Several times Andy Nussbaum had driven past Rosemont on Interstate 294.
He found out Saturday what he was missing.
On a perfect May night, Naperville Central's softball coach soaked in his first evening at The Ballpark at Rosemont before his Redhawks took the field. Just as much as the softball at the Bandits Jamboree, the structure left an impression.
"What a great environment," Nussbaum remarked Saturday night, and he reiterated that comment later in the week. "Just by sheer venue, I'm much more likely to go to a Bandits game than a Sky basketball game just because it's such a nice park."
Rosemont's hopes to lure the Cubs as the crown jewel of its revamped entertainment complex is probably a pipe dream.
Reeling in the state softball tournament shouldn't be.
Watching the hub of transportation surrounding the ballpark -- trains, automobiles and planes flying into O'Hare -- a fellow writer joked to me "this is the loudest softball field in the state."
It's also the best.
From the big-league quality dugouts to a stadium that seats 2,000 fans, it's almost unfair to compare other softball parks to Rosemont.
Nussbaum knows as well as any coach the evolution of the IHSA's facilities for its state softball tournament.
In 1989 he took Naperville Central to Mineral Springs Park in Pekin, which hosted state softball until 2000. Twenty years later Nussbaum's Redhawks made the trip to EastSide Centre in East Peoria, the venue for state since 2001.
"There is nothing wrong with the facility in East Peoria, but it's not in the same league as to what they have in Rosemont," Nussbaum said. "That park is the best we've played at in my 30 years of coaching, without peer."
The Bandits' park has opened to high school teams since its opening.
Glenbard South is among the teams that have played in its "Friday Night Lights" series. The Bandits hosted their first softball Jamboree last Saturday, and Leyden plays home games there.
In less than two weeks Rosemont will host back-to-back Class 4A supersectionals.
Two years ago Bandits GM Aaron Moore gave IHSA assistant executive director Matt Troha a walking tour of the facility. The thought was broached of moving at least the Class 3A and 4A tournaments to Rosemont. It never went further, but Moore and the Bandits would welcome revisiting a discussion.
"I think it would be a great opportunity for the schools and for the Bandits to host an event like that," Moore said. "It could provide opportunities for people that may not be able to go down to (East Peoria)."
The current contract with EastSide Centre expires in 2015. Troha didn't completely shut the door on a venue change but emphasized that the IHSA is quite happy with its current home ballpark.
"First off, (The Ballpark at Rosemont) is a beautiful facility, and we think highly of it," Troha said, noting the supersectionals being held there. "We're happy in East Peoria and we have a great relationship with the people at EastSide Centre."
There are, for sure, sticking points to a move to Rosemont.
One is the ballpark's turf infield.
The Bandits this year tore up the "Hilltopper" infield surface like the one used at Glenbard West and installed a synthetic turf infield; it allows for easier maintenance and flexibility during the hot summer months of Bandits season, but it's not an infield surface high school teams are familiar with.
Glenbard South coach Julie Fonda, while raving that Rosemont "feels like a real ballpark," is one coach who has reservations about playing on a dirt infield all spring, then switching gears to all-turf at state. The dimensions that somewhat dwarf high school fields is another concern.
For sure, a vocal downstate minority would be none too pleased to move a state tournament to the outskirts of Chicago. But then the large-school baseball tournament has been played at Elfstrom Stadium in Geneva in the recent past and now is held at Silver Cross Field in Joliet.
As one coach tweeted to me during Saturday's Jamboree, "it makes no sense not to move the state tournament to the best facility in the state."
Some people would welcome the opportunity of a state tournament in their back yard. Others contend that if state was just a 20-minute drive up the road, it loses the unique appeal of "going to state."
That isn't really the point here, though.
"If the ballpark we were talking about was in Sterling or it was in Belleville, then I'd say let's have (state) there," Nussbaum said. "The fact that this is the best facility in the state, that should be the overriding issue."
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