|Modern Woodmen Park—best stadium in the MWL Western Division|
You might think, with all the teams we've seen in our decade of traveling, that Rob and I might be a little closer to finishing up specific leagues or individual team systems. No such luck. Nearly every system has some far-flung outlier, and some more than one. For every Boise Hawks, there's a Tennessee Smokies (both in the Cubs system). Our failure to cover California and Florida yet is a real problem in this regard. We've hit all the teams on the Great Plains and in Texas, as well as many teams in the Deep South (depending on how you define it), but there are still gaps aplenty.
So it's nice to be able to say that with the conclusion of our Chicago–Omaha trek, we have now made it through the entire Western Division of the Midwest League: Beloit, Burlington, Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Kane County, Peoria, Quad Cities, and Wisconsin. The only hiccup in there is that we saw Beloit separately—I went in 2002 (with our old friend Red) and 2008 (with Watson), Rob went last week. Red and I went to Peoria in 2003 as well, and Watson and I saw the Cougars last year, too.
So with that all behind us, here's a highlight from each; the winners all receive an imaginary Golden Corn Weenie (you know, like a corn dog):
Beloit: Best Mascot, Snappy D. Turtle. When Red and I met the Turtle in 2002, he was secretly a high-school English teacher in Edina, Minnesota. I always say that if an amphibian puts his tiny little brain and ferocious beak into it, he or she can achieve darn near anything.
Burlington: Best Chicken Lips. Or so I'm told by those who ate them.
Cedar Rapids: Best Sense of History. They've got a banner celebrating Allie Reynolds and a nice plaque for Bob Feller's Svengali, Cy Slapnicka, for gosh sakes. Also Best Name—it's not even a contest.
Clinton: Curviest Outfield Wall. This is all I can come up with without mentioning Clinton's godawful smell. The Clinton and Beloit stadiums are remarkably similar, apart from this wall. There's a similar one now at the new Omaha stadium, several levels up the baseball food chain.
Kane County: Best Parking Lot. Built as part of the package to land the team, this lot features permeable pavement and other good stormwater-management practices. Pay no attention to the apparently ginormous capped landfill just to the west.
Peoria: Most Average, of course. Honorary Mention: Best Three-Dimensional Representation of a Bleeding Brain. Come to think of it, that's not so average.
Quad Cities: Best Stadium. Modern Woodmen Park has been around, under a variety of names, since 1931. Its location mere feet from the Mississippi does leave it vulnerable to mayfly swarms and fantastically severe flooding, but look at that bridge (top of page)! Also, Best Cornfield.
Wisconsin: Best Highway Access, or Most Forgettable. Sorry, Appleton.
We're doing much less well on the Eastern Division—we've been only to Lake County together, though Watson and I have been to Fort Wayne. And of course, Dayton is the hardest ticket in the minors. After all this time in the mountain-free middle of the country, it's nice to know that there's at least one yet to scale.