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Bandits play on 'Field of Dreams'
Modern Woodmen Park gives nods to Quad Cities, Iowa
09/06/2010 2:06 AM ET
Players emerge from a cornfield when starting lineups are announced.
Players emerge from a cornfield when starting lineups are announced. (Benjamin Hill/MiLB.com)
The Quad Cities River Bandits are making concessions to all four communities that comprise the team's name.

Literally.

Fans roaming the open-air concourse at 79-year-old Modern Woodmen Park can purchase food items at the Davenport Diner, Moline Market, Bettendorf Bakery and Rock Island Grill. A fifth city is represented in a new concession area in the third-base picnic area: the East Moline Eatery.

Modern Woodmen Park is located in Davenport, Iowa, the largest of the aforementioned Quad (or Quint, if you want to get technical) Cities. The nearly 80-year-old facility is located on the banks of the Mississippi River and boasts one of the most iconic views in all of Minor League Baseball -- that of the massive Centennial Bridge, which connects Davenport with Rock Island, Ill.

Modern Woodmen Park underwent massive renovations in 2004, including the addition of 20 suites, new clubhouses and a videoboard. But an equally substantial change occurred in late 2007. Main Street Baseball, headed by political strategist Dave Heller, assumed control of the team and named Kirk Goodman general manager. An aggressive rebranding effort was launched immediately, including a return to the "River Bandits" moniker after four years as "The Swing" and a stadium naming rights deal (the facility was previously known as John O'Donnell Stadium).

The club concludes its third season under the new regime on Monday, and during that time fans have witnessed a plethora of changes to the Quad Cities gameday experience. Nonetheless, Modern Woodmen Park remains one of the area's most timeless attractions, a classic facility that offers plenty of room to explore.

Thatched Roofs and Corn Stalks

Although one of the oldest stadiums in the Minor Leagues, Modern Woodmen Park boasts an amenity that has become standard in 21st century facilities: the wraparound concourse.

"We had the 360-degree rotation, but it used to be that once one got past the stands there wasn't really a reason to go out there," said Goodman, who previously served as GM of the Jacksonville Suns. "So we expanded our food and beverage areas, put up some drink railings and added the Tiki Village."

The Tiki Village, located in right field, is one of the more unique places to drink in the Minors. The tropically themed tavern features seating areas under thatched roofs and island drinks such as pina coladas and mai tais (a hot tub also was included in the Tiki Village area but didn't generate enough fan interest and soon will be given away).

Walking from right field toward left, the Tiki Village gives way to a grass berm seating area. In addition to serving as a place to watch the game, the nine-foot-high berm also offers flood protection. The Mississippi's rising waters have always been a threat to Modern Woodmen, and stadium entrances are equipped with aluminum flood paneling that keeps water from entering the facility (it also prevents water from exiting, resulting in massive pools throughout the stadium after heavy rains).

Bleacher seating at Modern Woodmen is a bit more comfortable than the average ballpark, as the section along the third-base line is equipped with seatbacks (the winning suggestion in a "Name the Improvement" contest staged by the team). As much as Goodman likes to see this section full, he likes it even more when it's empty. For spelled out across the bleachers are the words "Let's Play Ball" as well as the logo of team sponsor Sprint.

"The ballpark is going to be empty more often than not and we're visible to 9 million cars that go across the [Centennial] bridge each year. We've got to do something with that," Goodman said.

The team also did something unusual with the area next to the bleachers.

"It had previously been a gravel pit, but that's a prime location," said Goodman. "So we planted corn there and sold the sponsorship to Crop Production Services."

Now, when the River Bandits starting lineups are introduced, the players emerge from the corn and take their position on the field. Similarities to "Field of Dreams" are certainly not coincidental.

A Giveaway With A Cause

The River Bandits have staged a multitude of attention-getting promotions over the past three seasons. Fans have gotten inked at the ballpark on "Tattoo Night," couples have tied the knot in an onfield "Bandit Wedding" and a helicopter has deluged the playing field with sweets as part of the "Mega Candy Drop."

But the promotion taking place on Sunday evening was of a decidedly different nature. In July, longtime season ticket holder Brad Fuller took his own life after a long battle with anxiety and depression. Fuller, 46, had been a fixture at the stadium and was best known for chasing down foul balls and home runs throughout batting practice so he could distribute them to young fans.

Fuller's family discovered several boxes of game-used Midwest League baseballs among his possessions and donated them to the team. They were stamped with the words "In Memory of Bradley L. Fuller" and distributed to fans 14 and under as they entered the stadium.

"[Brad] loved giving away balls he'd retrieved to kids around the park, especially to that one kid that just missed getting a foul ball or had it snatched from them by someone else," Brad's brother, Scott, said in a news release. "Our family really wants people to realize that depression and anxiety can be treated and it doesn't need to lead to an untimely death."

Goodman, standing beside boxes of baseballs once owned by Brad Fuller, echoed these sentiments.

"[Brad's death] caught the family off-guard, but they thought they could use it to do good," he said. "It's inspiring that they were able to find something positive within such a tragic event."

Benjamin Hill 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.
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