Standard Bank Stadium – Windy City Thunderbolts
A Niche of a Ballpark in the Windy City
The Windy City Thunderbolts have been playing baseball since 1995 when it began operations as the Will County Claws in the North Central League. In 1997 the team rebranded as the Cook County Cheetahs and in 2004 adopted the T-Bolts moniker.
Its ballpark has been Standard Bank Stadium since the 1999 season. The stadium has a capacity of 3,200, which includes multiple party decks, a beer garden, and its most unique feature, a solo upper deck seating on the third base side. This was due to the inability to add a second upper deck on the first base side due to multiple power lines that dominate in front of the stadium’s parking lot.
The design of the ballpark creates a configuration that includes 6 to 8 rows of seating in the lower deck, and upper deck seating that hovers tightly above the concourse. There is not a bad seat in the house, but you really have to pay attention to the game if you are not behind the netting which now extends to the end of the dugouts.
The ballpark also features a few distinguishable features with bullpens situated in foul territory and within close proximity to the two patio decks. The ballpark has only three skyboxes next to the press box.
The stadium has seen a few renovations the past few seasons including the installation of a 13-foot-high, 22-foot-long HD video board with full video capabilities in 2014, ProGrass synthetic turf in 2015, and a second picnic area on the first base line in 2018.
Food & Beverage 3
The food is standard fare, but very tasty. Hot dogs, burgers, rib sandwiches (think McRib, but much better), pizza, and chicken sandwiches are among the choices available at the concession stands. However, there are great-tasting appetizers like fried pickle chips, funnel cake fries and jalapeno cheddar corn nuggets. The food items are reasonably priced and don’t cost more than $6.
A few of the favorites is the chicken sandwich, rib sandwich, fried cheese curds, and pickle chips. The lines for the concession stands can be somewhat long since a few locations are closed for certain games, but move rather quickly.
The beer is provided by Budweiser (Bud, Bud Light, Bud Light Orange and Lime, Michelob Ultra). There is also local Goose Island favorites and a few craft beers of the Midwest from Sun King and Surly. There is also wine and hard root beer. The beer prices range from $4 to $6. On Thursday nights, the prices start at $1.50 for domestic cans.
The T-Bolts have a niche market on the southside attracting a majority of its fan base from below Interstate 55. The size of the ballpark also lends to the atmosphere because it never feels empty, and consists of typical fans who are either die-hards, casual fans, or others out there for a specific promotion.
Behind the first base side is the popular beer garden area that offers sit down table tops and open spacing. The sight of fans commercing in large groups with a beer in hand and enjoying the festivities of the game is very common.
The kids love the mascot Boomer; he is very accessible during the times he is not on the field for the between inning entertainment. The between inning entertainment is the usual minor league theatrics of quick contests, t-shirt tossing, and bubble soccer.
However, the horse race is a memorable between-inning promotion. There are three wooden horses (yellow, red, and zebra) cutouts attached to a pole. An intern runs with each horse outside the park from the video board behind the batter’s eye to another advertisement board. There are fans at the ballpark that actually bet on the race.
The Thunder Store is a separate building within the confines of the park and sells a selection of hats, t-shirts, sweatpants, game-worn uniforms, and broken bats. The kids’ area is near it offering a jungle gym and a bouncy house. There is also a speed pitch machine that is near the main food concession.
The village of Crestwood is 22 miles south of downtown Chicago and is within one hour of four independent, two major league, one minor league ball clubs. The surrounding suburban neighborhood is a mix of residential and retail.
The parking lot is dominated by a series of power lines, and a recreational park, elementary school, and football field adjacent to the ballpark. However, within the area, there are a series of eating establishments.
Driving wise there is everything you want within five minutes; a few neighborhood type bars and plenty of fast food choices. If you get there early enough there is Louisa’s that was voted one of the best pizzas in the Chicagoland area. Blue Island Beer Company is a short drive on Historic Olde Western Ave.
The fan base is friendly and knows a lot about the team and league. The Thunderbolts average about 1,700 people a game. Of course, the weekend games are better attended than weekday games. The mix of fans is the same as any other ballpark: families, baseball purists, and casual baseball fans.
The Thunderbolts have a group of regulars at the ballpark who are called the “Pole Guys” because they stand in the concourse by the light pole on the first base (visitors) dugout. They have a good time and raz the umps, opposing players, and even the home team when there is a bad call or play.
An example of their razzing is when there is an error you will hear “That is why you are in this league.” It should be noted that the Pole Guys do not curse and follow the strict rules of the game, but they are just relentless. If you don’t like this sort of thing, sit on the third base side.
There are even fans who tailgate in the parking lot well before the gates open at the ballpark. They can be spotted at the far end with a few sports flags waving from their vehicles.
Standard Bank Stadium is located to the east of the intersection of 141st (Midlothian Turnpike and S. Cicero Avenue). It is $2 to park at the stadium and includes a coupon for a 2 for 1 White Castle meal deal. There is also bus access if needed, but driving will be your best option for the ballpark.
Inside the facility are two concourse levels on the third base side. The lower level is tight but never really a problem with access from one end to the another. Fans can also get a good look of the field from this level. The upper concourse is located on the outside of the seating area and away from the field of play.
Return on Investment 4
Going to a T-Bolts game is definitely worth the price and time. The cost of a ticket is either $10 or $12 on game day (you get $2 off if you buy in advance). The price to park is $2 and concession prices are inexpensive. A hot dog is $2.75 and beer prices range between $4 to $6 a night.
The team does have various promotional nights throughout the season. On most Thursday nights the stadium hosts a professional wrestling match on the concourse that includes appearances of former professional wrestlers who are available for pictures and autographs for a fee.
Every Friday and Saturday are fireworks directly after the game. These games attract the largest crowds of around 2,000 a game during the season. Sunday is family day, you get 4 tickets, 4 dogs and 4 sodas for $30. It’s a great day to bring the family out for the game.
The Thunderbolts have two retired numbers: Dylan Axelrod (#23) who would make it to the majors with the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds and former manager Mike “Kash” Kashirsky (#1) who lead the club to its second championship and two division titles. He is now the left-handed batter practice pitcher for the Chicago White Sox.
The bullpen pitchers on certain nights have even found a way to have some fun. They put out a cup for fans on the patio area, which is about 10 feet above, and try to get a quarter into the cup. If the fans place a quarter in the cup, they get a baseball. The bullpen will even dance in unison for home runs, such was the case on our visit.
The park gets an extra star because of the upper deck and the “horse” race.
This ballpark is one of the best kept secrets on the southside of the Chicagoland area. The design of the ballpark, the local fans who tailgate and support the club, and the affordable pricing should make Standard Bank Stadium a can’t miss for any baseball traveler.
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A fun time at the ballpark.