Ralph McKinzie Field – Northern Illinois Huskies
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Home of the Huskies
Ralph McKinzie is a legend in Dekalb, Illinois. He was a star athlete in football, basketball, and baseball at Northern Illinois University. He coached the NIU basketball team from 1940-1948, and also the baseball team in 1945 and from 1949-1956. His most significant coaching seasons came in 1950 and 1951 when he led the Huskies baseball squad to Illinois Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles. Historically, Ralph McKinzie is probably best known as future U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s football coach at Eureka College.
In 1993, Northern Illinois dedicated their baseball field to McKinzie, three years after his death at age 96. It is a simple structure, with 15 rows of metal bleachers behind home plate. Cedar trees are visible past the outfield wall, and Huskie Stadium rises past the left field foul pole. It’s a simple, straight-forward game day presentation, enjoyable for those fans who enjoy the simplicity of the pastoral game.
The history of Northern Illinois baseball dates back to 1901. In that time, they have made only two appearances in the NCAA Tournament (1972 and 1996). The team has competed in the Mid-American Conference since 1974, although they took a hiatus from 1982-1990 when the program was disbanded, and rejoined the MAC in 1998.
Food & Beverage 2
There is one single concession cart offering some basics to get you through a Huskies game. The selection includes cheeseburgers ($4), hot dogs ($3), pretzels ($3), nachos ($3.50), and popcorn ($3). Snacks include candy ($2), potato chips ($1), and peanuts ($1).
The drink selection consists of cans of Pepsi products ($1), bottled water ($2.50), Gatorade ($3), and hot chocolate ($2).
While there is nothing to get excited about, there’s enough to get you and your stomach through the ball game, and the prices are reasonable for the most part.
In this day and age of turf fields beginning to be seen more and more in college baseball, it’s nice to watch a game on a field that is just dirt and grass. Most fans sit behind home plate on the metal bleachers, but some stand down the lines along the green picket fence which extends to the outfield.
It’s a short home run down the left field line, but overall the playing field is fairly spacious with plenty of room in foul territory. From left to right the outfield dimensions are 314-370-400-370-323.
The NIU staff does a good job with the sound effects after a strike out, walk, foul ball into the parking lot, etc. I’m not sure if the 2014 team is just an eclectic bunch, but they have some of the strangest selections of walk up music for the home batters. The selections during my most recent visit included the Oompa Loompa song, the Spice Girls with “Wannabe,” and Abba’s Dancing Queen.”
Northern Illinois occupies the first base dugout, but fans of both teams seem mixed within the small stands. The scoreboard is found in left center field and displays the basic line score, balls, strikes, outs, hits, runs, and errors, as well as the number of the at bat player.
If you like to keep score, or just learn a bit more about the participants, there are scorecards found in a plastic box right behind home plate in the stands. The scorecard is a simple four page publication with information about the Huskies team, along with an insert for the visiting team’s line-up, as well as a box score for the most recently played NIU game.
There isn’t much in the immediate neighborhood to add to the experience. During the football season, the tailgating helps to improve the experience, but with baseball there is really none of that. There are a few restaurants that are a short drive, or even walkable, along Lincoln Highway. My recommendation is Fatty’s. They have good burgers and sandwiches, along with 110 beers available.
If you would rather have Mexican, then try Eduardo’s, which has been in operation in the area for over 30 years.
Most of the fans at an NIU baseball game show only mild interest. There is a collection of friends, family, and students who watch the action in a fairly laid back way. It’s a friendly place to just sit back and watch baseball.
Parking is free along Stadium Avenue, just behind the cedar trees would be a good place. Some fans choose to park their cars behind the seating area, but that’s a good way to catch a souvenir in the worst possible way (in your windshield). If you have trouble finding the field, just look for the football stadium.
There are no restrooms available at McKinzie Field, so plan accordingly. There are a couple of Port-a-potties on the grounds if necessary.
Return on Investment 4
There’s no admission to attend an NIU baseball game. Parking is free. Concessions are reasonably priced. Overall, there is nothing to complain about when it comes to getting your money’s worth. If you’re in the area and need to get your baseball fix, then this is an affordable experience.
One extra point for the trivia games offered to fans. It’s nice that a small program like this, charging no admission, still has a couple of giveaways during the contest.
One additional extra point for the bizarre choice of walk up songs for the home team. It wouldn’t be my choice if I was batting, but the strange selection certainly adds to the entertainment value.
There may not be any bells or whistles to entice fans to make the trip to Dekalb to see Northern Illinois baseball, but once you arrive, you’ll find a laid back atmosphere and a pleasant place to enjoy MAC baseball action.
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