On the Road: An Old School Field in Burlington
To see all posts from my July 11, 2015 visit to the Vermont Lake Monsters (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.
2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!
Before delving into this post, a bit of clarification is needed: I didn’t visit the Vermont Lake Monsters as part of my end-of-the-season New England road trip. It was a one-off visit that took place July 11, as part of a long weekend in Burlington that was otherwise dedicated to non-Minor League pursuits (including, yes, a Weird Al concert).
But since the Lake Monsters are most certainly a New England-based team, I decided to shoehorn my Centennial Field visit into my ongoing New England ballpark narrative. Therefore, I am writing these Vermont posts as if they were part of the same trip. I mean, they could’ve been.
The Lake Monster play at Centennial Field, one of the oldest professional sports stadiums in the entire country. The ballpark is located across the street from a purple house bearing a tree-obscured message. That message is “Cut consumption, not foreskin.”
Longtime readers of this blog, who may exist, will remember that I’ve written about the above house before. This is because I’ve visited the Vermont Lake Monsters before. The year was 2009, when I was still tentatively dipping my toes into the roiling “exploring America through Minor League Baseball” waters.
Centennial Field is located on the University of Vermont (UVM) campus, behind a soccer field that has also been used for football and lacrosse. UVM teams no longer play on this field, but it is still well maintained.
After traversing the width of the soccer field, one arrives at the baseball portion of Centennial Field. UVM cut its baseball program in 2009, which led to fears that the Lake Monsters would leave town. UVM agreed to a 20-year lease with the Lake Monsters in 2012, however, at the bargain price of $1 a year.
Centennial Field was first christened as such well over a centennial ago, and the grandstand dates back to 1922. No matter how you want to contextualize it, it is the oldest ballpark currently in use by a Minor League Baseball team (others built in the ’20s include Bowman Field in Williamsport and McCormick Field in Asheville). However, Centennial Field didn’t host Minor League Baseball until 1955 and not on a consistent basis until the appearance of the Eastern League’s Vermont Reds in 1984.
Burlington is a good market for short-season Minor League Baseball, and Lake Monsters owner Ray Pecor is committed to the area. Otherwise, it is a near-certainty that the Lake Monsters would have departed for a city possessing (or constructing) a facility with modern amenities. The team has done what they can to upgrade Centennial Field, with Pecor contributing some $2 million for necessities such as field renovation, a new videoboard, new light towers and much more. Even with a $1 a year lease, running a team out of an ancient ballpark can be an expensive proposition.
One improvement that fans might not notice is that the visitor’s clubhouse is now located underneath the scoreboard. Previously, the players had been housed in this small building on the far side of the adjacent soccer field.
On the evening in which I was in attendance, the videoboard was highlighting the imminent battle of old (the Lake Monsters) vs. new (the visiting West Virginia Black Bears, playing their inaugural season after relocating from Jamestown, New York).
One thing that the teams have in common is that they are both New York-Penn League teams who operate outside of New York and Pennsylvania. Discuss.
Another thing that the Lake Monsters have in common with the Black Bears is that they, too, began life in the New York-Penn League after relocating from Jamestown. Vermont played its inaugural season in 1994 as the “Expos,” and kept the Expos name through the 2005 campaign (at which point, they were the last professional franchise to bear the Expos name). The “Lake Monsters” appellation was adopted in 2006, a nod to the Loch Ness-like monster that allegedly resides in nearby Lake Champlain. In 2011, after 17 seasons with the Expos/Nationals, the Lake Monsters became an Oakland affiliate. Burlington is only 3,012 miles away from Oakland.
Despite the myriad improvements made to Centennial Field in recent years, it can’t help but maintain a rustic, throwback feel. This is a good thing, and I defy anyone (not involved with player development) to tell me otherwise.
The team’s food offerings can — nay, should — be enjoyed from the picnic area located down the third-base line (there is also a new group area beyond right field — I’ll highlight that in the next post).
Nice “Hello Kitty” backpack, bullpen dude. Here’s hoping that you were able to withstand such a withering attack on your masculinity.