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2017 Best Ballpark Renovation (MLB): George M. Steinbrenner Field

Steinbrenner Field 2017

We wrap up our 2017 Ballpark Digest Awards where we began our season: The award for Best Ballpark Renovation (MLB) goes to George M. Steinbrenner Field, the spring home of the New York Yankees.

When the Yankees opened spring training, the team did so in a drastically different fashion. The old Steinbrenner Field, where the focus was on season-ticket holders, was expanded and renovated with a new 360-degree concourse, new social spaces, and an open layout that encouraged folks to mingle before, during and after the game. New cabana spaces – complete with shade and misters – provided great views of the game, as did the new rows of bar-style seating and an expanded bar in the right-field corner. With upgraded concessions, a new entrance and expanded team store, the new George M. Steinbrenner Field stood out as providing a thoroughly modern, textbook ballpark experience both for spring Yankees fans and regular-season Tampa Yankees (High A; Florida State League) fans.

Steinbrenner Field 2017

“The Yankees are honored by this recognition from Ballpark Digest, and we have been thrilled this year at the positive response we have received from our guests,” said Yankees Senior Vice President and Yankee Global Enterprises CFO Tony Bruno. “The improvements at Steinbrenner Field came as a result of listening to our fans and creating the kinds of spaces, experiences and dining options that met their modern needs and exceeded their expectations. As pleased as we were with 2017, we are excited to continue building on our success going forward.”

“It was an honor to work with the New York Yankees organization to enhance the fan experience at George M. Steinbrenner Field. We’re thrilled to see the project’s commitment to excellence recognized with Ballpark Digest’s 2017 Renovation Award,” said Populous Principal David Bower.

Here’s what we wrote after that opening-day experience:

That spruced-up grandstand highlights one of the biggest changes to the ballpark – and it’s a change in philosophy, not an architectural upgrade. The grandstand entry tunnels sport new graphics focusing on Yankee history, but it’s not just photos of World Series trophies. The entryways are arranged by decades. For example, the large graphic focused on the 1940s and 1950s shows players running through spring-training double-play drills under the supervision of Yankee lifer Frankie Crosetti in February 1958. (Inside the tunnel: a smaller display of World Series championships and a nice shot of Mickey Mantle.) On the concourse: banners showing Yankee greats, along with an exhortation for fans to create their own Yankee memories.

And that, in a nutshell, really encapsulates the new Steinbrenner Field experience more than a recitation of new seating areas. During the game, Yankees Senior Vice President Anthony Bruno spoke passionately with us about the Steinbrenner Field upgrades and how they were designed to spur fans to create their own spring-training memories. There are plenty of selfie spots in this ballpark, including the aforementioned cap logo in the right-field corner and two numbers – 2 (Derek Jeter) and 15 (Thurman Munson) – in the outfield concourse. And, with all the new seating areas, there are plenty of vantage points for social-media pics.

With these moves, the Yankees are tapping into why fans love spring training: yes, they love the cold beer and the warm sun, but they also are cognizant into how fans experience the game today. We may have different opinions about social media and the millennials obsessively posting to Instagram and Snapchat, but all they are doing is what generations of fans have done before: they’re creating memories, but they have better technology than most of us did in decades past. Social media is merely the equivalent of your grandma’s Brownie, your uncle’s Polaroid, your mom’s Kodak Instamatic. Spring training still means seeing a first game with a grandparent, bringing a loved one to the ballpark, remembering that first baseball experience, that first spring-training memory. The graphics in the ballpark entry tunnels remind of us that those memories are precious – much more precious than a graphic showing a World Series trophy.

By the way, that same emphasis on creating memories via social spaces was echoed in 2017 renovations to Yankee Stadium, which we covered here. All in all, it was a very strong 2017 season for the Yankees on the facilities front.

Steinbrenner Field 2017

Interestingly, the first two games we attended last spring comprised the two leading contenders for the Best Ballpark Renovation (MLB): we began our 2017 season by attending the annual spring-training kickoff where the Detroit Tigers traditionally host the Florida Southern Mocs at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, followed by the Yankees’ home opener at Steinbrenner Field. Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium was totally overhauled for spring training 2017, with all the amenities—360-degree concourse, new group spaces, outfield bar, upgraded team store, more shade and new seating—fans expect in a modern ballpark these days. These changes were made while keeping the TigerTown traditional feel intact, creating the best of all worlds.

Joker Marchant Stadium 2017

Miller Park 2017

One other MLB ballpark that experienced significant upgrades this season: Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers. We took note of those upgrades with a Best New Concessions Experience Award.

2017 Ballpark Digest Award Winners
Promotion of the Year: Bacon vs. Tacos
Organization of the Year: Trinity Sports Holdings
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

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