Review by Mike
Arvest Ballpark is the home of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals of the AA Texas League and the ballclub is aptly named. Springdale, Arkansas is about as far northwest as one can get in the Natural State, tucked way up in the corner near Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas. There is no major population center nearby, so it is surprising to find a high-level minor league baseball team in such a remote outpost, but someone built it and the people have come.
At first glance, this would seem to be a standard early 20th century minor league design; a single level of seating with suites and a press box above an open concourse, but upon closer inspection, Arvest tweaks the formula in ways both interesting and unfortunate.
The style of the design is hard to pin down, but my impression is of a mid-1960s modern/nautical look, with lots of glass on the suite level and a muted sea-foam green motif. The “roof” that extends from the suite level is a series of canopies that call to mind the sails on a wind-driven vessel. Given that Springdale is 500 miles from the nearest open water, this is either an odd choice, or a misunderstanding of the intent on my part. Regardless, it’s different and kind of cool.
The main grandstand does not run straight along the file lines, but rather sweeps on a wide arc from foul pole to foul pole. It’s elegant, but results in a large foul territory, with the seats being somewhat more distant from the action that you expect at the AA level. The gloomy weather and small crowd didn’t help, so for most of the day it felt like their was a ballgame going on “over there” while I sat “over here” wishing I could get excited about it.
The scoreboard was another curious design choice. They put it beyond the grass picnic berm in right centerfield, about as far from the stands as possible. It may well have had to pay taxes to Missouri, it was so far away. The quality of the scoreboard was excellent, except that they jammed so much information onto it, in such a small font, that it was nearly impossible to read at such a distance. Also, there were no auxiliary scoreboards anywhere in the stadium, so if you were watching from the outfield and wanted to know the count, you were out of luck.
On positive notes, the wide concourse ran completely around the field, the hot dogs were $1 and the free-standing concessions buildings were plentiful and well-staffed. There were lovely stonework finishes on the out-buildings, which, interestingly, were not connected to the suite level, standing independently on steel supports. The PA was toned down to a comfortable volume, the forested batter’s eye was very pleasant, and a kiddie train circled the concourse throughout the game. I like trains, even fake ones.
My favorite feature was the picnic area right behind home plate. This was a tiered section with picnic tables and benches, open to everyone (at least the day I went), where you could take your $1 hot dogs and drink and enjoy your food and the game from the best seats in the house. I have never seen this before and I rather liked it. Despite its design flaws, I enjoyed Arvest Ballpark. Its primary flaw is that it is too expansive, too roomy, making it comfortable, but not intimate. For all that, it is pleasing on the eye and there is plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the game… over there somewhere.