. Also, the sound system is extremely potent for a small stadium and used alot. There is sound effects and music almost between every pitch and it is extremely loud. We moved from our seats because I could not speak to someone sitting beside you due to the noise/music.
For a minor league park the Vipers offered normal park fare but the food is better than most Major League fare I have sampled and better than food offered at the Saddledome. The sponsors, Spolumbo’s Sausages are excellent. They barbeque them behind the bleacher section, making the bbq uncovered and the smell of Alberta pork waifs though the ballpark. Chicken strips and fries also seemed popular. For those who enjoy to indulge in liquor at ballgames, Foothills offers more than most ballparks. They offer the full spectrum of Big Rock beers. They offer 5 different Smirnoff Ice product and even wine from the local Barefoot Winery. I was blown away.
The ticket prices were high. Minor league ball is typcially the best value for ticket in sports, maybe second to only NCAA football. However, admission to a Vipers game is just as high as a AAA game. I checked other GBL ticket prices and they seem to be very consistent across the board. Prices range $16-$11-$9 with significant discounts for seniors and juniors. Beer prices were under $5! Food prices were under $5! The Vipers Pit swag shop was reasonably priced with lots of variety. The best deal I have ever seen was a Spolumbo Sausage+Big Rock Beerzo for $7! I think I had 6 beers but I couldn’t take full advantage of this deal as the Spolumbo is a healthy sized dog there is no way I could have eaten 6 Spolumbos. The crowd was a drinking crowd and the concessions were serving into the top of the 9th inning.
Overall, the Foothills people capture baseball perfectly. Baseball is not a great Alberta pastime but baseball is great at Foothills. It’s barebonedness and a little run down but offers great sightlines and great experience.
ADDED 1 June 2008 – Another nice thing about Foothills is that is the second most northerly outpost of organised baseball, next to Edmonton. It being late spring we get about 17-19 hours of daylight. The first picture was taken in the 8th inning. There was enough daylight at 9:45 to play without light. A great experience.
Calgary sits at an elevation of 3400′. This is considerably higher than any ML team other than Denver (5200′). I have no park effect stats for Foothils but I assume the large foul territory and the high outfield fence is determined to cut back on soft homers.
Early and Calman stand outside of Foothills Stadium on a wintry Calgary day.