Ballpark dresses up for a new beginning
WILLMAR -- Like prepping a princess for the ball, scores of workers fussed over Bill Taunton Stadium at Baker Field on Tuesday.
Raking, planting, painting and some construction went on at a furious pace in preparation for the Willmar Stingers opener at 7:05 p.m. Thursday against the St. Cloud River Bats.
A ticket booth of hefty blocks is going up at the stadium entrance. The two-toned brown blocks match the concession stand on the plaza.
City employees, including summer help, planted shrubs along the stadium ramp. Others weeded the landscaping elsewhere.
Pitchers, along with a single catcher, warmed up in the outfield for the first practice. Position players were scheduled to practice under the lights Tuesday night.
The newest franchise in the Northwoods League will play a 35-game schedule at the 31-year-old ball field south of Willmar Avenue Southwest, plus a "home game" July 4th at Spicer. The new stadium is also the home park for the Rails, Cardinals, American Legion and two VFW teams.
The preparations also coincide with Willmar co-hosting the state Class B and C amateur tournaments starting in mid-August.
Fans who haven't been to the ballpark recently will notice some big changes.
Except for the batter's eye in straightaway center, the outfield fence is tarped with sponsor signage from foul pole to foul pole. Down the right-field line, three sets of bleachers sit on a high berm. The largest, which has railings, has a 225-person capacity.
Behind the stadium, a fenced picnic area with tables on concrete pads overlooks a grassy holding pond. The Dorothy Olson Aquatics Center and city soccer fields are just across 15th Avenue. Groups can arrange for a pre-game gathering here for a price that includes tickets, food and beverage.
Down the third-base line, beyond the concession/restroom building, is the R&J Tours Bullpen Suite. This also is available to groups; only four dates aren't booked, including this Saturday.
Bill Taunton Stadium seats each have a number. Total capacity, including the general admission bleacher seats down the first-base line, is officially 1,355.
The Stingers management has upgraded the sound system with two additional speakers and an additional amplifier. There is also a gift shop featuring Stinger merchandise under the grandstand.
The stadium parking lot has been re-stripped. The ballpark is also accessible by walking and bike paths. A new sidewalk stretching along the north side of Willmar Avenue is being finished up this week.
The Stingers open the season with home games Thursday through Monday.