Clinton, Iowa’s Ashford University Field may not have anything in common with a DeLorean on the surface beyond the simple fact that they’re places where people can sit. But looking a bit deeper, if you put yourself in either, you’ll find yourself going back to the future before long.
The low-A Midwest League is littered with small town ballparks providing all sorts of zany experiences. Of the four in Iowa though, I can say without question that Ashford University Field is by far and away the best. Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids has a giant tank in front of it, Burlington’s Community Field is essentially a neighborhood block party where a ballgame happened to break out (we’ll have more on them later in this series), Modern Woodmen Park in the Quad Cities offers a spectacular view of the Mississippi River. But the home of the Mariners-affiliated Clinton Lumberkings offers the best pure baseball watching experience, serving as a living, breathing time capsule that doesn’t look much different than when the stadium was first constructed in 1937.
Originally Riverview Stadium — called that despite the fact that you aren’t afforded a view of the Mississippi from any vantage point in the ballpark — the 4,000 seat stadium was originally built for the old Clinton Owls, then a Brooklyn Dodgers affiliate. The park was funded with money from the Works Progress Administration and, despite some renovations in the mid-2000s, looks much the same today as it did when it first opened for business. Since then the likes of Neftali Feliz, Grady Sizemore and other Major Leaguers have called this cozy ballpark home.
So what makes this place special? It is baseball in its purest form, an escape from the 24-hour news cycle and vapid reality shows that pollute today’s pop culture. There is no JumboTron or LED ribbon board, just a simple light up scoreboard in center field that tells you the score, the count and the number of outs. There are no luxury boxes…hell there are only three rows of actual seats, with the rest of the seating bowl consisting of metal bleachers not unlike the ones at the high school and little league ballparks scattered throughout the area. Even the press box itself is fairly bare bones, a simple metal box with room for a PA announcer, the writer from the local paper and not much more.
For food options, if you’ve never had a deep fried Oreo cookie, you can scratch that off your bucket list when you visit Clinton. $2.50 gets you three of them covered in powdered sugar, a taste treat that will take you straight to fat kid heaven. There’s a patio area down the left field line and enough concessions to satisfy the relatively small crowds that show up every night. Fans have nearly unparalleled contact with the players, developing friendships with guys who are going to eventually go on to bigger and better things but are happy to have a couple kind folks shouting encouragement as they pay their dues in the middle of nowhere.
Unlike some other ballparks, there really is no pre-game bar scene for a LumberKings game. The town itself has the requisite Applebee’s and handful of hole in the wall bars that populate any small town throughout the Midwest League circuit. But that’s what makes going to a Lumberkings game a memorable experience. It is 18 men playing the game of baseball in front of a crowd largely consisting of families who have lived in the area for generations. That’s it. No distractions (save for a mascot named Louie the Lumberking who makes a few brief appearances throughout), no nonsense, no pretentiousness. If nothing else, it’s refreshing to know that experiences like this still exist in our current day and age.