In 2017, the Memphis Redbirds (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) and Williamsport Crosscutters (Short Season A; NY-Penn League) stood apart from many teams. Their successes as individual clubs were noteworthy, but also strong reflections of their parent company—Trinity Sports Holdings. For overseeing two accomplished teams in strikingly different markets, Trinity Sports Holdings is the Ballpark Digest Organization of the Year for 2017.
“It’s a true honor,” Peter Freund, Principal Owner of Trinity Sports Holdings, said of the award. “I’m very humbled by it, and I’m very appreciative of it.”
Freund is also a minority owner of the New York Yankees. In addition, he is—along with the Goldklang Group—a co-owner of the Charleston RiverDogs (Low A; Sally League), a franchise that had a memorable year by opening the Riley Park Club and setting a new attendance record.
He purchased majority ownership in the Redbirds from the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016. Over the past two years, the Redbirds have seen their average attendance increase by 26 percent. The club has also unveiled some unique initiatives before the 2017 season, including the return of barbecue from the legendary Rendezvous and a new team store. Perhaps the most notable change, however, was their logo. Prior to the season, the Redbirds unveiled a branding concept that maintained ties to the Cardinals, while adding a distinct Memphis flavor through several elements, including a primary logo that replicated a neon street sign.
The rebrand created a certain energy that did not go unnoticed by members of the Redbirds front office. “I think the rebrand was a huge boost to us this year,” said Redbirds president and general manager Craig Unger. “It really gave us a Memphis identity and gave the city and the fans something to latch onto. I’ve seen a lot more of our ‘M’ hats around town, and I think the rebrand has had a big influence in the city.”
“I think it was critical, because the purpose of a rebrand isn’t just to rebrand,” Freund said. “What we were trying to do is tap into what is authentic about Memphis.”
Freund credited the St. Louis Cardinals for working to improve AutoZone Park, including the slate of upgrades that earned our Best Ballpark Renovation Award in 2015. Building on that success, Freund said that he wanted to work with the Redbirds to continue improving the fan experience. “Since the time that Craig and I really got to work, some of the initiatives we have taken are fan driven,” he said.
Unger credited the renovations for making AutoZone Park a destination for numerous types of events in downtown Memphis, adding that they help the ballpark be “the center point for other things, and not just baseball games.” In addition, he said the club has worked to continue improving the value of their tickets while ensuring a positive customer service experience in a city that is full of entertainment options.
“We’ve spent more time focusing on the overall guest experience,” said Unger. “We have to, with having NBA and a lot of options for people to do in town, provide an experience from the minute people walk in the door.”
In addition, Unger credited Freund with setting the tone for how the Redbirds long-term vision drives their operation. “Peter has a tremendous passion for the brand, and the experience people have at the ballpark. His energy has sort of permeated through the whole staff. He and I have spent a lot of time talking about the vision for the Redbirds, and where we’re positioning to the franchise to be for the next five, 10, 15, 20 years.”
The Redbirds’ success was a notable accomplishment for Trinity. However, it was the Williamsport Crosscutters and BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field that landed on the national stage. On August 20, the ballpark played host to the first annual Little League Classic—a regular-season matchup featuring the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals that aired nationally on ESPN.
“In Williamsport, we are the center of the community from a professional sports standpoint,” Freund said. “On the professional baseball side, bringing anything into Williamsport is not only important for the Crosccutters but for the community. Our mission is to give back and make a difference in Williamsport, so I think that plays into that. I think there’s a lot of pride in the community that a Minor League Baseball ballpark hosted a major league game”
Major League Baseball has already confirmed that the Little League Classic will return in 2018, and the Crosscutters believe the game delivered benefits for both the community and the franchise.
“I think more than anything, it gives Williamsport and BB&T Ballpark more legitimacy in the Minor League Baseball landscape,” said Gabe Sinicropi, Jr., the Crosscutters vice president of marketing & public relations. “It helped a greater number of people know what we’ve been doing for 25 years. By putting us on the map a little more, people learned more of what the Williamsport Crosscutters have done over the past two-and-a-half decades, and that was certainly heartening for all of us.”
The Crosscutters introduced a variety of improvements to BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field prior to the season. Some of those upgrades—including the Logger’s Landing premium deck and new grandstand seating—helped to bring modern amenities to a classic ballpark. (We took a closer look at the renovations earlier in 2017.)
“It’s a whole new place,” Freund said. “It is truly charming as not only a stadium, but a baseball town as you can imagine. What’s so special about it is that it still holds its historic charm, but it’s now a completely different place. It’s a balance, but I think we did it successfully.”
With the introduction of a major event and sweeping ballpark upgrades, the Crosscutters sought to maintain their strong community outreach efforts. The team has built a strong track record of involvement in the Williamsport community, and many of the team’s successful initiatives—including the annual Dominican Plate Dinner—continue to not only succeed, but grow.
“It was a new era for the team in many ways, but we didn’t want to lose sight of the bread and butter things that we do,” said Sinicropi. “We certainly made sure that the same things were happening, with the same amount of effort, gusto, and success for the charities in the Susquehanna Valley region.”
The growth in both Williamsport and Memphis could be indicative of the future for Trinity Sports Holdings, which changed its name from Trinity Baseball Holdings last year. There appears to be more ahead for the organization—its continued growth trajectory could include professional soccer—and for both the Redbirds and Crosscutters.
“I think that—going back to the energy Peter brings—it causes you to think multiple steps ahead,” Unger said. “When you start thinking longer term, the short-term things move quickly, and you tend to move along the path. I think that long-term vision is really where we excel.”
“Peter is really one, at times like this, to deflect all of the accolades to those of us on the ground in both cities,” Sinicropi said. “In reality, it’s his leadership and his vision that makes it happen. What makes him a great leader is that he makes us better.”
Freund—in lauding Unger and the Redbirds staff as well as the Crosscutters office led by Sinicropi and vice president, general manager Doug Estes—did indeed credit the staffs for their work during the season. “It’s really thanks to the work of both staffs. They go above and beyond.”
There were several organizations in the mix for this award, and we are recognizing two with honorable mentions.
The Elmore Sports Group took a major step forward in 2017, as it announced that it will shift three franchises for the 2019 season. That move will see the San Antonio Missions (Class AA; Texas League) shift to Amarillo, while the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) relocate to San Antonio, and the Helena Brewers (Rookie; Pioneer League) take the place of the Sky Sox in Colorado Springs. Elmore Sports Group also wrapped up some key agreements in Amarillo to help put a new ballpark there on track for the 2019 season.
Hardball Capital‘s track record of success continued this year, as the Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low A; Midwest League) continued to be a major attraction at downtown Fort Wayne’s Parkview Field and the Columbia Fireflies (Low A; Sally League) built on their strong first season with a successful sophomore year at Spirit Communications Park. In addition, reports surfaced about the potential for a new Chattanooga Lookouts (Class AA; Southern League) ballpark, while Hardball CEO Jason Freier continued to consult the city of Fayetteville in its planning for a new downtown facility that will open in 2019.
2017 Ballpark Digest Award Winners
Team of the Year: Hartford Yard Goats
Continued Excellence: Vancouver Canadians
Editor’s Choice Award For Outstanding Achievement: Redband Rally Campaign, Spokane Indians
Best Ballpark Improvement (Under $1M): Modern Woodmen Park Amusements
Best Charity Effort: Quad Cities River Bandits
Editor’s Choice Award: National Eclipse Games
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 Organization of the Year Winners
2016: Main Street Baseball
2015: Goldklang Group
2014: Big Top Baseball
2012: Pensacola Blue Wahoos
2011: Dayton Dragons
2010: Winston-Salem Dash
2008: Joseph Finley and Craig Stein
Image of AutoZone Park (top) courtesy Memphis Redbirds. Image of BB&T Ballpark courtesy Williamsport Crosscutters.