Cardinals fans are in for a treat with Ballpark Village

Ballpark Village will offer fans the opportunity to watch baseball at Busch Stadium in a whole new way.

ST. LOUIS — Since the newest Busch Stadium opened, the words "Ballpark Village" have elicited mostly a negative reaction. That’s to be expected when what was billed to be essentially a grand, new city block turned into little more than a big mud puddle.

Until lately, that is.

After touring the still far-from-finished Ballpark Village on Thursday afternoon, I say it’s time to be done with the negativity. Forget whatever blighted image you might have had of what once was nothing but a big hole in the ground.

This place is going to be THE place to be. Not only does Ballpark Village promise to change the experience of watching Cardinals games, it is sure to become a hot spot for watching all sports as well as listening to music, riding a mechanical bull and just having a night on the town.

OK, a discloser: FOX Sports Midwest is a major player in this project, having purchased naming rights for the largest area of Ballpark Village. Doesn’t matter. I’d be just as impressed if FOX Sports Midwest weren’t a part of it and I was writing this for somebody else.

You’ll likely be reading and hearing plenty more about the Village before its scheduled opening March 31. For now, let’s focus on watching the Cardinals. If the place comes close to the expectations I left with, I think I’ve finally found a more enjoyable spot to watch a game than the sofa in front of my 65-inch high-def.

For starters, there’s the size of the centerpiece TV screen. Actually, movie screen is more appropriate since a screen this huge — 40 feet by 15 feet — is larger than what you’ll see in some movie houses. As a bonus, sound from Busch Stadium will be pumped into the building during home games.

This monster screen is the main attraction of FOX Sports Midwest LIVE!, a spacious, open gathering area that will allow you to dine and watch, sit at a bar and watch or just hang around and watch.

If you want to sit outside and watch a game, Ballpark Village has a spot for that. Another huge TV and a bar will sit on the same ground as the infield at the previous Busch, complete with artificial turf and markers where home plate and the bases sat.

The FOX Sports Midwest Live! space features a stage for live concerts and performances, a state-of-the-art 40 foot diagonal high definition LED screen, immersive LED ribbon boards that will encircle the two level space, a 200 seat restaurant, VIP seating area and a plush soft-seating bar and lounge for the ultimate watching experience — all of which will sit under a 100 foot long retractable glass roof.  

If you’re looking for a Wrigley Field rooftop experience, the Village will have that covered, too. The side of the building that faces Busch Stadium will feature two large deck areas with views of the field that are better than you might imagine. (To enhance the views, changes are being made on the concourse such as lowering the canopy of the center-field entrance.) On the deck at Cardinal Nation Museum & Restaurant, there will be seats just like those inside Busch Stadium.  

When a Cardinals game isn’t enough for you, you can experience them in another manner by visiting the museum and Cardinals Hall of Fame, which is not due to open until later in the summer.

FOX Sports Midwest’s pregame and postgame shows are moving into a roomy studio that looks out onto center field and should bring viewers closer to the ballpark. Though details haven’t been worked out, there’s an excellent chance that visitors to FOX Sports Midwest LIVE! will be able to get somewhat up close and personal with the show’s hosts. (Think Today Show.)

Plenty of details need to be worked out and a lot of construction remains before Opening Day, but from everything I saw and heard, you won’t be disappointed when you visit — no matter how much you might have scoffed at the words "Ballpark Village" over these past seven years.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.