Last week, Ms. Cocktailsfor2 and I hopped in the car and drove East by Southeast from Chicago to watch the Indianapolis Indians play a 7:05pm game against the Tides of Norfolk. It’s one of the (very few) advantages to being currently unemployed – the freedom to act on a whim once in a while. After checking the Indians’ schedule, we decided to make an overnight trip out of it, since the Pirates’ AAA-ers would also be playing the next day, one of their “Business Day Wednesday” games at 1:05.
[Related note: There is some strange juju going on with Ms. Cfor2 and Indiana - each and every time we have driven through the Hoosier State, it has rained. Horrible, sideways, the-wipers-can't-go-fast-enough-to-clear-the-windshield-holy-shit-please-let's-not-run-off-the-road rain!! I am not assigning blame here, just sayin' that IT HAPPENS EVERY FREAKING TIME, so perhaps somebody or something is a jinx.]
Despite the deluge, we made good time, though about 45 minutes before getting into the city, Ms. Cfor2 turned to me and asked “Why does your iPhone say 7:00, but the car’s dashboard clock reads 6:00?” D’oh! Why must Time in Indiana remain mired in the 20th Century? The game was scheduled to start at 7:05 (Eastern Time!) and not only were we not at the park already, we were not checked into our hotel… Hell, we weren’t even in Indianapolis yet! Gah!!!
Our inability to time-travel notwithstanding, getting to Victory Field from the highway was super easy, a fairly straight line right through town. My only quibble (and it’s a pretty minor one) is that Downtown Indianapolis proper seems to be made up of primarily one-way streets. Which, for a first time visitor, can be daunting while also trying to find the stadium and available parking. I’m sure that next time we go, it’ll be a snap. After finding the nearby parking lot, we hustled up to the ticket window. I had picked up a copy of The Indianapolis Star at the hotel, torn out the Indians’ “Indy Star 2-for1 Tuesday” ad, and so we scored 7th row seats, directly behind home plate! AWEsome!
[Alas, it was the top of the 5th inning, due to the aforementioned "time difference." The Indians were down 4-2 at that point. We'll cover the game itself, perhaps, another time.]
Victory Field is an absolutely gorgeous ballpark! Those who have visited PNC will find the “feel” of the stadium familiar – not only because of the names on the backs of the players’ uniforms, but the view is reminiscent of PNC, in that the city is on display beyond the outfield fences.
The ballpark itself is named after an earlier Indianapolis stadium, dating back to 1942, in celebration of the United States’ victory in World War II. Out in right field, they have the 1000-pound Victory Bell, which clangs in celebration after each home win. The bell is dedicated to Max Schumacher, President and Chairman of the Board, who has been with the Indians for 55 years. According to Diana Nolting, Marketing Manager of the Indians, Mr. Schumacher was kept in the dark about having the bell named for him: “He’s so modest, he wouldn’t have wanted it.” The Victory Bell rang out loud and long that night, the Indians having scored a come-from-behind victory against the Tides, 8-5, courtesy of a Jason Jaramillo grand slam, with now-Pirate Daniel Moskos nailing down the victory for his first save of the year.
A little bit about the Indians’ organization itself: this year marks the 125th Anniversary of baseball in Indianapolis, and their 15th at Victory Field – they’re in their 7th year as the Pirates’ AAA squad – and they’re really doing the celebration right.
The Indians typically draw about 600,000 annually, and a portion of that is from out-of-towners like us, who come to see the rising stars of their favorite pro teams at a bargain price. Fans of not only the Pirates, but the Reds, Phillies, Mets, Braves, Yankees, Rays and others can see future players pass through the International League, and jerseys of the respective Big League teams can see seen sprinkled throughout the stands on any given night ["Pirates-to-be" that have suited up for the IL All-Star squad include Willie Stargell (1962) and Mike Easler (1977)]. They have a solid season ticket base, because, like most clubs, they have very flexible options for full- and partial-season seats. We had a chance to tour the luxury boxes, and I can attest they’re as nice as any I’ve ever been in – including Dodger Stadium, Heinz Field, the Fabulous Forum and Staples Center.
Invariably, everyone we encountered in and around the stadium – the security crew, ticket-takers, concessionaires, bartenders, ushers, front office members – were affable and super helpful. Victory Field has some absolutely dee-licious food and drink – I snarfed down a “Shish-ke-Dog” and a Sun King Brewery brewed-specially-for-the-Indians “1887″ beer down in the Captain Morgan Cove (highly recommended!). while the Ms. opted for a good ol’ hot dog and soda on the first night, and then we opted for more “standard” fare during the day game (dogs, beers, peanuts, etc. [I had to go back for another 1887]).
The Indians are deeply involved with community activities: in addition to the Knot Hole Kids Club and a very cool Baseball in Education for the kids, the club also honors those who serve America with their Tickets For Troops program.
This summer, the organization is also helping in a unique way with their “Lend a Helping Glove” campaign. Several local charities have been given huge fiberglassed baseball gloves [like the one pictured below], and will decorate and display them. Fans will vote on their favorite, and the winning charity will be the recipient of $10,000 from the Indianapolis Indians. Another event will honor various contributors to the Negro Leagues in conjunction with the Jerry Malloy Negro Leagues Conference, being held in Indianapolis on July 21st.
The Indians are also very involved with social media, and I can speak of this first hand: just before we left Chicago, I tweeted to @indyindians that we were going to be heading that way, and could they recommend a good place to eat before the game (not knowing about the aforementioned non-time change)? Within half an hour, my @cocktailsfor2 feed was bombarded with dinner suggestions from Indians’ fans – they even posed the question to the fans via their facebook page, and there were DOZENS of replies!
Ms. Nolting took some time from her busy day on Wednesday to tour the ballpark and talk with me, and said that the team has an “easy and direct connection to the fans – and the fans love sharing their knowledge about restaurants, events” and so on, which really sends out a welcome feeling to visitors. I highly recommend not only checking out their main website, but using all the available entities – twitter, Facebook, etc. to keep track of the team’s progress or when planning a trip. She continued, “We’re always trying to make sure people have a good time here – we’re very proud as Hoosiers of our hospitality. While Indianapolis is the 11th largest city in the country, it still feels like a small town – it’s very ‘walkable,’ and those are [some of] the reasons people keep coming back.”
It’s also the small touches that make Victory field a great place to enjoy a game – the lineups posted behind home plate, clean sightlines, the opportunity to see up-and-coming players in the Pirates’ organization at family prices… Gorkys Hernandez and Alex Presley (currently the two favorite Indians’ players, according to Media Relations Manager Brian Bosma), guys like d’Arnaud, Hague, Harrison… pitchers like Rudy Owens and Brad Lincoln. Players who may be in the Black and Gold as early as this summer, or making their mark in the ‘Burgh sometime in 2012.
For an afternoon or evening game – or for a multiple day/weekend expedition – this ballpark, this team and this organization in Indianapolis make Victory Field a “must” for any Pirate fan.
Special thanks for information included in this article go to Diana Nolting and Brian Bosma of the Indianapolis Indians organization for their time and patience, and a very special thanks to Ms. Cocktailsfor2 for indulging me and the wild hair I got up my arse on a Tuesday afternoon.
You can follow the Indianapolis Indians on twitter at @indyindians or at their main site (with great videos and more) at indyindians.com . Follow cocktailsfor2 at @cocktailsfor2 Follow RumBunter at @rumbunter . Or don’t.