This summer, Utica (Mich.) will become a home to professional baseball, as Jimmy John’s Field is slated to host the United Shore Professional Baseball League (USPBL) and its three teams—Utica Unicorns, Eastside Diamond Hoppers and Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers—for a 50-game-per-team schedule, amounting to 75 total games at the ballpark.
Some of the details have previously been covered here before. The $12-million ballpark is being financed by General Sports and Entertainment, a Rochester, MN-based group led by Andy Appleby, an experienced sports executive and former owner of the Fort Wayne Wizards (Low A; Midwest League). An additional funding source was the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which provided $800,000 in water quality funds plus a $1 million loan to Macomb County for environmental preparation on the ballpark site.
Naming rights for the stadium were sold to the Jimmy John’s sandwich chain, while United Shore Financial Services acquired the rights for the league’s name. The USPBL will function as an independent league that serves as a showcase for undrafted players, with the rosters expected to carry 22-25 players.
When Jimmy John’s Field hosts its first game on May 30, it should provide a fine experience for fans and players alike. Most of the seats will be concentrated behind home plate, where a grandstand will cater to about 2,000 fans. Two major design features to note about this area is its steep pitch, and that it will stand just 37 feet from home plate, a shorter distance than what is found in most professional ballparks. That, combined with the elevation of the seats, should provide good sightlines.
The remaining sections of the ballpark are heavily focused on group options, as well as premium seating, including dugout and founder’s level suites. There will be five suites in both of those categories, plus an additional 12 upper-level picnic options. As of November, 17 suites were leased for the upcoming season, according to Crain’s Detroit.
For the fans who prefer to mill around during the game, Jimmy John’s Field will offer plenty of options. Two berm sections will be available, including a large area in the right field power alley as well as another option in left field. Both sides of the ballpark will feature three separate picnic area options to cater to groups. Additionally, 18 on-field diamond tables will be located under the grandstand.
Another feature that planners clearly had in mind was family-friendly amenities. Most of the kid’s activities will be concentrated in the left field corner, with a wiffle ball field serving as one of the main attractions. It will be complimented by a playground which, from the looks of the design, should provide a good view of the action without blocking the field from other fans.
A few areas to note include plans to make the stadium completely Wi-Fi accessible, as well as environmentally friendly. Jimmy John’s Field will feature LED lighting, recycling options, and waterless urinals.
Throughout the planning phase, there has been some question of when Jimmy John’s Field will be ready for its first pitch. While USPBL officials have stated that most seasons will run on a May-September schedule, the ballpark’s initial timeline put the opening in early June, which would likely force the league to add games at the end of the season. In a Facebook post on January 25, the USPBL announced that Jimmy John’s Field will open on May 30 and provided a ballpark construction update via drone footage.
Much of the focus this season will be on facilitating successful starts for both Jimmy John’s Field and the USPBL, but bigger plans remain on the horizon. Over the next few years, it is expected that the land surrounding the ballpark will be put up for mixed-use development. The main area of focus is a 1.4 acre parcel across the Clinton River that will be become retail and residential space.
While General Sports and Entertainment will own Jimmy John’s Field, the land on which it sits will be owned by the Utica Downtown Development Authority. The authority will lease the land to General Sports and Entertainment for $1 per year for 30 years, a pact that could be extended through two 10-year options.
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