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Year-end countdown: #8, New Charlotte/El Paso ballparks


Between now and New Year’s Eve we’ll run down the top ten stories covered on Ballpark Digest in 2014, determined by page views. At #8: the opening of new ballparks in Charlotte and El Paso.

Two new-ballpark openings made plenty of baseball fans happy in 2014, as the Charlotte Knights (Class AAA; International League) premiered BB&T Ballpark and the El Paso Chihuahuas (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) unveiled Southwest University Park.

The backstory behind the ballparks could not have been different. The Knights has several false starts on their way to a new ballpark in Uptown Charlotte, as team owner Don Beaver and crew worked for years on the new facility. It not only brought baseball back to Charlotte proper — the team’s former home, Knights Stadium, was located in Fort Mill, S.C. — but it also brought new life to the franchise. The Knights attracted 9,686 fans per game in 2014, a rise of 155 percent over 2013’s numbers. All in all, the Knights drew 31 sell-out crowds over the course of the season. Add the attendance for the 2014 Gildan Triple-A National Championship Game — 8,886 fans — and the Knights recorded a final attendance number of 696,601 fans through the gates in the ballpark’s inaugural season. Our Mark Cryan wrote:

With open walkways overlooking the field, a 360-degree concourse, some really neat architectural details like the Home Plate Club, the Knights have vaulted to the head of the line with the state’s finest facility. After much delay, and with significant team investment, Charlotte’s team has finally come home, and it’s a grand slam.

BB&T Ballpark

It was a different story in El Paso, where an aggressive construction schedule led to a new ballpark opening less than a year after work began at the downtown site. Southwest University Park is situated in downtown El Paso, a challenging location mandating a vertical ballpark design – a design that also yielded great views of the Franklin Mountains and downtown El Paso. The asymmetric design lent itself well to the creation of “neighborhoods” within the ballpark: discrete areas of seating designed to foster a sense of community amongst fans and to provide different and unique experiences.

At the end, Southwest University Park received our Best New Ballpark of the Year award, but it was a tough, close call. And for his years and years of work to make BB&T Ballpark a reality, Knights EVP/COO Dan Rajkowski was our Executive of the Year.

Top photo of Southwest University Park courtesy El Paso Chihuahuas. Bottom photo of BB&T Ballpark by Mark Cryan.

As noted, we’re running down the top 10 stories of 2014 on Ballpark Digest. Previously:

#9, ugly Christmas unis
#10, Fifth Third Ballpark fire

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