This is an excerpt from the latest edition of the Ben's Biz Beat Newsletter, bringing Minor League Baseball business and culture news to your inbox each and every Thursday. Check out the full newsletter HERE. Subscribe HERE.
I enjoy ample parking and convenient egress as much as the next guy, but nonetheless I’ve still always been partial to downtown ballparks. They give you a true sense of the place you’re visiting, and it’s baked into the experience.
All of this is to say, Indianapolis’ Victory Field is a great downtown ballpark. I arrived in Indianapolis on the mid-afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 10, checking into a hotel room with a decidedly downtown view.
From the hotel, it was a 10-minute walk to Victory Field. Along the way I passed the Indiana State Capitol, the Indiana State Museum, White River State Park and, oh yeah, a hotel with a very strong NFL rooting interest.
Soon enough I found myself in front of Victory Field, home of the Indianapolis Indians since 1996. Its name is a carryover from the team’s former home of Bush Stadium, which was called Victory Field (in the spirt of America’s entry into World War II) from 1942-67.
No team in Minor League Baseball has operated continuously with the same name for as long as the Indianapolis Indians, who were established in 1902 (26 years before the invention of sliced bread). You could call this redundant moniker redundant, as Indiana means, “land of the Indians” and Indianapolis is a variation of Indiana. Prior to this season the Indians announced a partnership with the Miami Nation of Indians of Indiana; in conjunction with this partnership, they said the team name “will remain the same during the 2023 and 2024 seasons as the organization explores and activates programs with the Miami.”
Indianapolis has been affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates since 2005. This long-running partnership was all the more obvious on this splendiferous Saturday, as the team suited up in yellow “Young Bucs” uniforms.
The Young Bucs assembled on the concourse for a pregame autograph session. The photo below features Chase De Jong, who recognized me as I was ambling by. Maybe one day he can be a Designated Eater.
Downtown ballparks have downtown backdrops. The Colts-loving Marriott, which opened in 2011, dominates this one. The dome of the capitol building can be seen poking out from behind a parking garage, in center field.
The left-field corner has a carnival-esque feel, as it features food, midway-style games and even a caricaturist (who was sadly not in attendance).
The Perry K. Generating Station and the Colts’ home of Lucas Oil Stadium loom beyond the first-base side. If you watch the game from the second-level Elements Club, you’ll also get a great view of trains passing by.
The right-field concourse is home to a series of murals by local artist Koda Witsken, who completed each one during the course of a 2023 ballgame. The one on the right features a pair of franchise greats: Razor Shines (left) and Indians president Max Schumacher celebrating after dramatically winning the 1986 American Association Title.
Schumacher began working for the Indians in 1957, transitioning into a chairman emeritus role following the 2016 season. When the Indians win, which -- spoiler alert -- they would do on this evening, the Max Schumacher Victory Bell gets rung.
Howard Kellman, voice of the Indianapolis Indians since 1974 (!), has heard that Victory Bell ring virtually every time it’s been rung. Schumacher is not alone as an Indianapolis team employee with an epically long tenure. Howard Kellman has been the Indians' broadcaster since 1974.
Howard grew up in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and in the below photo he’s standing next to a picture of childhood hero Roger Maris (who also played for Indianapolis).
Prior to the game, I met one of the weirdest mascots I’ve ever seen. This fella, looking like Mr. Peanut if Mr. Peanut always skipped leg day, represents the Hoosier Lottery.
Rowdie the Bear also took the time to pose for me, but he was otherwise brooding in the dugout. He had decided to execute his first-ever on-field back flip and -- spoiler alert -- he pulled it off.
Are you hungry? OK, cool. So was this guy. His name is Will Carroll, my Designated Eater on this splendiferous Indianapolis evening.
If you’re a sports fan, then you may know Will. He is the “Injury Expert,” and has enjoyed a long and improbable career writing and commentating about sports injuries for a variety of outlets. (His long-running “Under the Knife” newsletter is now on Substack.) Will describes himself as a “translator,” interpreting scout and front-office speak for the common sports fan.
The Indians’ concession offerings are fairly standard. “Classic Eats,” in other words.
However! This season the team launched a “Hot Dog of the Homestand” initiative, with each hot dog corresponding to their International League opponent. The Toledo Mud Hens were in town on this evening. Hence, the Holy Toledo! Dog (topped with pulled pork, Tony Packo’s pickles and peppers and shredded cheese).
Will praised the pulled pork and the pickles, even though the latter kept falling off. The sausage, he described as “Polish-ish.” The bun? “Good.”
For those unfamiliar with Tony Packo’s, it’s a Toledo institution and one of its locations is across the street from the Mud Hens’ of Fifth Third Field. Here’s my 2018 file photo, of a dog served on a gluten-free bun. 10/10, one of the best hot dogs I ever had in my life.
The Top Taco kiosk is another new addition to Victory Field. Will got a platter featuring a Shredded Beef Taco (topped with kimchi, green onions and black cherry BBQ sauce) and a Cauliflower Taco (topped with pickled onions because they were out of chickpeas, and spicy cilantro sauce).
This was washed down with an Osiris pale ale from local Sun King Brewery.
“The beef taco is genuinely good, there’s a nice umami on the sauce,” said Will. “The cauliflower is a great option for vegetarians. It has a good crunch. Oh, and they should definitely use [gluten-free] corn tortillas. For [corn-producing] Indiana, and for you.”
Thanks for thinking of me, Will. Here’s a cheeseburger and fries.
“It’s a legit good burger,” he said. “They don’t go full Smashburger with the crispy edges, but it’s perfectly cooked, good melt, good ratio of burger to bun. The fries aren’t too shabby either.”
Will’s parting advice to me was to get a shrimp cocktail at downtown’s St. Elmo Steak House, which was established the same year as the Indians (1902). As I considered the possibility of this tempting postgame excursion, I ran into usher Gregory Johnson.
This was Gregory’s first season as a Victory Field usher. Recently retired and recently widowed, he found his time at the ballpark to be of incredible value during this difficult, transitional period of his life. It was more than a job; it was a home away from home that provided both community and exercise. It kept him out, it kept him active, it kept him going. Speaking in broad strokes, Gregory’s story is not unique. If you, or someone you know, is in a period of life similar to Gregory’s, and if this is at all possible: Work as a gameday employee at your local Minor League ballpark!
Gregory mentioned that he was closing in on his goal of working all 80 in-season events at Victory Field and -- spoiler alert -- he did it. After the season he sent me this photo commemorating his ironman accomplishment (holding up 8 fingers to signify 80).
Congrats to Greg, and congrats to you for reading this far. My evening at Victory Field ended with the ringing of the Victory Bell. With its chimes of triumph echoing through my skull, I walked from one 1902 Indianapolis establishment to another. I didn’t go in, however, as it was too crowded (and I am too shy).
Next time, St. Elmo. Next time.
READ THE VICTORY FIELD BALLPARK GUIDE HERE
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.