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Let it snow: hockey at a ballpark near you

NHLWith Citizens Bank Park proving to be a smash hosting the 2012 NHL Winter Classic, it’s clear a ballpark is the perfect venue for outdoor hockey. Here are some ballparks worthy of hosting a future Classic — or other winter activities.

In terms of sightlines and access, a ballpark works amazingly well as a venue for outdoor hockey. Yes, we know the record for the largest crowd for an outdoor hockey game was recorded at Michigan Stadium, as some 113,411 fans showed up for a University of Michigan/Michigan State game in 2010, But we’re not so sure this is the blueprint for success: most football stadiums aren’t set up for full use under extreme weather conditions, and we’re guessing anyone sitting in the upper deck in 2008 and 2011 — when the Classic was played in NFL stadiums — figured out pretty quickly how far they were from the action.

At a ballpark, on the other hand, fans in the upper deck are much closer to the action, as seating in most new venues is situated toward second base and the middle of the playing field.

Plus, it’s not as though there are no models to make a winter festival work at a ballpark, even if a venue isn’t hosting a Winter Classic. The Cleveland Indians made a big impact in in 2009-2010 with Snow Days at Progressive Field, which saw the ballpark infield transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with a skating rink, sledding and more. In fact, the Indians added an Ohio State-Michigan hockey game on Jan. 15, expected to draw 43,000 fans to the ballpark. The Boston Red Sox found hosting the 2010 Winter Classic to be so financially lucrative they’ve continued the practice of hosting outdoor hockey and skating at Fenway Park. This year the organization is hosting college and high-school hockey as well as two skating events for Boston residents.

So, given that hockey can work well at a northern ballpark, where would we like to see a rink installed?

  • By all accounts Detroit will be hosting the 2013 Winter Classic at Comerica Park. It’s a move that makes sense: Mike Ilitch owns both the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Tigers, and his Olympia Entertainment could certainly coordinate logistics for the event. Throw in a college game or two — the University of Michigan seems to love playing outdoors at least once a winter — as well as open skates and high-school matches, and you have the makings of a successful event.
  • Minnesota has been mentioned as a strong contender for hosting a future Winter Classic, but that shouldn’t stop the Minnesota Twins from hosting their own winter event. An ice sheet at Target Field would be a natural: between daily open skates and a schedule of high-school and college games, the ballpark could become the great downtown outdoor venue so sorely lacking in Minneapolis. You could even do one-day tourneys — like an MIAC college or a Classic Lake Conference event — as well as a University of Minnesota hockey game. There are also enough warm spaces in the ballpark to accommodate concession sales of all sorts.
  • Shaw Park in Winnipeg has the perfect location for winter skating: lthere’s already outdoor skating at the high-profile Forks area, and we’re guessing some of those folks would love some skating on a ballpark rink.
  • Traverse City is a Michigan hockey hub, with an NAHL squad and a fall NHL prospect tournament. Some of that passion for the sport could surely be transferred to Wuerfel Park, the home of the Traverse City Beach Bums (independent; Frontier League).
  • The AHL schedules at least one outdoor game a year, and this year there are two: one at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton on Jan. 21 and one at Citizens Bank Park on Jan. 6, as part of the Winter Classic festivities. There are a few other AHL cities where an outdoor game would work: Portland‘s Hadlock Field or Rochester‘s Frontier Field.

Where would you like to see an outdoor rink set up at a ballpark? Enter your own ideas in the comments below.


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