ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- The scoreboard thermometer at Frontier Field was inching toward 90 degrees Thursday morning as Rochester and Durham prepared for a midday affair. The sun was shining, the yard was packed with school children and for the moment, the seven or so thousand folks in the stands were helping this community live up to its nickname as "Baseball City, USA."
If there were a better place to be in upstate New York on this late spring morning, you'd be hard-pressed to find it. While that sentiment can be applied to many ballparks, not only in the International League but across the country as well, Frontier Field has certainly played a big role in why baseball in this city on the shores of Lake Ontario has remained an obsession.
There's a certain comfort level from the minute you walk into the ballpark, a blend of old and new greeting you upon exiting the concourse. While the field is in pristine condition, the old-time signage above the billboards on the outfield fence brings you back to the days of Silver Stadium, when Rochester was the king of the Minor League Baseball universe.
The stands are close to the action and, with several picnic areas as well as a pair of grassy berms down either line to kick back and relax, the experience is intimate while providing almost a Major League feel. The Rochester skyline looms high over the right-field wall and when the freight train rumbles through every few minutes -- the tracks are a few hundred feet behind the wall -- you forget for a moment that it's 2007. Suddenly, it's 1947 again and day baseball is still the norm.
And if you like history, this is certainly the place to be. Walk the concourse and examine the 66 plaques commemorating the Rochester Baseball Hall of Fame inductees. From Luke Easter, Boog Powell and Joe Altobelli to Don Baylor, Johnny Mize and Steve Bilko, these plaques are a real treat for anyone who enjoys brushing up on the game's past.
Frontier Field was finished in July of 1996 but the Red Wings didn't begin play there until 1997. The project was completed for $35.3 million, modest considering the cost of some venues built within the last 10 years. Frontier Corp. absorbed some of that cost when it paid $1.5 million for the naming rights.
When it bought those rights, here's some of what came along with the purchase of the name. Frontier Field has 1 mile of railings and 8,000 feet of drainage pipe. There are 25,000 on the "Walk of Fame," which pales in comparison to the 175,000 that went into building the yard. It also took 40 million pounds of concrete and 750 tons of steel to complete the structure that wraps around the 850 million blades of grass.
But when you put it all together, you get a pretty special place that is clearly much more than brick and mortar. Frontier Field is clearly worthy of continuing the tradition of baseball in Rochester, a tradition that dates back to 1885. While the park will never replace Silver Stadium in the minds of some, it doesn't have to. It serves as a fine compliment; one that will house a new generation of memories for Red Wings just as Silver Stadium did for decades.
Rochester broadcaster Joe Altobelli has a good perspective on Frontier Field. A legend in upstate New York, Altobelli starred for the Red Wings in the 60s before returning to manage in 1971. He was on the Rochester bench for six seasons, guiding the club to a Junior World Series title, two Governors' Cup crowns and a franchise-record 502 victories.
"This place is much bigger and obviously more fan friendly," said Altobelli, whose retired No. 26 adorns the center-field fence at Frontier Field. "There have been a lot of changes from the old park. When I first got here they had Bay Stadium prior to Silver Stadium, and I had never seen that. Now I have an old stadium to fall back on.
"I loved the old park. I was a left-handed hitter, and they had a nice short porch. I loved playing there. This is a big park. You earn your home runs here. Even when the wind is blowing out, you won't see many cheap home runs here. If you're a pitcher, you have to love this park."
Actually, if you're a baseball fan, you have to love this park. How could you not?
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.