- Michael Rusignuolo
Melbourne Ballpark – Melbourne Aces
Photos by Meg Minard and Michael Risignuolo, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.71
Melbourne Ballpark Merton St Altona Meadows VIC 3028 Australia
Year Opened: 1989
Melbourne Ballpark came into being after some great contention between the Victorian Baseball Association and local government over its proposed location. Suburb Laverton was eventually selected, for good or bad, and the 2,400-seat park opened in 1989, in time for the original ABL’s Melbourne Monarchs to start play. Although sometimes rife with drama, Melbourne Ballpark was home to the Melbourne ABL team until the league folded after the 1999 season. Local club baseball would take over the park for the next decade.
The new ABL’s Melbourne Aces played at the more centrally located Melbourne Showgrounds until scheduling conflicts with other tenants had them seek other pastures, bringing them to Melbourne Ballpark in 2012. A large upgrade of the stadium preceded the Aces, with new outfield fences, artificial turf, physical facilities, corporate boxes, and player clubhouses.
Located out in the suburbs, Melbourne Ballpark has nothing going on around it, but it provides an all-around solid baseball experience to see a game in a stadium that has some character to it.
Food & Beverage 3
The food and drink selection at Melbourne Ballpark covers the basics, but it is greatly enhanced by rotating food carts that make more of an appearance at weekend games.
The main food concession is right inside the entrance to the walkway under the seats. It serves up different varieties of Aussie-obsession chips (A$4.50-$6.50), chicken tenders (A$3-$5), dim sums (3 for A$2.50), hot dogs (A$5), and down-under delicacy Chiko Rolls (A$5). There is also a small popcorn stand behind home plate and a rotating array of food trucks in the right field plaza. Your choices will depend on who is there for the game, but more are around for the weekend than weekday games.
The main alcohol stand is right next to the food stand by the entrance. Coors and Alehouse are on tap (A$8) or in cans (A$9). Various other beers, wines, and even a margarita are on offer from A$8-$10. There is also a small Coors stand in right field. Coca-Cola and subsidiary products are the choices for non-alcoholic beverages, running A$4-$$6.
Aussie baseball food is a curious mix. Always go for the local. A Chiko Roll (A$5, a local variant of a spring roll) and a draft Alehouse (A$8) will give you a good taste of Australian baseball. At the time of writing, $1 US was worth about A$1.25.
Melbourne Ballpark is an odd duck, with a unique layout that gives it a bit of character. The main entrance leads into the carpeted area under the seating grandstand. The hallway is crammed with concession stands, the merchandise store, baseball and softball memorabilia, and player and management facilities. At regular intervals, stairways lead up into the seats, and the hallways end at doors leading to the plazas outside of the outfields by the respective bullpens.
Seats wrap from third base to first base behind home plate, with the press box sitting under the covered area behind home plate. Standing room areas extend from the bases towards the outfield. The treeline behind the park is broken up by the digital scoreboard and small video board in right-center to keep the fans up-to-speed with the stats. Heavy netting, however, is everywhere, including covering the areas along the baselines to the outfield. Safer, sure, but it does definitely detract some from the viewing experience. And the field is artificial turf, which ruins things a little.
Mascot Maverick, the flying ace, and the rest of the entertainment staff run the festivities between innings and afterward at the game. The contests, races, and quizzes will be familiar to any purveyor of American minor league baseball and keep the crowd entertained between the action. After the game, the fans can go onto the field to meet the players, a nice outreach action that helps the sport grow, especially with younger fans. Wins are also celebrated by a fire-breather, which is a certain unique touch.
The Premium and Reserved seats have some shade, and the Reserved will do fine if you’re looking to get out of the sun a little. If the sun is less of an issue, the General Admission seats are right up on the action, and about A$5 cheaper, if you want to save up for an extra beer without missing anything of the view. The General Admission seats are even flip-down and not the uncomfortable molded plastic found in most other ABL parks.
Melbourne is the second-largest city in Australia and always fighting with Sydney for the center of attention. Melbourne’s suburb Laverton is… not. The undeveloped suburb doesn’t have a lot to recommend it, and the short trip to Melbourne city center is your best bet for most things.
The restaurant situation around the Melbourne Ballpark is pretty dire. Outside of a few local and international chains in strip malls, the Phoenix Hotel down the M1 is the only real eatery in the general area. Retreat back to downtown to eat. Not surprisingly, there’s not a lot happening in Laverton. To the southeast is a large group of parks and nature areas, with a golf course and sports facilities, as well as the south end of Altona Beach, but that is sadly it. Once again, head back to town.
There are only two hotels near the park. Trendy Club Laverton is one way down the M1 from the ballpark, while the more traditional Westside Hotel is the other way up the M1. Again, back to the city center for copious options.
In a country where cricket is still king and the sports landscape is over-crowded with options, baseball isn’t a top sport by any stretch. The fan base for the ABL seems to come from club team players, ex-pats, and families looking for some more local sports entertainment. The stadiums are in the American single-A range, and the attendance averages between 500-1,000 per game, about what you’d expect to see at the lowest level of professional ball in America.
Despite being in the second-largest city in the country, the Aces have found themselves solidly in the middle of the pack for attendance in the ABL, despite proportionally more access to ex-pats from America and Asia that make up a good portion of ABL fans. The good news is that having all the seating huddled by home plate helps keep the crowd concentrated so the park doesn’t feel as empty as it might be. That said, the fans that do show up are into the game and make themselves heard during the proceedings.
Most of the Australian Baseball League facilities are located far from their respective city centers, especially in the larger cities where real estate is particularly expensive. This is true for Melbourne Ballpark as well, located about 23 kilometers southwest of downtown in the Laverton suburb.
The good news is that mass transit is an option. Trains regularly leave from city center to Laverton station on the Werribee line (~35 minutes, A$4.30 one-way), with an approximately 12-minute walk from the station to the stadium. Driving from the city center will have you there at the stadium in just about 25 minutes, and a cab or Uber will cost you about A$40-A$48 dollars one way.
Whereas many ABL teams have free parking, it is A$5 at Melbourne Ballpark, which turns the screws on the most convenient way for locals to get to the game. Entrance to the park is through the one main gate just beyond the ticket booth. The entrance goes into the back of the stadium seating bowl, into the walkways under the seats. Regularly spaced stairs lead up to the seats, and at the end of the walkways, doors also open out into the plazas behind left and right field. The unique arrangement of the walkways lends itself to some crowding getting into and out of the park, but nothing too serious. Exit from the parking lot is onto the main road, so it is mostly easy-in, easy-out.
Return on Investment 3
The ticket prices to see an Aces game average out to the middle of the pack, but the lack of a family special and high parking costs negatively affect its overall performance.
Seat prices are in three tiers, plus special areas. All seats are A$3-$8 more at the ticket window, so buy ahead if you can. Premium seats behind home plate and undercover are A$17/A$25 (adult) and A$10/A$15 (child). Reserved seats above the home plate side of the dugouts and mostly under cover are A$14/A$22 adults and A$9/A$12 kids. General admissions tickets are A$12/A$20 adults and A$7/A$10 kids. “Ground Level” seats by the dugout are A$35/A$40 and A$25/A$30, and the TGI Friday’s Party Deck (including BBQ meal and 2 drinks) are A$65 for all. Food and drink prices are reasonable, parking is on the expensive side for the ABL, and no program is on offer.
Melbourne Ballpark is one of the few ABL parks that has much in the way of extras. The store by the entrance to the park has a slightly wider selection of merchandise than the average ABL team, with a selection of t-shirts, jerseys, and hats. A small kids field with an inflatable pitch game is outside the entrance to the park, and a baseball mural is painted on the third base side of the field. The big extra is the main walkway underneath the seating bowl, which is lined not only with player pictures but memorabilia and trophies of Victoria baseball and softball.
Melbourne Ballpark is an interesting facility, even if it doesn’t stand out in many areas. It is a shame they don’t get better crowds, but that may have to do with its location in the middle of the nowhere suburb of Melbourne proper.