When Granderson Stadium opened this spring on the UIC campus, it was more than just a debut of a college ballpark: it was a needed addition to the community baseball scene. That dual use earns UIC an Editor’s Choice Award in the 2014 annual awards from Ballpark Digest.
“Positioning Granderson Stadium as more than just a college ballpark was a brilliant move on the part of UIC officials,” said Kevin Reichard, Ballpark Digest publisher. “Baseball has an important role to play among Chicago’s youth – as we saw with the Little League World Series – and having a first-rate facility like Granderson Stadium serve the greater community represents a real commitment by UIC to Chicago.”
“The UIC athletic department is thrilled to have received this award,” said UIC Director of Athletics Jim Schmidt. “We are extremely proud of Granderson Stadium and it will stand as the anchor of UIC’s south campus. We are honored to have Curtis as a former student-athlete and continue to be humbled by his generosity and commitment to young people.”
“Our designs are responsive to the community and context of a site, a team and a culture… and Curtis Granderson Stadium is a perfect illustration of this,” said Pat Tangen, Principal at Populous. “The ballpark is on a tight site on an urban campus in an emerging neighborhood with arguably the best view in college baseball. But the facility itself was designed to function as much more than a ballpark. We designed the ballpark knowing it would become a community gathering space, a home for Little League teams and the Flames alike and a place that would introduce inner-city kids to the game of baseball. It was incredible to be a part of a project that has such deep meaning to so many.”
The new ballpark is named for UIC graduate Curtis Granderson, whose $5-million gift — thought to be the largest single gift from a pro athlete to their alma mater — provided half the funding for the $10-million facility. A Chicago native, Granderson spoke movingly about what the ballpark means for the community during the ballpark’s dedication.
Granderson, who began playing baseball at the age of six, said he sees the ballpark expanding interest in baseball among Chicago’s African-American youth, pointing out that the number of MLB African-American players had declined in recent years. “It’s appropriate that this ballpark was dedicated just a couple days after Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball,” he said. “There’s been a decline of African Americans in baseball, and the way to stop the decline is working with youth. I hope this stadium can shine a light on where we were and where we can be.”
Besides serving as the home of the Flames, Granderson Stadium will host high-school games and be a venue for several youth-baseball organizations annually, providing for a safe and first-class experience. The plan is for events that also include academic and youth development as well as baseball.
Of course, let’s not forget that the ballpark is successful as a baseball facility as well. The $10 million project, as overseen by Populous, added a two-story grandstand, new turf, almost 1,300 fixed seats, concessions and group spaces. It’s an open, spacious design that accentuates one of the best views in any college ballpark (or any Chicago ballpark, for that matter; you won’t find as great a view of the downtown skyline from Wrigley Field or U.S. Cellular Field) and ties the ballpark to the up-and-coming neighborhood.
“There’s a lot to love about Granderson Stadium,” Reichard said. “First off, it’s a great place to watch a college ballgame. Add to that its usage as a community center, and it’s a perfect addition to the Chicago baseball scene.”
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. Here’s a list of the 2014 awards, both already awarded and to come:
Broadcaster of the Year: Steve Klauke, Salt Lake Bees
Best New Logo / Branding: Akron RubberDucks
Organization of the Year: Big Top Baseball
Best MiLB Promotion: Myrtle Beach Pelicans
Best Summer Collegiate Promotion: Kalamazoo Growlers
Nov. 10: Editor’s Choice, Best New Food Item, Best Ballpark Improvement
Nov. 11: Best Ballpark Renovation, Best Marketing, Executive of the Year
Nov. 12: Team of the Year, Best New Ballpark (Announced in weekly newsletter)