It was perhaps the most difficult decision ever in the history of Ballpark Digest awards, but in the end the Best New Ballpark of 2015 was CHS Field, home of the St. Paul Saints (independent; American Association).
There were six new ballparks this season: CHS Field; First Tennessee Park, home of the Nashville Sounds; Monongalia County Ballpark, home of the West Virginia Black Bears and WVU Mountaineers; Kokomo Municipal Stadium, home of the Kokomo Jackrabbits; Lexington County Baseball Stadium, home of the Lexington County Blowfish; and North Main Athletic Complex, home of the Holly Springs Salamanders. All were notable in their own ways: Monongalia County Ballpark and Kokomo Municipal Stadium were chosen by fans as their favorites in our Best of the Ballparks voting, and as you can tell from the above links we were very impressed with CHS Field and First Tennessee Park.
There are some very good ballparks on this list, but it soon became apparently after some advice from trusted folks in the industry and the fan vote that we were looking at a choice between CHS Field and First Tennessee Park — two of the finest ballparks to enter baseball in the past decade. The parallels between the two ballparks are uncanny: both came after teams worked for years and years on new-ballpark plans; both are profoundly urban ballparks, designed to revitalize moribund areas; both were placed on challenging sites; and both are striking pieces of architecture.
In the end, the award went to CHS Field. First, the ballpark has made a disproportionate impact on St. Paul’s economy: it is stunning to see how Lowertown has attracted major investments in housing and restaurants in the ballpark area. St. Paul has spent over 30 years trying to make Lowertown into a vibrant part of the city, and it’s fitting a key part of solving that puzzle was a ballpark built on top of the base of a former warehouse. (First Tennessee Park’s impact will be felt down the line, as there are apartment complexes and restaurants under construction outside the gates.) Second, the ballpark experience kept the best of what was offered by the Saints at Midway Stadium — Mudonna! Seigo Masubuchi! a porcine mascot! tailgating! — and is totally integrated into Lowertown; the Saints brand remained intact (if not a little more refined) with the move. Plus, CHS Field is the only ballpark we know of with a working dog park on site, complete with fire hydrant. A little whimsy goes a long way.
Finally, we were swayed by the outpouring of love shown by Saints fans toward CHS Field in the online vote. Three out of every online votes went for CHS Field. This isn’t a popularity contest — but pleasing fans is a prime objective of any ballpark design.
“On behalf of the Saints ownership and staff, and our friends with CHS, it’s an honor to except this wonderful recognition from Ballpark Digest,” said Derek Sharrer, Saints Executive Vice President and General Manager, “but it is important to note how many partners, both public and private, played leading roles in making the dream of CHS Field a reality. From our primary funding partners in the project, the City of St. Paul and the State of Minnesota; to the design team of Ryan Companies, Snow Krelich Architects, and AECOM; to Professional Sports Catering and their talented, hard-working team, who’ve helped us entertain and service record crowds throughout the season; each deserves credit and our gratitude. While it may sound cliche to say this has been a team effort, there is truly no better way to describe what has happened in Lowertown St. Paul this summer.”
The award was accepted at Saturday night’s game by Sharrer, Saints Vice President Tom Whaley, Director, Corporate Communications, CHS, Lani Jordan and from the design team, Mark Maghrak, Team Leader Ryan Companies & Julie Snow of Snow Krelich Architects. Also involved in ballpark design: AECOM.
Past winners of this award include Southwest University Park (2014) Target Field (201o), Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (2011), Huntington Park (2009) and Coca-Cola Park (2008)
Image courtesy St. Paul Saints. Thanks to the Saints for the video announcing the award at CHS Field. Music on video by bensound.com
Each year Ballpark Digest honors noteworthy accomplishments in the baseball world: Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball, independent baseball, summer-collegiate baseball and college baseball.