The ingredients are all there: Record attendance, sellout crowds, engaged ownership and a great front office devoted to a notable fan experience. For the amazing turnaround at Four Winds Field, the South Bend Cubs earned Ballpark Digest’s Team of the Year Award for 2015.
“It wasn’t that long ago that South Bend almost lost professional baseball,” said Ballpark Digest Publisher Kevin Reichard. “Enter a committed owner, a talented front office and some strategic investments in the community, and you have the biggest success story in Minor League Baseball this season.”
“We are extremely honored to be selected as the Team of the Year by Ballpark Digest,” said team President Joe Hart. “South Bend is a great baseball community and the last four years have been very rewarding as we have worked hard to rebuild the franchise. We have a great owner that has a passion for baseball and deep commitment to city of South Bend and the region. This would not be possible without an experienced front office staff that believes in customer service and providing a first-class experience for our fans each and every night. Now is an exciting time to be a part of the South Bend Cubs organization.”
The roots for the South Bend Cubs’ success in 2015 started in 2011, when Andrew Berlin purchased the Class A Midwest League team from an investment group led by former South Bend mayor Joe Kernan. In 2012 team President Joe Hart joined the front office. Since then, the team has spent $7 million in improvements to Four Winds Field, significantly improving the fan experience as well as the player-support facilities.
The biggest change came a year ago when the franchise underwent a total rebranding after signing a new affiliation deal with the Chicago Cubs, changing the name from Silver Hawks to Cubs and unveiling new logos, colors and uniforms. The changes paid off: the SB Cubs set franchise records for the best single-season attendance (347,678) and average attendance (5,039) at Four Winds Field. In addition, a record amount of Indiana state sales tax collected from concessions and merchandise sold at Four Winds Field in 2015 will be retained by the City of South Bend. That performance also led to the team receiving Minor League Baseball’s John H. Johnson President’s Award.
“Everyone loves a good turnaround story, especially one where fans are responding to a team committing to the best experience possible,” Reichard said. “A lot of hard work went into building the South Bend Cubs to where the team is today – and that hard work certainly paid off.”
Other notable team accomplishments for the season:
- We’ve already honored the Reno Aces (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), the St. Paul Saints (independent; American Association) and Brooklyn Cyclones (short season A; NY-Penn League) with other awards to front-office staff and organizations (see below). But it’s important to note that in all three cases the team and its front office performed admirable. The Cyclones have featured a strong promotional slate the last few season — Seinfeld Night is brilliant! — and the Saints managed to bring the same fan-centric spirit to CHS Field that fans saw in Midway Stadium. The Aces saw strong performances in the box office and on the ledger sheet in 2015.
- Have the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Class AAA; International League) ever had a bad year? No, we can’t remember one, either. Kurt Landes and crew have managed to keep momentum building year after year.
- Similarly, it’s amazing that the Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low A; Midwest League) may have had their best season in 2015. Amazing because the team is now an established entity, and amazing because of the enthusiasm and skill showed by President Mike Nutter and his staff.
- The Sacramento River Cats (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) saw a 9 percent attendance uptick in 2015 after the team signed a new affiliation deal with the San Francisco Giants, increasing the team’s presence in the entire Bay Area.
- The Oklahoma City Dodgers (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) saw a 15 percent attendance boost after an offseason that saw new ownership, new branding, and plenty of ballpark upgrades.
- The Vancouver Canadians (short season A; Northwest League) experienced a 20 percent attendance rise, oversaw plenty of ballpark upgrades and continued being a core part of the community.
- And, we can’t forget the Nashville Sounds (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League): the team successfully launched a new ballpark and is already making a huge impact in Nashville. In a town where there are plenty of attractions and distraction the Sounds stand out.
PREVIOUS 2015 AWARD WINNERS:
Executive of the Year: Eric Edelstein
Promotion of the Year: Ambush Baseball, Brooklyn Cyclones
Organization of the Year: Goldklang Group
Best Major Ballpark Renovation: CenturyLink Sports Complex/Hammond Stadium
Best Ballpark Renovation (Over $6M, Under $20M): AutoZone Park
Best Ballpark Renovation (Under $6M): Dr Pepper Ballpark
Best New Food Item: Sweenie Donut Dog
Broadcaster of the Year: Josh Whetzel
Best New Logos/Branding: Daytona Tortugas
Best New Ballpark: CHS Field, home of the St. Paul Saints