One of the more anticipated storylines of the 2019 season will unfold in Amarillo, where the Amarillo Sod Poodles (Class AA; Texas League) will open Hodgetown. For a city that has not had an affiliated Minor League Baseball team in 37 years, the new ballpark will not only offer a picture of modern design trends, but one unique to its team and its community.
The downtown ballpark known as Hodgetown will be the first facility in Amarillo to stage MiLB action since Potter County Memorial Stadium hosted the final season of the Amarillo Gold Sox (Class AA; Texas League) in 1982. Although several independent clubs dotted the city’s landscape in recent decades, the Sod Poodles could mark a resurgence for MiLB in the city and the team’s ballpark could play a role in that revival.
A Ballpark Designed with Hospitality in Mind
At its core, Hodgetown is a ballpark designed to accommodate the different types of fan experiences found in today’s facilities. Sitting in a fixed seat in the seating bowl is one of those experiences, as is taking in the game with a group in a catered environment, viewing the action from a berm, or using social areas such as bars and drink rails.
That trend has been kept in mind in the planning of Hodgetown, which should be reflected in the ballpark’s unique hospitality areas. That includes the five dugout suites that provide a catered hospitality environment for a party of 16 guests, with an up-close look at the action.
“You’re basically 30 feet from home plate,” Sod Poodles president & general manager Tony Ensor said of the suites. “As I tell people all the time, in most of the ballparks you can hear the pop of the ball hitting the mitt. In this ballpark, you’ll hear the ball traveling in the air.”
The dugout suites will not be alone in providing the hospitality or social-type setting. Drink rails will be featured around the ballpark, part of a design with a 360-degree concourse that connects different areas within the facility. Right field will feature a group patio that accommodates to 140 guests, along with berm seating and a fun zone. A bar area with televisions and other amenities catered toward a social atmosphere will be found in left field, while a group space down the left field line will accommodate up to 232 guests.
The ballpark will also feature four concourse suites with room for 25 guests, a party deck with room for 50-75 guests, and two luxury suites that will be available for nightly rentals. There will be 20 luxury suites total—18 for rent in annual leases, two available nightly—and the suites will offer table seating as opposed to fix seats, a feature that will carry over to the concourse and dugout suites as well, which team officials believe will encourage a more social atmosphere.
Building the social component into Hodgetown was something that Sod Poodles owner Elmore Sports Group believed was vital to the ballpark’s design, and Ensor credits project officials for bring that vision to reality.
“Populous has done an amazing job on the design of this, per those guidelines of creating an environment that is very social,” said Ensor. “You can tell by the drink rails, where everyone has hospitality everywhere around the ballpark and they’re not just left in the outfield without a place to stand. I think our architects did a great job of creating that environment, and our builders are doing an excellent job of executing it.”
Connecting Team, Ballpark to the Community
Hodgetown has been in the works for years, with the city billing it as a Multi-Purpose Event Venue. As a show of support, Amarillo residents approved the project in a nonbinding 2015 referendum, with Elmore Sports Group signing on to the $45.5 million project in 2017. That made the facility a major part of perhaps the most elaborate franchise shift by one owner in MiLB history, as Elmore Sports Group pulled the trigger on moving three teams for 2019. The Texas League’s Missions shifted to Amarillo, becoming the Sod Poodles, while the former Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) moved to San Antonio and assumed the Missions name. They were replaced in Colorado Springs by the former Helena Brewers, now known as the Rocky Mountain Vibes (Rookie; Pioneer League).
Amarillo is the only of those three cities that put up a new ballpark as part of those plans—though one could eventually be built in San Antonio—and the Sod Poodles are working to connect both their brand and the facility to the community. One of those efforts is the name Hodgetown—a partnership with former mayor and ballpark backer Jerry Hodge that also incorporates a nod to the Sod Poodles name.
“Jerry Hodge is a community leader,” Ensor said. “He was one of the guys—along with a number of great other community leaders—that was really the driving force to get affiliated professional baseball back after its absence of 37 years.”
The Hodge is in Hodgetown is a tribute to Jerry Hodge, with Town serving as a nod to the Sod Poodle branding. Sod Poodle is another term for prairie dogs, and communities of prairie dogs are usually referred to as towns. (It is worth noting that other terminology around the ballpark, such as burrow suites for the dugout suites and coterie suites for the concourse suites, will be inspired by sod poodles.)
Hodgetown is also planned as part of a broader downtown development initiative. Its art deco design should allow it to fit in with existing landmarks in the surrounding area, but the team also hopes that the facility ushers in an era of new development.
“There’s so much energy, so much fuel here on the ground here for development, and for Amarillo to kind of go to that next level,” said Ensor. “And you see so much of that type of fuel here. What I hope for us to be able to achieve is to become that spark that ignites the fuel of development downtown, and in the greater Amarillo area.”
Getting Ready for Opening Day
Hodgetown itself is making progress, as reflected in some recent developments. Seats began to be installed late last week, while plans for the ballpark’s video displays–including a 60 feet wide by 35 feet tall videoboard in left-centerfield and a 218 feet wide by 6 feet tall display that spans the length of the left field wall–were unveiled this week, marking milestones as the team gears up for its home opener against the Midland RockHounds on April 8.
That date will represent the culmination of the effort to bring MiLB back to Amarillo. For the Sod Poodles, this has meant building a front office staff under Ensor—who shifted to Amarillo last year after a long run in Colorado Springs—while rolling out a new brand. That has all been to deliver the vision of a new ballpark and MiLB team to the city.
“From an organization standpoint, it’s making sure that we do everything we can to be ready for Opening Day to honor the commitment that this community has made to us,” said Ensor. “We just want to be ready, and we have a lot of work to do, but it’s truly a labor of love.”
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