On August 21, many teams around baseball staged games and viewing parties to observe the National Eclipse. By seizing the opportunity to host a game in honor of this rare event, these teams created a memorable day in baseball that is being recognized by Ballpark Digest. In the category of Editor’s Choice for Outstanding Achievement, Ballpark Digest is designating a special award for National Eclipse games.
When the National Eclipse arrived, the day proved to match the hype of many promotions that were being planned by Minor League Baseball teams, with many welcoming large crowds. Rather than honor one specific team, the Editor’s Choice Award instead the reflects the success around the game on a memorable day.
Numerous teams staged promotions around the event, with the end result being box office success for many. The Charleston RiverDogs (Low A; Sally League) welcomed 5,724 fans through the gates at 1:00 p.m. for a game that began at 4:05 p.m., while the Greenville Drive (Low A; Sally League) had a 1:05 p.m. first pitch for a game that went into delay during totality. An announced crowd of 6,636 was on hand for the event.
Elsewhere in the state of South Carolina, the Columbia Fireflies (Low A; Sally League) set a new attendance record by 9,629 fans. With totality taking place at 2:41 p.m., the game was delayed in the middle of the fourth inning while fans and players alike viewed the eclipse.
“Total Eclipse of the Park on August 21 was truly a day to remember,” said Abby Naas, the Fireflies vice president-marketing & public relations. “We were thrilled to bring this one of a kind… almost euphoric experience to Spirit Communications Park. What made the day even more special was that our players, staff, and fans all had the opportunity to experience this event together. Welcoming our largest crowd in history at 9,629 people helped make this truly a day that none of us will soon forget.”
Among some of the other highlights that day were the Nashville Sounds (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), who sold out tickets to an eclipse viewing party that was staged before that afternoon’s game. The Bowling Green Hot Rods (Low A; Midwest League) offered a promotion that saw both teams—including the opposing West Michigan Whitecaps—take the field in commemorative jerseys, and the team reported an attendance figure of 6,006.
A similar promotion took place in the independent ranks, with the Lincoln Saltdogs (American Association) wearing commemorative jerseys in front of 6,956 fans. The total solar eclipse led to a 26-minute delay after the top of the third inning.
Several teams pulled off successful events that we covered leading up to August 21, including the Idaho Falls Chukars (Rookie; Pioneer League) and the Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Class AA; Southern League). The Greensboro Grasshoppers (Low A; Sally League), meanwhile, welcomed 6,756 fans for the eclipse and their afternoon game against the Hickory Crawdads.
“We originally didn’t have this promotion on our schedule, [but] our President/GM made us aware of the rare Solar Eclipse and how Greensboro will be somewhat in the path of the Eclipse,” said Katie Dannemiller, the Grasshoppers vice president, baseball operations. “Our staff quickly jumped on the unique idea and we were lucky to get our Solar Eclipse glasses ordered in time. The demand for ordering glasses was incredibly high and we had no idea what demand this event would create in our ballpark. We had fans lining up outside the gates an hour and a half before gates open.”
Eclipse day became a major event at Volcanoes Stadium. That afternoon, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (Short Season A; Northwest League) experienced a 58-minute delay after the top half of the first inning, resulting in the first documented eclipse delay in baseball history. The Volcanoes welcomed a crowd of 5,297 for a game that has proven to carry significant meaning—in September, the Volcanoes buried a time capsule commemorating the events and artifacts from the game will soon be on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
“The magnitude of the event is difficult to express in words,” said Volcanoes owner Jerry Walker. “Fans began lining up to enter the stadium at 3:30am, 1 1/2 hours prior to its scheduled 5:00 am opening, and 6 hours prior to the first pitch that was set for 9:35 am. ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports, Inside Edition all reported live on the event and media from as far away as Tampa Bay, Florida were on hand. Six NASA scientists played an interactive role providing presentations on the field every 30 minutes leading up to the game. 5,297 fans from 34 states, District of Columbia, 3 Canadian Provinces, 11 countries and 6 continents were in attendance. Volcanoes Stadium has never before seen an event of this magnitude and it is hard to fathom it ever will again.”
Top image courtesy Columbia Fireflies, bottom image courtesy Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.
2017 Ballpark Digest Award Winners
Best New Food Item: Beercheese Poutine
Best New Concessions Experience: Miller Park
Best Ballpark Improvement (Over $1M): Great Dane Duck Blind
Executive of the Year: Ryan Keur
Best New Logo/Branding: Down East Wood Ducks
Best Ballpark Renovation (MiLB): Fluor Field, Greenville Drive
Broadcasters: Howard Kellman and Mick Gillespie
Ballpark of the Year: SunTrust Park, Atlanta Braves
Past Ballpark Digest Editor’s Choice Award Winners
2016: Fort Bragg Field
2014: Curtis Granderson Stadium
2011: Cape Cod League’s Spaceball Promotion
2009: The Staff of Roger Dean Stadium
2009: Camelback Ranch-Glendale
2008: MiLB Charities, Texas League