Fifth Third Ballpark
- 4500 West River River Drive NE
- Comstock Park, MI 49321
- (616) 784-4131
To finish up our trip through Michigan, we decided to head out to a ballgame. I love minor league baseball and have been lucky to live in cities that have a Midwest League team. I lived in Peoria for five years then Lansing. In addition to that, I’ve done some work in Davenport for the Quad Cities teams, so I’ve been around the MWL for the better part of the last eight years.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a MWL team in Kalamazoo, but there is one just north of Grand Rapids in Comstock Park. The West Michigan Whitecaps are the Class A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers which is a huge advantage for them. I worked for the Lansing Lugnuts last summer. The ‘Nuts are a Toronto Blue Jays affiliate, so there’s no built-in fan base like there is Grand Rapids.
The Whitecaps play their home games in Fifth Third Ballpark which is just off US-131 at West River Drive in Comstock Park. The trend with newer stadiums is to build downtown. I’m more of a fan of that type of ballpark, but the setup for the Whitecaps provides one thing a downtown ballpark can’t have. Parking.
The stadium is surrounded by huge surface lots. In a way, it’s great because you can park close to the stadium without having to drive around searching for a parking spot. On the other hand, you’re going to have to pay for parking. In Peoria and Lansing, I never paid to park at a game because there are always spots somewhere within walking distance that you can park on a street or in a lot that isn’t watched somewhere. You don’t have that option at Fifth Third Ballpark.
The other drawback is the access road. When you get off US 131, you go straight through the stoplight to what is not much more than a two lane road to the ballpark. It’s fine on the way in, but I can imagine it’s a nightmare to get out of. We left the game a little early to try to avoid that traffic.
April 11 was opening day and we weren’t the only ones who thought it was a perfect day for a ballgame. When we got there at noon, for a 2:00 game, there were lines out into the parking lot waiting for the gates to open. We headed up the steps to the ticket window to see if there was anything left. Box and premium seats were sold out, but there was still reserved and lawn seats left. That was fine with us. The two tickets were $18.
We headed back down the steps to get in line. The huge crowd showed up early because the first 1,000 people through the gates got a Whitecaps Snuggie. We saw news stories later that some people were in line well before 11:00 just to get one of the coveted blankets. Needless to say, we weren’t one of the first 1,000 through the gates. A little sad, but I think I’ll live.
After getting through the gates, the first thing we noticed was all the food options. It’s wild. There’s more than just hot dogs and nachos at Fifth Third Ballpark. They have a number of booths and options that range from unique to outrageous. There is, of course, the Fifth Third Burger which made national headlines last year. There’s also new options for 2010 including the Declaration of Indigestion and the Cudighi Yooper Sandwich.
Two things we went for were the fresh made chips and pulled pork. Yes, they have a smoke house which is new this year offering pulled pork, pulled brisket, and pulled chicken sandwiches. There’s an option with the sandwich to get two sides plus the sandwich for $7.75. That’s by far one of the best deals I’ve ever encountered at a ballpark. When we ordered the sandwich, we got potato wedges and sweet potato fries for the side. Fifth Third Ballpark could easily be a culinary destination. There was so much more that I wanted to try including the Declaration of Indigestion which is a cross between a Philly Cheesesteak and a hot dog. I would love to take a shot at the Fifth Third Burger, but just don’t know if I’m up to it. For $20, you get a burger that could easily feed four. If you finish it before the game’s over, you get a t-shirt. By the time we got to the concession stand during the 7th inning, they actually ran out of ingredients for the burger. We saw quite a few people taking the challenge and know at least one finished it. Last year, the park sold 1,939 Fifth Third Burgers. Only 298 were finished by a single individual.
Our seats for the game were in the very last section along the third base side. We were quite a way down, but still had a great vantage point of the action. Fifth Third Ballpark is another great place to watch a game, but where they really thrive is the fan experience. I really think they make the experience at the ballpark more enjoyable than some other places.
Chances are, we’ll be back. I’ve already mentioned how much I like minor league baseball and West Michigan is the closest affiliated team to Kalamazoo. I already miss my job with the Lugnuts last year, so I’m sure those withdrawals will kick in and I’ll be making the trip north to see some future Tigers.