(Note: This is the fourth and final installment of a series featuring the four ballparks of the Pioneer League North division. Parks were graded on facility, food, entertainment and overall atmosphere. The “Day at the Park” series profiled Billings’ Dehler Park, Missoula’s Ogren Park at Allegiance Field and Helena’s Kindrick Legion Field in recent weeks. To read those reviews, visit billingsgazette.com.)
Centene Stadium has been a part of the Great Falls landscape since 1940. The home of the Great Falls Voyagers still has some of that classic ballpark charm, but the renovations that began in the mid-2000s have brought it up to modern standards.
The Voyagers, a Chicago White Sox minor league team, have updated the entrance to Centene, as well as the concourse along the third-base line. But the most notable improvements are at the concession stands.
“We have lots of different dishes. We have kind of a large menu,” said Voyagers general manager Scott Reasoner. “The first concession is where you can get everything from super nachos to hamburgers to one of our signature dishes, an Orbit Burger. And we also have a Taco John’s in a third-base concession stand.”
With the two concession stands, plus the Bottoms Up Beer stand, the Voyagers provide plenty of variety for hungry fans.
The main concession area at Centene Stadium is situated below the grandstands, and, like Reasoner mentioned, has a huge menu. Beyond the nachos and hamburgers, patrons have different options for their hot dog fix, as well as the other traditional ballpark fare. If none of that suits your fancy, Taco John’s has its stand located behind third base.
The Orbit Burgers at the main stand, which are based off of the old Flying Saucers from the now closed Burger Master, are unique ballpark options. The bun completely encloses a burger, and fans can choose between two filling twists: marinara sauce and provolone cheese or barbecue sauce and jalapenos.
But what pushes Centene over the top has to be the Bottoms Up Beer stand, which fills your beer — you guessed it — from the bottom up to eliminate foam.
“We’ve got all sorts of different Montana micro beers all over the park,” Reasoner said. “We’ve got the brand new
Bottoms Up Beer unit, which if you’ve never seen one, first one in Montana, you have to check it out. They’re pretty cool. So we always have a nice selection of different micro beers on tap.”
Rating: Home run. If the big menu at the main concession stand wasn’t enough, Centene Stadium offers another completely different restaurant option. And, yeah, the Bottoms Up Beer unit is really cool.
Like with most minor league baseball clubs, a night at a Voyagers game features a lot more than just a baseball game. There are promotions nearly every night, as well as on-field games and giveaways during the game.
“We have fun on-field games for the kids, things always being thrown out into the crowd,” Reasoner said. “No matter if you’re a die-hard baseball fan or you’re just a family looking to have a good time, we try to make sure you’re going to be entertained for your entire time out in the stadium.”
The games range from hula hoop contests to a mascot race pitting Orbit, the Voyagers’ sprightly green alien, against a taco representing Taco Del Mar. When he’s not racing, Orbit is a fan favorite, handing out high-fives and hugs.
Rating: Triple. The Voyagers put on fun games for kids and casual fans, but they don’t interfere with the game.
Centene Stadium, formerly Legion Park, is nearing its 75th birthday, so the renovations were needed. But the Voyagers were sure not to sacrifice character for modernity.
“We have a traditional, classic ballpark,” Reasoner said. “Despite some of the renovations and upgrades we’ve made, we make sure to go out of our way to keep some of that history and some of that old-time baseball feel that you don’t really get when you go to a lot of the new (ballparks).”
The main bleachers, which extend about halfway down both baselines, pair with a small section along left field to provide seating for about 3,000 people.
Rating: Double. Obvious improvements have been made with the recent renovations, but new stadium lights should be next on the to-do list to replace the current standards that rise out of the grandstands.
With the renovations, promotions and unique food, the Voyagers set fans up for an entertaining day at the ballpark. The product on the field is usually pretty good, too: The Voyagers have made the Pioneer League playoffs each of the past seven seasons and won championships in 2011 and 2008.
The average attendance has hovered right around 1,500 fans the past few years, and it seems like it’s a younger crowd.
“We try to make sure we appeal to a wide variety of fans,” Reasoner said, noting the park has something for everyone — from traditional baseball fans to twenty-somethings to families.
“So we like to make sure, no matter who you are, what you want, the ballpark can provide that for you. Like I say, it’s Great Falls’ biggest block party 38 times a year.”
Rating: Triple. Gone are the good old days when Great Falls averaged nearly 3,000 fans per game, but good times are still to be had.