Rating the Sun Belt Ball Parks – #1 – From the Bird’s Nest
#1—M. L. “TIGUE” MOORE FIELD AT RUSSO PARK –LOUISIANA
THE GOOD—Virtually everything that was done during the $18 million dollar renovation was done with the fan experience in mind. The raised grandstand is all chairbacks, fans at the concession stand can turn around and have line of sight to the playing field and don’t have to miss a pitch. Or, they can simply watch one of the many televisions on the concourse. There’s a wide variety of concessions including a couple of local restaurants (pizza and jambalaya) and if you can’t find a beer you like, you just don’t like beer. Domestic, imports and craft beer are all sold and beer vendors are in the stands. There are ten luxury suites (and they are luxurious) and each has twelve outdoor seats. There is also a club level that will hold over 200 at the top of the grandstand. There are loge boxes above the bleachers, field boxes down the left and right field line and a little over 200 seats on ground level between the dugouts. A large video board sits side by side with the scoreboard in left center field. The state of the art press facility has separate booths for radio and television and is wired to where television just runs a couple of cables on the ground level and they’re good to go. The stadium shares a parking lot with football so parking isn’t an issue, even when the crowd is at capacity. The history of Cajun baseball is told on the concourse with championship banners and a tribute to the Cajun All-American’s. Ron Guidry’s #3 is the only retired jersey on the outfield wall.
But it’s tradition and atmosphere which sets this place apart. Years ago a retired military man started roasting peanuts on site using an old roaster from the 1800’s. Vic Kilchrist passed away a couple of years ago at 95, but the roasting continues. Those peanuts are sold on the concourse near third base. The Cajun Cooking Club has been providing meals for visiting teams for more than two decades (and they’ve been known to bring goodies up to the press box as well.) Fans are welcome onto the field after the game with their kids for autographs and kids go on the field for the anthem with the players on Sunday. And, as you might expect, Cajun fans are pretty hospitable folks.
The Cajuns were seventh in the country in attendance last year and there’s nothing like a rowdy crowd to build atmosphere. There’s a group called Section A that sits above the visiting dugout and they are, shall we say, creative. I don’t know of anywhere else where “Centerfield” is played at the seventh inning stretch. It’s been that way for 30 years and the fans sing at the top of their lungs. It wasn’t long ago D-1 baseball voted the “Tigue” in the top ten for atmosphere and toughest places to play. And, as one former opposing player put it, “they’ll stay on your butt the entire game then come on the field afterward for you to take pictures with their kids. Best place I’ve ever played.”
THE BAD—Similar to Texas State, Russo Park is with the rest of the athletic facilities, but it’s a ways away from the actual campus where the students reside. And, new reserved parking has made for less tailgating which hurts the pre game atmosphere a bit. Concessions, while plentiful, can be a bit pricey depending on your taste.
ANALYSIS—The brick and mortar and the amenities for fans are great and make this the most fan friendly park in the league. But it is the fans themselves that make this place go. They built it, and people came. And, the fan support is unmatched in the Sun Belt. And, that makes it the best place to be. Put me in, coach.