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2018 Continued Excellence Award: Fort Wayne TinCaps

Parkview Field

The Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low A; Midwest League) have consistently provided an exceptional fan experience at Parkview Field. On top of that, the club’s efforts have helped make the ballpark a year-round anchor for events in downtown Fort Wayne. For their accomplishments in these areas season after season, the TinCaps have won our 2018 Continued Excellence Award.

“It’s an honor,” said TinCaps president Mike Nutter. “The 2018 season was our 10th season at Parkview Field and, although it’s pretty clichéd to say, it feels like it’s gone by so quickly, but it has also exceeded our expectations for sure.”

Creating a Year-Round Destination

The success of the TinCaps has been well documented over the years. Opening in 2009, Parkview Field has helped the TinCaps—who were known as the Wizards until moving into the facility—grow in more ways than one. While the team’s presence in and support from the community is one area, it has also helped play a role in the larger resurgence of downtown Fort Wayne. That was the case when the TinCaps were named our Team of the Year in 2014 and holds true four years later as they claim our Continued Excellence honor.

Part of that owes to the fact that the TinCaps have worked to make Parkview Field about more than just baseball. In addition to MiLB games, the ballpark hosts events throughout the year—including wedding receptions, farmers markets, and numerous community gatherings. For the ability to run that volume of events, Nutter credits the special events side of the TinCaps’ operation, which is led by special events manager Holly Raney and banquet event manager Alexis Strabala. They, along with head chef Pisarn Amornarthakij, are responsible for the events and food at all TinCaps and Parkview Field events.

“They do an exceptional job,” he said. “We let them run with it, because they’re the experts. I don’t know about anything putting on wedding receptions and class reunions and can’t give it that kind of attention to detail, but they can.”

Building a Distinct Fan Experience

When it comes to their operation, there are multiple ways that the TinCaps appeal to fans. One is Parkview Field itself, an anchor in a larger development resurgence in downtown Fort Wayne.

Under then-mayor Graham Richardson, Fort Wayne broke ground in 2007 on a downtown redevelopment project called Harrison Square. The ballpark was a key piece of that project when it opened in 2009, but the overall development concept is larger than the facility itself. In addition, Harrison Square features apartments, office space, retail, a public park, and a Courtyard by Marriott hotel.

In Nutter’s view, the project spurred a turnaround of downtown Fort Wayne by bringing a steady flow of afterhours economic activity that was previously absent. “We’ve always had a great, safe downtown, but there wasn’t always a lot going after work got done and people cleared out, so Graham’s goal was to really make it the center of the community again,” he said. “So many Midwestern cities had been vacated as people moved to the suburbs and things moved to the outskirts of town, and his goal was to reverse that trend. And here we are 10 years later.”

For the TinCaps, this change has also been notable. The contrast between the downtown setting of Parkview Field and the fairly remote location of Memorial Stadium—the team’s former home—is something that the club attributes to its success. Fans in Fort Wayne have bought into the broader experience of attending a game downtown, which has represented a vast departure from the typical gameday at Memorial Stadium.

“I was the general manager over at the old ballpark when were known as the Wizards across town,” said Nutter, who has been with the Fort Wayne franchise since 1999. “We did the best that we could do over there. The [attendance] numbers were fine, but the difference is that fans would drive into the game and leave, whereas this is an event. You can come for the game, or you can come to one of the many events we do in addition to TinCaps baseball and get something to eat downtown and walk around. It’s just really allowed us to flourish and not be exclusively baseball.”

Attendance has boomed for the franchise. Though the numbers were down slightly in 2018—bad weather as a major issue for the team, as it was for many clubs around MiLB—the TinCaps still achieved a significant milestone in August by drawing their 4-millionth fan since the opening of Parkview Field.

Hardball Capital owns the TinCaps, and Nutter credits Hardball CEO Jason Freier for his role in the club’s success. “I’m blessed to work with Jason Freier,” Nutter said. “He’s a visionary. He is always investing and putting money back in,” allowing the TinCaps to continue investing in their operation and continually improve the amenities at Parkview Field.

The TinCaps have also become known over the years for offer a diverse food menu—ranging from traditional ballpark fare to stir fry plates at the cart Intentional Walk—and have often embraced promotions such as theme nights. With 10 strong seasons in the books, the TinCaps have clearly built a formula for success, but the team will continue to look to fine tune its approach and maintain a fresh offering for fans.

“I think for us, it’s how do we keep relevance or prominence to excite people,” said Nutter. “We’ve really tried to fight the complacency and I give credit to our staff, because after 10 years they’re still listening to me saying ‘we can’t let up, and we’ve gotta continue to do surveys and focus groups to find out what our fans want.”

Honorable Mentions

A model of consistent success—so much so that we cited them for an “Ongoing Success” prize in 2008—the Dayton Dragons (Low A; Midwest League) continue to provide an exceptional gameday experience at Fifth Third Field. It has clearly resonated with fans as well, as the team’s sell out streak stands at 1,316 games (the longest in professional sports history). “We are very pleased to be recognized for the continued excellence award,” said Dragons team president Robert Murphy. “The Dayton community has helped us create something wildly successful and incredible special here at Fifth Third Field.  For 19 seasons we have been fortunate to host sellout crowd after sellout crowd.  This could not have been done without the great community support from our sponsors, season ticket holders, suite lease holders, group leaders, community leaders, government officials, all other ticket buyers, and of course our great staff. We are truly blessed here in Dayton.”

The Omaha Storm Chasers (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) celebrated their 50th season this year, a reminder of their standing as one of MiLB’s steadiest franchises. While tradition is a big part of their identity, the Storm Chasers also provide the gameday experience that fans have come to expected in today’s baseball. “We are honored to have been considered for the Continued Excellence Award,” said Storm Chasers president and general manager Martie Cordaro. “Our staff prides itself on providing the best in affordable entertainment in Sarpy County and the Omaha metro area.  This further signifies what our organization does as a team at Werner Park.”

2018 Ballpark Digest Award Winners
Promotion of the Year: Deaf Awareness Night
MLB Broadcaster of the Year: Pat Hughes
MiLB Broadcaster of the Year: Tim Heiman
Commitment to Charity: Hartford Yard Goats
Team of the Year: Indianapolis Indians
Executive of the Year: Doug Scopel
Ballpark of the Year: SRP Park

Past Ballpark Digest Continued/Ongoing Excellence Award Winners
2017: Vancouver Canadians
2008: Dayton Dragons, Rochester Red Wings

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