September 1, 2011
Canal Park (Capacity: 9,097)
Akron Aeros vs Reading Phillies
Final Score: 1 – 6
On a vacation through the Midwest, we started our trip in Akron, a city of nearly 200,000 located in Northeast Ohio. Akron used to be known as the “Rubber Capitol”, with most of the major tire companies setting up shop in the city. Now only Goodyear is left and the University at the center of the city has become the focal point. While in town, we visited Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens, an impressive old home and grounds built for the creator of Goodyear. Akron’s only professional team is the Aeros, who play in the Eastern League. After seven seasons in nearby Canton, the franchise moved into downtown Canal Park in 1997 and have done quite well, winning three league championships, along with making several playoff appearances. Canal Park is a terrific ballpark that has helped to spur development around the downtown Akron area.
Prestige Ranking: 3 out of 5
Appropriately enough, right near the ballpark is the Ohio & Erie Canal, but it’s not really all that visible inside the park. The ballpark led to dining and entertainment downtown along Main Street and that includes the nearby Barley House, amongst other bars and restaurants. Also close by is Lock 3 Park, a place for concerts and festivals. It’s really a nicely developed area. The odd thing though was how quiet and dead it seemed. Not many people were out, the streets were devoid of cars or traffic (this was even more evident when we returned a week later for a Zips football game) and there were also a few shady characters walking around that might make some reluctant to venture beyond the ballpark and eating areas. Hywet Gardens is the only thing that be worth coming early to Akron to see.
Location Ranking: 6 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
Northeast Ohio has great highway access and from I-77/I-76, getting downtown from Exit 22A is easy. Just be aware that Main Street in front of the stadium is closed off and roads become one-way, so watch signage. There is no parking lot for the ballpark, however the downtown area has 10 lots and over 10,000 spaces. Plus, there is a garage just beyond the outfield. We went there and the garage had plenty of open spots and it was easy to get in and out of. Traffic was minimal, but there is a rush hour here if going on a weekday.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 7 out of 8
Because there wasn’t much room to build the ballpark outward, the exterior has a unique look in that home plate is not the main entrance. Instead, incoming fans see a flat, brick building all along the right side of Main Street. There are open columns, along with a few entrances. The primary entrance at the end of Buchtel Ave has an appealing look with an arcing “Canal Park” sign in front of the ticket booth and an old-style light fixture towering over the brick building.
Exterior Ranking: 7.5 out of 10
Typical of concourses in ballparks built during the mid-90s, this one is open with a view of the field. There’s nothing too decorative, but it has a very clean appearance with lightly-colored brick walls. I loved how coming up from your seats, there were signs with arrows pointing fans to the nearest restroom and food stand. Walkways extend to the foul poles as it opens up to the outdoors and they are still flanked on the side by a brick wall with occasional stands. Towards right field is a small team shop (Infield Outfitters), while the ballpark’s best feature is in the right corner. Wing Warehouse is a bar/restaurant that obviously specializes in wings, but also provides fans with a great dining option and a place to watch the game from both inside and outside.
Concourse Ranking: 4 out of 5
Food stands offer enough variety and Canal Park really goes all out with the hot dog as there are many variations, including “Three Dog Night”, a hot dog stuffed into a bratwurst and then a kielbasa, topped with sauerkraut on a hoagie roll. This has become a trend to fancy up the hot dog and they were one of the first to do it. There’s also a huge 1lb burger available with odd toppings. Italian nachos, fried pickles and ice cream floats are some of the other available specialties. Ohio Brewing Company provided the lone local beer. The only thing keeping Canal Park from a perfect 8 ranking in food is the rather blah, unappealing Italian sausage I had.
Food Ranking: 7 out of 8
Canal Park has a one-level seating bowl with sections getting smaller as they squeeze in towards the corners near the foul pole. A small amount of right-field aluminum bleachers cheapen the park’s look a little bit. Also, behind the last seating sections near left field is a small picnic area that looks out of place. Positives include a nice inward turn of the seating bowl as you get closer to the end of each side. Seats were blue, wide and comfortable. Above the concourse, is a long, beige colored row for the press box and suites (of which there are 25). Buildings loom in the distance, giving that urban look consistent with the location. The Children’s Hospital sits in the left-field corner, while in right field above Wings Warehouse, other tall buildings are visible. Overall, I liked the inside.
Interior Ranking: 9.5 out of 14
Except for the ads flanking the scoreboard, it is pretty decent with a nice video display. Unfortunately, no replays, just occasional commercials and movie clips. To the right of the video, is a vertical sign saying “Aeros” and underneath is the box score. On the very top is a clock and “Canal Park” spelled out in letters barely visible enough to make out.
Scoreboard Ranking: 2.5 out of 4
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen championship banners at a minor league ballpark, so that made me happy. On the lower wall of the press box/suites were small banners with the year of their achievements. On the right side were Eastern League championships, while the left side featured Division titles. Excellent to see them recognizing their great success, though the only thing missing was individual player honors. There is a Greater Akron Baseball Hall of Fame at Canal Park, located on the outside, however the doors were locked and there is no entrance from the inside. What’s the point of having one, when people can’t visit during times that it is most busy?
Displays Ranking: 3 out of 6
Prices are very reasonable at Canal Park with tickets coming in under $10 ($9 for reserved and $5 for bleachers). Parking in all city owned lots is free after 6 PM and on the weekends, plus programs were free. Concessions were ok with a mix of low and high prices ($2 for a hot dog, but $5.50 for pizza…$2 for a hot chocolate, $3.50 for a Gatorade). The affordability of the other ballpark experiences far makes up for that.
Cost Ranking: 8 out of 8
The last home game of the year took place on a Thursday Night and it was an unimpressive crowd with about half of the sections partially filled. The other half of the stadium (sections beyond the infield), were about 70-90% empty. Disappointing, but it wasn’t totally dead. After their first decade near or at the top of the league in attendance, the Aeros have dropped significantly. The downward trend really hit bottom the last two years, dropping to 9th in the league with paid attendance down to under 4,000 a game. Playoff attendance in ’08 and ’09 averaged to around 3,000. Interestingly coincidental that the drop off is similar to what happened with their MLB affiliates in Cleveland.
Fan Support Ranking: 3.5 out of 8
The atmosphere was near to a little below the minor-league baseball average, but not terrible. Fans didn’t generate too much noise, but there was a louder cheer when Grady Sizemore came to the plate (he was on rehab). With lots of Indians gear in the crowd, I would think there is some interest in player performance. During a rundown, a few fans stood to applaud as the Aeros turned it into a double play.
Atmosphere Ranking: 6 out of 14
The nickname Aeros refers to Ohio’s history with aerospace…..Gnats!!! This must be a Northeast Ohio thing (remember the Indians-Yankees ALDS in 2007). They showed up with a vengeance as dusk turned to night, but they only were bothersome if anyone was out in the bleachers….The post-game fireworks display was one of the best I’ve seen yet.
Reading scored the first two runs and T.J. McFarlund shut out the Aeros for the first six innings as the Phillies built their lead to 4-0. A Jordan Henry RBI single got Akron on the board in the 7th, but that was all their runs as Reading went on to win by a score of 6-1. Grady Sizemore went 3 for 3 in a rehab appearance.