Bill Clinton Library in Little Rock, Ark.

After being elected to five terms as governor of Arkansas, it was a natural choice for Bill Clinton to select Little Rock as the site of his presidential library.  The building extends over the Arkansas River reflecting Clinton’s campaign promise of “building a bridge to the 21st century.”  The building was dedicated on Nov. 18, 2004, and contains three stories of exhibits.

Main entrance with banner about temporary exhibit “Play Ball,” which was on loan from the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame & Museum.
“Presidential Limousine” on the first floor is one of the three 1993 Cadillac wood limousines built for the president.
“The Cabinet Room” exhibit is a full scale replica from the White House with touch-screen interactive displays.

“Oval Office” exhibit is a replica of the office during Clinton’s presidency.

“The Presidential Timeline” exhibit includes important events and images from each year of Clinton’s presidency.
“Confronting Conflicts, Making Peace” exhibit focuses on Clinton’s foreign policy. Among the exhibit is a set of Matryoshka dolls of world leaders: Bill Clinton, George Bush, Boris Yeltsin, Mikhail Gorbachev, Helmut Kohl, John Major, Margaret Thatcher, Francois Mitterand, and Saddam Hussein.

The “People’s Gifts” exhibit features a wide variety of gifts given to the Clinton family from 1993 to 2001.

My night with the Springfield Cardinals – July 25, 2013

Like my visit to Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, Ark., I wanted to visit Hammons Field because of my impending move out of the region and I expect it would be difficult to make a trip back with the primary purpose of watching games at each stadium.  After packing up my apartment in Stillwater, Okla., I ventured toward Springfield in pursuit of my summertime goal.  Before arriving in Springfield, I explored some other sights in southwest Missouri like Harry S Truman Birthplace State Historic Site, which allowed me to complete my trifecta of Truman presidential sights by visiting his birthplace.  However, that’s another story for another time.  I’m here to talk baseball, which was the primary purpose of the trip.

So after checking into my hotel and dropping off my bags, I headed to the ballpark a bit before the gates opened because I wanted to get the snow globe giveaway item.  I made plans to attend this particular game because the Springfield Cardinals celebrated Christmas in July and the exclusive giveaway item was a snow globe that contained a replica of the team’s 2012 Texas League championship trophy (more on that later).  So I wasn’t totally shocked, but was a bit surprised by the lines I saw when I walked up to the stadium.

Main entrance to Hammons Field.

One advantage of entering a stadium shortly after the gates open is the opportunity to walk the entire park and scope out food and drink options.  So after claiming my snow globe, I did just that.  As I wasn’t particularly hungry at that point, I visited the team store and sat down to watch the start of the game.

Springfield Cardinals right-handed pitcher Seth Blair delivers the first pitch to Northwest Arkansas Naturals center fielder Brett Eibner.

Before setting off to find food, I took a photo of the snow globe giveaway.  After all, a baseball game on July 25 practically screams to be part of a team’s “Christmas in July” promotion.

The snow globe with replica 2012 Texas League championship trophy.

It was “Johnsonville Buck a Brat Night,” which is something I’d normally indulge in very quickly.  However, I wanted to be more selective in my dinner choice.  I wanted to be sure that I experienced something unique to Hammons Field.  After walking around the concessions and debating it over, I decided to purchase my typical encased meat at The Doghouse.

The Doghouse features a variety of encased meats, but not the night’s featured “Buck a Brat.”

I’m not sure why the team offers a Chicago Dog, as the Chicago Cubs are a major rival of the Springfield team’s parent club – the St. Louis Cardinals.  I thought I might betray the home team if I ate a Chicago dog, so I opted for the Missouri Dog.

The Missouri Dog, which is a hot dog served with melted American cheese and topped with grilled sauerkraut.

I added ketchup and yellow mustard to the hot dog.  The hot dog was OK, but nothing special.  I didn’t ask what made it unique enough to earn the moniker “Missouri Dog,” but I can only presume that it’s a staple of Missouri ballpark cuisine.  Perhaps the best part of my meal was a local craft brew: Paul’s Pale Ale from Springfield Brewing Company.  The beer was a very good American pale ale, and a nice compliment to the sauerkraut on the Missouri Dog.

I saw something unexpected at the ballpark when I saw a concession stand that offered a funnel dog.  I did not inquire about why it was available, but I expect it was a specialty item on the menu because the Cardinals were hosting the Northwest Arkansas Naturals – the team that made the funnel dog famous.

I’m usually content with a hot dog and a beer, but my stomach needed more this night.  In hindsight I should’ve gotten the Texas League Dog, but instead I took advantage of the “Johnsonville Buck a Brat” promo and had a bratwurst with another regional craft brew.  For my second round, I had Urban Chestnut Brewing Company‘s Zwickel lager.  The beer was a delicious, and reminded me of the German lagers I home brewed with my dad.

Although I saw the popcorn stand and ice cream station, I wasn’t in the mood for any desserts.  So I didn’t get a mini helmet full of ice cream, and I didn’t experiment with the popcorn flavors.  Instead, I turned my attention to the game and the promotions.

While the Cardinals featured a Christmas-related give away item, the on-field promotions did not show any hint of Christmas.  A great example is the Bob Ross Paint Off, which took place in the middle of the 4th inning.  I loved watching  “The Joy of Painting” on PBS, but I don’t understand how it helped celebrate “Christmas in July.”

The scoreboard featuring the Bob Ross Paint Off competition in the middle of the fourth inning.

There were a handful of Christmas songs played during the game, but there were no unique on-screen graphics, no Christmas-themed skits, and there was no appearance by Santa Claus or his eight tiny reindeer.  When my schedule changed and I knew I’d be attending the Christmas in July game, I was excited because I anticipated a game filled with Christmas-related promotions, prizes, and more.  Instead, I had an experience that lacked almost any hint of Christmas.

I did capture photos with the team’s two mascots: Louie and Fetch.  I also made sure to vote for Louie in MiLB.com’s Mascot Mania with a post on Twitter and through the web site.

Me with Springfield Cardinals mascot Louie.

Like many teams, the Cardinals have two mascots.  On Louie’s first birthday, fans presented him with a puppy: Fetch!

A closeup of me with Springfield Cardinals mascot Fetch.

Since April I’ve become more conscious of taking a photo with the team mascot(s), so I’m happy I got photos with both Louie and Fetch.

While planning my visit to Hammons Field, I looked over a handful of online reviews.  Many articles described the experience as a “mini major,” which means that the stadium and the experience is similar to attending a major league game, but at a mini park.  In general, I’d have to agree with that critique.  The ballpark is beautiful and it feels like a Major League stadium, but a few minor league twists like the on-field, between-innings promotions remind fans that this is not The Show.  Hammons Field in Springfield, Mo., may not be The Majors, but the team shows visitors to this corner of Missouri a great time with a dash of local flavor.

Final: Northwest Arkansas 6, Springfield 0
Box Score

My night with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals – July 22, 2013

At the beginning of the summer I set a goal of watching games at three Minor League ballparks.  I recently moved out of my apartment in Stillwater, Okla., and incorporated two stadium visits into my trip.  On the way from Georgia to Oklahoma, I stopped in Northwest Arkansas to do some sightseeing and saw my first game at Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, Ark., home of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.

Like many stadiums built in suburbia, an expansive parking lot surrounds Arvest Ballpark.  The city built the stadium in hopes of spurring development in the area, but so far nothing has arisen near the intersection of South 56th Street and Watkins Avenue.  Across from the stadium there is a sign welcoming people to Springdale that says “Home of Tyson and the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.”

Main entrance to the ballpark.

The stadium’s location on the outskirts of town not far from I-540 means the backdrop for games isn’t a towering city skyline or a set of scenic mountains.  With those limitations in place, the Naturals did a good job of providing a pleasing backdrop.  There is plenty of berm seating, especially on a Monday night, a good scoreboard, and the trees beyond incorporated into the batter’s eye provide a break from an otherwise bland backdrop.

Northwest Arkansas Naturals right-handed pitcher Jason Adam delivers the first pitch to Arkansas Travelers shortstop Jimmy Swift.

A closeup of the scoreboard further illustrates the point about the lack of an eye-catching backdrop, but not every ballpark can have a downtown location with a stunning view.

The scoreboard in right field.

There are two notable food items served at Arvest Ballpark.  The best known is the funnel dog, which was the Naturals’ featured item in MiLB.com’s Food Fight contest earlier in 2013.  The funnel dog is similar to a corn dog, but the the dog is deep fried in funnel cake batter instead of the traditional corn-based batter.  I opted to eat the funnel dog with just the confectionery sugar as a complement.  In hindsight I should’ve tried finding an appropriate dipping sauce for the dog, but the dog seemed to have been grilled before it was deep fried in funnel cake batter which gave it a slightly smoky flavor.

My Funnel Dog, which is a hot dog dipped in funnel cake batter and deep fried.

Where can you buy the funnel dog?  Only one place at Arvest Ballpark serves them up …

Sweet Spot concession stand that serves the Funnel Dog.

The other recommended food item was the BBQ nachos, which I admittedly did not want to try because I’ve found that a handful of ballparks (Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock, Pringles Park in Jackson, Tenn., AutoZone Park in Memphis, Tenn., Regions Park in Hoover, Ala.) in the Southeast carry them.  So while they might be delicious, they are not as unique as some are led to believe.  However, the funnel dog was not sufficient for dinner so I needed to get something more to eat.  Due to the recommendation, I opted for the BBQ nachos, and I was not disappointed.

The BBQ Nachos, which features pulled pork, sweet BBQ sauce, nacho cheese, avocado sour cream, red and yellow bell peppers, and chives.

Although I had a difficult time finding a craft brew from Arkansas at the stadium, the Naturals have a concession stand that serves nothing but craft beers.  I opted to skip the craft brew selection and enjoyed a Shiner Bock with my nachos.

The Craft Beer Corner and Cider Shack, home of Arvest Ballpark’s craft beer and cider selections.

Another unique feature of games at Arvest Ballpark is Ruby, a 13-year-old black Labrador Retriever.  According to information I found online, she comes to the stadium with groundskeeper Monty Sowell.  If I hadn’t read about her beforehand I would’ve been quite confused, and I still don’t understand her role considering that she comes onto the field when the grounds crew manicures the infield.  Granted, it’s a dog’s life and she seems quite happy.

Ruby watching her human companion work on the infield dirt.

Although the stadium opened in 2008, the designers (Populous) and team did not create a retro stadium reminiscent of the jewel box ballparks (Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, and others).  Instead it’s a very crisp, modern ballpark with all the necessary amenities fans expect at new minor league stadiums.  The sleek design of the stadium is clear when you view the grandstand from the outfield.

An overview of the grandstand from the outfield.

Many minor league teams now feature multiple mascots, and I was able to capture a photo with both mascots for the Naturals: Strike the Sasquatch and Sinker the Lake Creature.

Me with one of the team’s mascots, Strike the Sasquatch.

Sinker was the Naturals nominee for MiLB.com’s Mascot Mania contest, which saw it’s league round conclude on Aug. 1.  So I bagged two mascots, although I was unable to get them together in the same photo.

Me with one of the team’s two mascots, Sinker the Lake Creature.

Arvest Ballpark lived up to expectations on a Monday night.  The crowd was sedate and the stadium location lacked any sort of ambiance or charm.  It was easy to reach the ballpark, but the lack of any restaurants or bars or any sort of local entertainment across the street from the stadium diminishes the fan experience.

However, the atmosphere inside the ballpark makes up for the surroundings.  The gift shop has a huge selection of items.  The concession stands offer the standard ballpark fare, but features a few unique items that separate Arvest Ballpark from other minor league stadiums.  One funnel dog may not be enough for dinner, but it’s an excellent item that every fan should sample.  While I cannot say the BBQ nachos are totally unique, they are certainly delicious.  I could’ve eaten just the nachos for my meal and been quite full, so fans get their money’s worth.

Ultimately, the visit to Arvest Ballpark was very good.  My stadium visit was complete: first pitch photo behind home plate, local encased meat on a bun, photo with mascot(s), and good on-field entertainment between innings.

Final: Arkansas 10, Northwest Arkansas 3
Box Score