At first glance, the empty seats in the grandstand in the midst of the first game in Grand Prairie AirHogs history didn’t seem like a good sign for the expansion American Association franchise, despite the match being a sellout. But the fans were still in the ballpark, as they certainly hadn’t bailed: they were all over the place, taking in the many sideshows and attractions that distinguish this new facility — the cigar bar was packed, the large kids’ area was crammed, and every point of sale was besieged. Ballpark purists will probably hate AirHogs Stadium, but we loved the place: it’s big and bold as Texas, and fans will eat it up.
Year Opened: 2008
Cost: $20 million for entire project, including road work
Owner: City of Grand Prairie, Texas
Architect: SPARKS Sports, a division of Crafton Tull Sparks
Construction: Hill & Wilkinson, Ltd.
Dimensions: 330L, 366LC, 397C, 366RC, 330R
Playing Surface: Synthetic turf
Ticket Prices (2017): Box Level, $12; Reserved Seating, $8
League: American Association
Parking: Acres of parking next to the ballpark, as the ballpark is part of a complex also containing a horse track and theater.
Address/Directions: 1600 Lone Star Pkwy., Grand Prairie, Texas. From I-30, take the Belt Line Road exit and go north. The ballpark will be on your right; enter Gate 2 for the closest ballpark parking.
Written by: Kevin Reichard
Indeed, there’s nothing particularly subtle about AirHogs, but the Dallas market isn’t a place that rewards subtlety. The AirHogs complete in an increasingly crowded market (Grand Prairie is halfway between Dallas and Arlington, near the airport), and attracting the attention of potential fans is a massive effort. Plus, the ballpark is located in the Grand Prairie entertainment district, and anything less would look small and insignificant next to the massive Lone Star horse track and Nokia Theatre.
Not that there’s anything crass about AirHogs Stadium; there’s not. The ballpark carries an aviation theme, reinforced from the very moment you approach the ballpark. The main gate is set up like a airplane hangar, complete with control towers, runway lights and markings, and a set of statues commemorating aviators from the area. An airhog refers to a flyer who demanded more than their fair share of missions, and apparently the pilots from the Grand Prairie gained quite the reputation for pushing their limits. A marker commemorates the aviation history made in the Grand Prairie area, as Lockheed Martin and Bell Helicopter are both headquartered in the city. The grouping of statues and marker were heavily scrutinized during the course of the evening.
When you walk inside, you’re presented with a ballpark that is easily the best in the independent American Association and one of the best in indy ball. It’s also better than many Class A facilities we’ve visited, even some of the new ones. A lot of thought went into the small details that make a ballpark work. Despite having lots of land to work with — remember, this is part of a larger entertainment complex with a ton of available acreage — the ballpark sits on 20 acres of land, but it features a compact design that makes for an intimate environment. A wraparound concourse defines the ballpark space, with the vast majority of the seating occurring between the foul poles, though there’s a small berm area in each corner as well as five rows of seats jutting in the playing field. Also jutting out in to the playing field: a semicircular group area in right field dubbed the Heliport. This group area features a four-foot-deep pool (complete with lifeguard), plenty of lounge seating, and a dedicated concession stand. The center of the pool is only 350 feet from home plate in a power alley, so it won’t be surprising when a home run lands in it. With the seating in the corners, a squared-off batters’ eye and the pool jutting into the field of play, the outfield wall will surely be a nightmare for visiting outfielders.
The left-field corner features a huge restaurant and sports bar (complete with 34 large and flat-screen TVs), with retractable windows looking out on the action. This party area was crammed even before the first pitch and showed no signs of letting up all evening long. Beer loves will appreciate the frosty bar, a cooled section of the bar designed to keep beer and drinks cold. Table service is also available is seats directly outside the bar. An adjacent cigar bar is very nice, featuring padded seats and umbrellas arranged to create intimate seating areas. It, too, was packed with smokers of all sorts.
Signage wasn’t overwhelming, consisting mainly of home-run-fence displays. The most valuable signage is on the huge scoreboard in left-center field. The videoboard, from local firm Texas Star Solutions, is one of the clearest and brightest we’ve seen: even during bright sunlight in the middle of the afternoon every detail was sharp.
There are 13 suites — or, rather, in keeping with the aviation motif, hangars — on the upper level, as well as a large press box and three party room (like the Officer’s Mess — again, keeping with the motif). The suites are nicely appointed and contain three rows of outdoor seats. In a design element bound to amuse fans, the upper level is bedecked with sculptures of flying pigs — AirHogs — in a variety of situations, like piloting an aircraft or adoring the doors to the restrooms. The upper level of the grandstand also serves a useful function, provided needed shade to seating bowl. It was built higher than was needed to accommodate the suites and sports a small canopy, and as a result all of the seats between the dugouts were already in the shade by 5 p.m. That level of shade is needed during a hot Texas summer.
Speaking of the shaded grandstand seating: fans are never too far away from players when sitting in the grandstand. The bullpens are set inside the seating areas, with the visiting team’s bullpen next to a third-base party deck, “where we expect visiting players to receive a warm greeting from our fans,” according to AirHogs managing partner Mark Schuster when he gave us a pregame tour of the ballpark. The party atmosphere is throughout the ballpark: in addition to the left-field bar, there are stools and benches in the back of every section in the grandstand and in back of the the outfield seating areas as well.
For the Kids
Parents will be happy to know there’s a huge play area down the first-base line, with something for any age group. Besides a jungle gym and playground it features three holes of miniature golf and a miniature baseball diamond; when an AirHog hits a home run fog and mist will be shot onto the diamond area. Plus, it’s fenced in and supervised. It’s one of the best and most complete kids’ areas we’ve seen in a ballpark.
Four main concession stands are location on the concourse, all offering an affordable menu. In a nice touch, the concession stands are recessed several feet from the concourse so a long line won’t jam the concourse. The beer selection at the main concession stands was limited to Anheuser-Busch products — Bud, Bud Light, Michelob and Ziegen Bock.
And, of course, there’s the full bar and restaurant past left field.