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Chicago has so many great things to do and places to go, especially during the summer, that it is gratifying when you can find someplace new that the whole universe hasn’t discovered. If you’ve never been to Standard Bank Stadium in Crestwood, Illinois, home of the minor league baseball team, the Windy City Thunderbolts, it’s time to check it out. Now.
The ‘Bolts play in the Frontier League – Eastern Division – against teams from Schaumburg, Rockford, Normal, Joliet, Sauget, Illinois and O’Fallon, Missouri. I was introduced to the ‘Bolts this season as my son Tyler, a senior at Northern Illinois University, is an intern for the team this summer.
For people like me who love baseball and who grew up going to Cubs games at Wrigley Field and paying $2 to sit in the bleachers, a trip to Standard Bank Stadium to watch the Thunderbolts play, may bring you back to those times you remember so well. For me, very few memories are as etched in my brain as those trips on the “L” to Wrigley Field, arriving at 10:30 a.m. when the bleacher doors opened, and the rush up the steps to get the good seats for batting practice and the game. I even spent two summers during college working as a vendor at Wrigley (at Comiskey Park as well) to make some money, yes, but also to be able to spend every day hearing, smelling, and experiencing life at the ballpark.
I’m not knocking the changes that have occurred over the years in how the fan experience is now valued and delivered (price of tickets, crowded stands, loudmouthed drunks) – actually, the drunks have always been around. Time marches on and there’s little that the average guy can do about it. Plus, it takes a lot of money to build a World Series winner, so get what you can.
But, if you are looking for purity, a sense of calm, and an enjoyable day or evening of watching pretty decent baseball, come out to watch Ron Biga manage the Thunderbolts. When was the last time you were at a professional baseball game and really “heard” the crack of the bat hitting the ball? How about hearing the sound of a 90 mph fastball popping a leather mitt? There are no sounds on earth that compare.
On a warm summer evening in Chicago, there may be nothing better than taking it all in at Standard Bank Stadium, something that you just can’t do at a Major League ballpark. The smell of the burgers cooking on the grills; the energy on the party deck or the picnic area where parents and their kids mill around during the game, sitting in your seat or standing in a spot that gives you the perfect view of a pitch or a swing, are just a part of what you can experience and enjoy.
Windy City Thunderbolts in action at Standard Bank Stadium in Crestwood
Try one of the best and biggest hot pretzels you will ever get your hands on. There are plenty of other food choices and beverage choices for those looking to eat a little or a lot and those looking to drink a little or a lot (drink responsibly of course). There are specials every night and, for parents, check out Tuesday night home games when Kids Eat Free!
It doesn’t matter where you sit or stand, lower deck, upper deck, party deck, behind the dugout, you can see every inch of the playing field. There are plenty of contests, t-shirt tosses, raffles and other give-aways to keep the non-baseball fans who attend interested and happy. There’s also a “Kids Zone” in the left field corner with one of those hideous bouncey cages and a little kids batting cage to keep junior occupied when the attention span weakens.
In addition to enjoying the ballpark, I’ve learned that there are a number of college interns who are working for the Thunderbolts during the course of a summer and each of them is required to take a turn suiting up as “Boomer,” the ‘Bolts’ mascot. While it may not be the happiest day in an intern’s life to strap on a hot mascot costume, it may, as the photo below reflects, be a happy day for a kid in the hospital who gets a visit from Boomer. Good for the Thunderbolts’ owners – get those college kids to give a little back.
Next week is the Frontier League’s All-Star break, but the home season resumes on July 22 against the Gateway Grizzlies. The last home game is August 29 so don’t let the opportunity pass you by. Even if you don’t love baseball and you just want to do something different, it’s worth the try.
Harry Caray was dead-on when he said, “You can’t beat fun at the old ballpark.” Fun is tough to come by these days and it’s tougher when you have to pay $100 or more for a ticket. So my suggestion is that you avoid that problem and get yourself some real sensory joy out in Crestwood. It’s easy to get to, the burgers are hot, the beer is cold and the crack of the bat is loud and true.
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