A good blueprint for building a successful small-time ballpark can be seen in Sauget, where a little bit of everything is packed into the roomy regardless confines of a place that has garnered national attention for its unusual concession stand offerings.
While a bacon cheeseburger with a glazed donut bun draws the primary publicity, baseball's best burger, as the Krispy Kreme-encased creation is called, is served in a ballpark worthy of true acclaim, as it's replete with all the modern amenities and then some: a deck with rentable hot tub has been hugging the right field foul pole since day one.
Besides the stuff the Grizzlies' ballpark has gone overboard on, the now traditional goodies like an open concourse, second story suites and sloped grass outfield seating are part of the fan-friendly facility that surrounds the realest looking fake field you'll ever see, as the artificial turf at GCS Ballpark includes lawn mowing patterns in it. The turf can even be groomed so that the patterns in the fake grass can be altered.
Creativity abounds away from the field too. The team shop doubles as an Illinois welcome center for the southwestern part of the state (the border is nearby) and the area's baseball history is an attraction in the open bar area behind home plate, which includes a Southwestern Illinois Baseball Hall of History. Furthermore, the two-story brick building behind left field is home to the league office for the league (Frontier) that the home team is a member of. Another building out there, behind the large playground, is "where tomorrow's stars train today" at the Grizzlies Baseball Academy.
Throw in things like the big bank of bleachers behind the right field line concourse and the video board among the three tiers of billboards that are behind the berm in right field and you have a fully built-out ballpark that has maximized its space as cleverly as any ballpark can.
And it's all found in a municipality that's smaller than any other that's home to a professional baseball team: the population of Sauget hovers around just 250 residents. So that makes what's found in the little locale that much more big-time impressive, and although GCS Ballpark might be most memorable for its unusual eats it's the ballpark itself that is a treat.
GCS Ballpark is alongside I-255 in the "smallest town in America with professional baseball," as Sauget proudly boasts. Officially pronounced So-zhay, although saying Saw-jay is common too, the official population was 249 people when the ballpark opened in the village that is forever destined to remain primarily home to industry, as parks of the office and industrial variety are just about all that spans the less than five square miles that make up Sauget, which is only about five miles away from St. Louis. The big city is so close that the St. Louis skyline and Gateway Arch are easily visible from the parking lot and when looking behind the ballpark from its perched areas (suite level and top of bleachers).
Befitting of the environs of the area, to access the ballpark all visitors must pass by the Peterbilt trucking company's St. Louis dealership. Notable from a baseball standpoint, one of the office buildings between GCS Ballpark and the Interstate is where the Frontier League has its headquarters (the league is operated out of Suite 2A at 2041 Goose Lake Road).
The ballpark itself is also home to an interesting destination: the southwestern Illinois Welcome Center is found within the team store. The Mississippi River, which serves as the Missouri-Illinois border, is a short distance to the west.
Lots of free parking is available.
A paved lot fronts the ballpark and beyond it is a large gravel-based one in which most people park. That's because most donít know the paved lot is an option since the majority of it is out-of-site upon approach. While the more limited paved lot spaces on the third base side of the park are often reserved for those like season ticket holders, a huge amount of paved parking lot territory is on the first base side of the ballpark, where parking is first-come, first-served. However, the box office and sole entrance gate are on the third base side of GCS Ballpark, where the gravel lot is found, so much of the unpaved lot does provide quicker access to where fans want to go.
|Lawn striping in the artificial turf makes it look like real grass. In the suite level that overlooks the fully turfed field one of the seats is colored red in honor of Stan Musial.
Notable Ballpark Features
ProGrass playing surface
The field is fully artificial and features a type of turf that mimics the appearance of real grass thanks to how it's groomed. Called ProGrass and installed in January 2012 by the company that manufacturers it, ProGrass Synthetic Turf Systems of Sharpsburg, PA, the fibers of the engineered grass are able to maintain mow patterns, which enables the green turf at GCS Ballpark to replicate the lawn striping that is a signature look of real grass ballparks. And just like at ballparks with natural grass, striping patterns can be altered in the artificial stuff by grooming its fibers.
All dirt areas on the field are turf too, and that includes the pitching mound, which is a brown turf-covered portable fiberglass product that was designed by a company owned by Rich Sauget, who was a catcher for six seasons in the Braves (mostly) and Giants organizations long before he started the Gateway Grizzlies franchise in the town named after his grandfather (Leo Sauget). "The Perfect Mound," as it's called, is made by one of Rich Sauget's many business ventures, all of which are headquartered in an office building that overlooks left-center field.
Prior to switching to the ProGrass turf and Perfect Mound combination in 2012, the playing field was an all-natural one. When the ballpark opened, Bermuda grass sod from Columbia, IL, and specifically from Emerald View Turf Farms, was used and real grass is what the Grizzlies played on for their first ten seasons at their current home field.
"Baseball's Best" concession stand items
Outlandish alterations or additions to the standard stadium fare has been the recipe for getting national attention for the Gateway Grizzlies, who promote such food offerings as "Baseball's Best" and serve them up at prominent concession stands found in each outfield corner. The best-known of the brand is the burger, which has a sliced in half glazed Krispy Kreme donut that serves as the top and bottom bun for a 1/4 pound beef patty with sharp cheddar cheese and bacon. The creative cooked-to-order burger debuted in 2006.
The Baseball's Best concept started in 2004 with the team's take on a hot dog (an all beef super dog topped with sauerkraut, grilled onions, bacon and nacho cheese). Baseball's Best Nachos (tri-colored chips with Philly cheesesteak meat, Monterey cheese, peppers and onions) joined the menu in 2009.
The burger, hot dog and nachos are the staples of the high-calorie cuisine and the official spot solely dedicated to serving them, Baseball's Best Stand, is down the left field line, just within the kid's zone. Some of the "Best" selections can also be ordered in the right field corner concession building, and some of them have been featured in the likes of Sports Illustrated and USA Today.
Southwestern Illinois Baseball Hall of History
Found within the casual bar on the concourse behind home plate, the Hall of History lists the greatest players from the area on separated signage that honors top amateurs and those who became major league players. The sign listing SW Illinois natives to play in the majors spans alphabetically from Joe Astroth to Marion "Bud" Zipfel and includes over 90 names, with Hank Bauer, Gary Gaetti and Sam Jethroe among the most recognizable. Special attention is given to a pair of Cardinals greats, as pictures of Cooperstown-induced Hall of Famers Red Schoendienst (Germantown, IL) and Whitey Herzog (New Athens, IL) are displayed on the wall that hems in the corner bar. Names representing the best of the Mon-Clair Baseball League and Clinton County Baseball League appear on signs in the bar's hall that are dedicated to each adult amateur league.
The red Stan Musial seat and suites named after great players
All stadium seating in the ballpark is dark green with the exception of a single red seat in Suite 6, which is known as the Stan Musial Suite. The red seat is the third one in the third row of seats in the suite (that's seat 3 in row C) and on it is a marker that exclaims: Stan "The Man" Musial | SAT HERE | July 16, 2003 | Frontier League All-Star Game
The seat was dedicated in Musial's honor as the very chair where the Cardinals' legend watched the Grizzlies for the first time. The Grizzlies' owner had a longstanding friendship with Musial prior to his death in 2013.
Naming the 6th suite after Musial because of his uniform number (6) follows the pattern of how the open-air but roof-covered suites that are on the ballpark's second level are referenced. For example, Suite 3 is known as the Babe Ruth Suite to correspond with the number that The Bambino famously wore.
Regardless of who they are named for, each suite has three rows of stadium-style seats followed by other elevated seating options. The suites, Musial seat and press box are on an exclusive level of the ballpark that's not generally accessible to all fans.