If you've never taken in a game at Hyames Field, I truly feel sorry for you. Whether you never had time while you were in Kalamazoo, or just never cared to check out the most historic team in the MAC, you deprived yourself of a truly incredible experience. And before you bash me, hear me out. The field has held two College World Series and has played home to six other teams that would go on to play in the tournament when it moved to Omaha, and it's barely 75 years old.
So if you never made the trek, or want a refresher, we have you covered. This past weekend, rival Central Michigan came to town to take on the Broncos with MAC Tournament seeding on the line. We made the trip to Robert J Bobb Stadium - the name of the renovated concourse that was completed in 2010 - to take in a game between the two schools.
Parking and Entrance
When you come in, you really don't expect much. You park next to the softball field (empty, as softball had been eliminated in the MAC Championship game the weekend prior), and make the walk behind the outfield to the stadium's entrance. However, once you come around to center field, you see the baseball stadium. Waldo sits as the backdrop to the outfield while the foliage of the historic East Campus' hills fills in the right field line.
Turning your head, you see Stadium Drive buzzing with off-and-on traffic from commuters on their way home from work, with the main campus sitting seemingly endlessly in the distance as you follow West Michigan off the main path. Waldo's and University Roadhouse peer out, almost begging you to visit them to celebrate a Bronco victory, or help take your mind off things if the old ball club seems to falter.
As you walk down the ramp into the concourse (the parking lot sits a bit above the left field bullpen to help protect cars from foul balls), you really begin to see the renovations. No longer is Hyames lost in time of days past when it was still world class in the 1940's. Now, bricks hold up a wide pressbox/concession stand combo while taking nothing away from the seating. The original overhang still covers the seats behind home plate, but beams do not block the views.
As you continue in, you see the Chippewas all in their dugout. To see the Broncos, you have to walk around to the opposing seating area, or the hills beneath the trees, which would be perfect on a bright, sunny day. Nevertheless, you can tell the boys are in good hands as their facilities just beyond the seating has their dual bullpen spot as well as some batting cages. You also notice you're standing on top of the home clubhouse, which houses a whole 'nother monster inside:
The lounge features a large flat screen tv, sound system, kitchenette, athletic training area and other amenities -(wmubroncos.com)
Now that is nice.
You can truly take your pick. Despite the free admission, a 3 pm start time makes attendance hard to come by. On this particular day, the threat of rain and cooler temperatures tended to drive fans home as well. Still, a good crowd is on hands. Up close, you could sit in the chairback seating. There are seats behind both dugouts that go two-to-three rows deep, and everything behind home is chairbacked as well, all gleaming in Bronco gold.
Old fashioned? Well the bleachers would suit you fine. They stop just past the infield, and only go a few rows deep themselves, but, again, plenty of space. Often, you'll find Western Michigan rockstars at the game, as I've personally seen everyone from Director of Athletics Kathy Beauregard to the voice of the Broncos himself Robin Hook to hockey coach Andy Murray at games in limited experience.
Regardless of where you take in the game, sitting or standing at the top of the stands, there really is no bad view.
The college game truly is different than everything else you've ever seen in baseball. The players are better than high schoolers that you might see, but don't have the swing and arm strength that the pros do (especially in the MAC). Aluminum bats are used at their highest level in this game, but home runs, while up this year, are still a premium.
Both teams use "small ball", though today, Central Michigan is using it better. Sacrifice bunts and hit-and-runs are common between both teams, but the Chippewas are getting men on and moving them. However, the Broncos are able to sit them down with relative ease, despite surrendering a run in the 1st. CMU would get two more in the 6th, and used a strong game from starter Sean Renzi to keep the Broncos off the basepaths.
You notice the little things. The sound system is solid, playing walk-up music just like a professional game. There is a batter's eye out in center. Pick-offs are still abundant, but shifts are rare. All-in-all, the game seems more pure. You feel like you're back in the 1940's with the history around you (the 1955 National Runners-Up team raised a large portion of the renovation money) and the simple aspects of the game, but you aren't stuck with the less desirable things like the poor seats and lack of entertainment between innings.
So When Can You Go?
Unfortunately, last weekend's series held the last regular season games for both teams. Central Michigan, by sweeping all three games, clinched the 1-seed in Akron while the Broncos clinched a spot in the MAC tournament with a Miami loss on Thursday (they ended up as the 7-seed). Additionally, this year featured the first home games at the stadium since 2013, as the rough winter in 2014 made the field unplayable, so that is always in play with Michigan weather.
Baseball season starts in February at the college level, with most games occurring below the Mason-Dixon line. The Broncos usually play their home opener in mid-to-late March if you want to mark your calendars now.