In the final round of the yearly Ballpark Digest Awards, we honor our 2011 Ballpark of the Year: Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the spring home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.
In a year that saw several noteworthy new ballparks, one stood out as a way that fundamentally rethought how a spring-training facility should work, while at the same time being the first Major League Baseball (MLB) ballpark to be awarded LEED Gold Certification. Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the new spring home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, is the clear choice for the 2011 Ballpark of the Year award from Ballpark Digest, the leading Internet guide to baseball and ballparks.
“When we decide on our awards, we like to recognize facilities that we think will have an impact on the baseball industry for years to come,” said Kevin Reichard, publisher of Ballpark Digest. “Green design is obviously a game-changer in the baseball world. Salt River Fields at Talking Stick goes beyond the basic green practices, and fundamentally rethinks how fans should interact with players, and the total experience during all of spring training, not just the games.”
For decades, the approach to a spring-training facility was pretty static: there was a main ballpark where games were played, with five or six adjoining fields for practices, drills and minor-league workouts. The widely accepted premise was, if it was good enough for Connie Mack at Fort Myers’ Terry Park in 1925, it was good enough for every other MLB team.
But designers of more recent spring-training facilities have walk away from this model; a new goal for architects and team management is to integrate what fans love about spring training – player access, warmer weather, a relaxed atmosphere – with the daily functionality of the complex. The HKS Sports & Entertainment Group first addressed these issues with Camelback Ranch – Glendale, which opened in 2009, and reinvented them at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
That new approach is apparent when fans first approach the complex. Instead of herding fans to one or two ballpark entrances, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick gives them four different and distinct entrances. The ballpark is placed at the center of the complex, allowing fans to meander through practice fields before the game. The berm is the largest in spring training, providing space for 4,000 fans to do what they really love at spring training: grab a cold one and sprawl out in the sun. Add to that a strong presence from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community – the project hosts – and you have a unique spring-training environment.
“We wanted to reinvent the spring training fan experience by designing a distinctive destination that focuses on fan connectivity to the players while creating a unique environment that embodies the character, values and culture of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks,” said Byron Chambers, director of sports design, HKS Sports & Entertainment Group.
According to Mo Stein, FAIA, principal with HKS, Salt River Fields is impressive not only because of its size or cost. “The inspired design of the venue is the spectacular result of shared expectations and the alignment of visions among baseball executives, players and Native hosts.”
“We are honored to be named the Ballpark of the Year because we know that it is an opinion shared by our fans,” said Diamondbacks President & CEO Derrick Hall. “We set out to create the most fan-friendly spring training facility in the country with unprecedented access to the players and a comfortable, enjoyable place to see a game. Along with our partners at the Rockies, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and HKS, we believe we were able to accomplish that goal.”
The fans certainly responded; the Diamondbacks and Rockies obliterated the record for spring-training attendance for a two-team facility (substantially more than the listed seating capacity, by the way) and became the biggest draw in the Cactus League. The sustainable building community responded too: Salt River Fields at Talking Stick was awarded LEED Gold Certification for New Construction from the United States Green Building Council; it is the first Major League Baseball facility to receive that certification.
“The ballpark was a winner on so many levels,” Reichard said. “For fans, it was a comfortable, exciting place to catch a spring-training game. For the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, it was a tremendous contribution to the local community. And for HKS, it was an extraordinary accomplishment to provide another blueprint for how future spring-training complexes should be designed.”
ABOUT THE BALLPARK DIGEST AWARDS
Each year, Ballpark Digest honors noteworthy accomplishments in the baseball world, whether it be Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball, independent baseball, summer-collegiate baseball or college baseball. Readers are asked to submit nominations for awards in specific categories; Ballpark Digest editors then go though the submissions (numbering some 400 pages of documentation last year). The awards cover both individual accomplishments as well as team accomplishments. This is the fourth season for the Ballpark Digest Awards. A complete listing of Ballpark Digest Awards can be found at ballparkdigest.com/awards.
ABOUT BALLPARK DIGEST/AUGUST PUBLICATIONS
The leading website covering the culture and business of baseball since its inception in 2002, Ballpark Digest (ballparkdigest.com) has been called an “indispensable” guide to baseball and ballparks by The New York Times; it’s been used as a source by publications and Websites ranging from The Wall Street Journal to Epicurious.com. August Publications is a publisher based in Middleton, Wis. Besides Ballpark Digest, August Publications’ leading Websites include SpringTrainingOnline.com, ArenaDigest.com and YellowstoneInsider.com.
Images courtesy of HKS.
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