On a college campus committed to top-notch facilities, it’s no surprise that a renovated ballpark should shine. With a fan-friendly design that also recognizes the program’s rich history, GCU Ballpark, home of the Grand Canyon University Antelopes, is our choice for the Best Ballpark Improvement Over $1 Million in the 2018 Ballpark Digest Awards.
GCU is one of the most fascinating stories in higher education in the past several years, as the Phoenix-based university embarked on a billion-dollar campus overhaul. It’s an ambitious project, to be sure, as the school expands rapidly (from 900 students in 2008 to more than 20,000 for the 2018-2019 academic year) while working to play a larger role in the Phoenix civic sphere. GCU Ballpark is part of the university’s “GCU 10 in 2” initiative, constructing 10 new athletic facilities in two years. The 10 in 2 project included baseball and softball ballparks, a basketball practice facility, student-athlete development center, tennis facility, beach volleyball stadium, athletics equipment room, private practice areas at GCU Golf Course and expansions to the Lopes Performance Center.
Though the GCU Ballpark award is for Best Ballpark Improvement Over $1 Million due to the new grandstand, the price is just an educated guess, as the school has not made a determination on exactly how much the facility cost. There were many shared costs with the development of the other on-campus facilities (design, construction, materials). The advantage of undertaking such an ambitious project: a modern design from local firm Suoll Architects is present throughout all the new facilities.
The Antelopes already played on campus, but the decision was made to retain the playing field, outfield wall and scoreboard and replace an old and basic grandstand with a new grandstand with chairback seating, a larger press box, an impressive concession stand with unique offerings (food items, like churros, served in team colors), an entertainment deck that can be adapted for multiple kinds of events, a pro-level sound system, new batting cages, and an upper-level concourse featuring great views of the mountain landscape.
For fans, there are plenty of discrete places to take in a game, all designed to appeal to different constituencies. For students who are more casual fans, four-top seating on the upper level where homework and robust WiFi is as important as the cleanup batter. For families, a large deck down the right-field line featuring lots of table seating, kids’ amusements, a food rail and bar-stool seating, and a large berm area for the kids to burn off some energy. For student superfans: plenty of room for the Havocs, who call themselves the rowdiest student section in the country. For everyone: plenty of shade and ceiling fans on both levels. We visited the ballpark last spring; here’s our story.
“We’re proud of the ballpark,” said GCU Vice President of Athletics Mike Vaught. “Our president gets all the credit for our facilities. He thinks big.”
Combining the New with the Old
The decision to keep the field and outfield wall was to recognize the school’s baseball history. Dr. Dave Brazell laid out the original 1962 ballpark and meticulously maintained the playing field, regarded as one of the best in college baseball. Head Coach Andy Stankiewicz, an original Diamondback, made a case to keep the outfield wall. So the ballpark stayed on campus.
“There’s a lot of history and tradition with the field,” Vaught said. “Plus, we wanted it on campus, so students could walk to the games. That was a big consideration.”
The new ballpark was a hit.
“Our opening game was with TCU, and we had 3,800 for the opening,” Vaught said. “People like to watch games in a comfortable setting. We have covered seating in most of our stadiums. It gets to be hot at the end of the baseball season, but fans are in the shade. We offer all chairback seats, all covered.”
There’s also one amenity for fans proving to be popular: a spectacular view of an Arizona sunset.
“The sunsets are incredible, especially for the visiting team’s fans,” Vaught said. “Everyone stands up at the same time and takes pictures.”
(Editor’s Note: For our 2018 awards, we limited the selections to projects totally completed for the 2018 baseball season. There are other major multiyear projects underway that will be completed in 2019, when we will include them in the next round of awards.)
2018 Ballpark Digest Award Winners
Best Renovation (MiLB/College): Franklin Rogers Park, Mankato MoonDogs
Organization of the Year: Elmore Sports Group
Best Ballpark Improvement Under $1M: Round Rock Express
Editor’s Choice: Ivy at Berlin Place
Best New Logo/Branding: 2018 Best New Logo/Branding: Copa de La Diversión
Marketing Campaign: Omaha Storm Chasers
Marketing TV Spot: Quad Cities River Bandits
Continued Excellence Award: Fort Wayne TinCaps
Promotion of the Year: Deaf Awareness Night, Myrtle Beach Pelicans
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