The 2019 Ballpark Digest Awards season begins today with the announcement of Las Vegas Ballpark as our Ballpark of the Year and the Las Vegas Aviators as our Team of the Year.
This is the first time an organization has swept these two major awards, but with the renaissance of pro baseball in Las Vegas and Summerlin, the citations are deserved. The Aviators lead all of Minor League Baseball in attendance entering the final weekend of the regular season, with the crowds still flocking to the new $150-million facility.
The awards will be recognized on the field during the pre-game ceremonies tonight at Las Vegas Ballpark when the Aviators take on the Tacoma Rainiers and celebrated during a post-game fireworks show.
“After years and years of work, the Las Vegas Aviators opened Las Vegas Ballpark to wide acclaim this season,” said Ballpark Digest publisher Kevin Reichard. “We’re thrilled to recognize these major accomplishments in our year-end awards.”
The year-end Ballpark Digest awards annually honor the best of the baseball industry, covering MLB, MiLB, independent-baseball, and summer-collegiate programs in a wide range of categories. The Ballpark of the Year and Team of the Year announcements are the kickoff to awards season for Ballpark Digest, with announcements running through the fall and culminating in an awards reception at December’s Baseball Winter Meetings.
“The Las Vegas Aviators not only opened a new ballpark in 2019, but also overhauled their whole business, ranging from an offseason rebranding to a total revamp of the concessions and hospitality programs,” Reichard said. “Just opening a new ballpark at a high-quality level is a big accomplishment. What the Aviators did with their partners is basically start from scratch, ending up with a new facility that’s leading the minors in attendance.”
Both Las Vegas Ballpark and the Las Vegas Aviators are wholly owned by The Howard Hughes Corporation, developer of the master-planned community of Summerlin and Downtown Summerlin, which has become a popular sports destination thanks to Las Vegas Ballpark and neighboring City National Arena, practice facility of the Vegas Golden Knights.
For Aviators President/Chief Operating Officer Don Logan, the opening of Las Vegas Ballpark took decades of hard work to replace Cashman Field in downtown Las Vegas.
“When Cashman opened, it was belle of the ball. Over time, other stadiums had suites. We didn’t have suites at Cashman. They had wider concourses and more restrooms and more points of sale for concessions,” he said. The team had first looked at building a new ballpark for spring training in 1995, targeting the Los Angeles Dodgers, then training in Florida, and three other teams. Over the years he worked on funding requests from the state, but none came to fruition.
Interestingly, the delay may have worked out for the best, he added.
“We got to see and tour so many new ballparks, both minor league and major league,” Logan said. “We were able to take the best ideas from the best ballparks around the country and put them here. It was worth the wait, probably, because of that.
“It was about making the best possible place we could.”
That effort was necessary to stand out in Las Vegas, where venues have perfected the art of the fan experience, whether it’s a Vegas Golden Knights game or a show at a busy Strip casino.
“The bar is really high here,” Logan said. “You’ve got 100,000 tickets for sale for entertainment every day in Las Vegas, up and down the Strip. Nobody has competition like us.“
The selection of Las Vegas Ballpark for Ballpark of the Year comes in a banner season for new and renovated pro baseball facilities.
“Fans were blessed by an abundance of riches this season,” Reichard said. “We saw great new ballparks open in Fayetteville, North Port and Amarillo, with the Milwaukee Brewers debuting a noteworthy renovation at American Family Fields of Phoenix. All five facilities advanced the art of ballpark design.”
The Fayetteville Woodpeckers (High A; Carolina League) opened Segra Stadium this year (check out our story here). With the opening of Segra Stadium, the Woodpeckers and team owner Houston Astros successfully honored the area’s rich military history—and at the same time created a modern experience, both inside and around the ballpark.
The Amarillo Sod Poodles (Class AA; Texas League) opened Hodgetown with an enthusiastic over-capacity crowd on hand to cheer every move (check out our story here)–and those crowds kept retuning to the notable new downtown facility.
The Atlanta Braves opened CoolToday Park as the team’s spring-training home in North Port, FL. The new ballpark created a fan experience that raises the bar for Grapefruit League facilities, with a very modern design that created an intimate experience in a spacious venue. Check out our story here.
Other new ballparks opening this season include BB&T Point, home of the High Point Rockers (independent; Atlantic League); Capital Credit Union Park, home of the Green Bay Booyah (summer collegiate; Northwoods League); and Routine Field, home of the Milwaukee Milkmen (independent; American Association). We’ll be covering the new collegiate ballparks in a separate awards category.
Previous awardees for Ballpark of the Year include Atlanta’s SunTrust Park (2017); North Augusta’s SRP Park (2018), Minnesota’s Target Field (2010), Columbia’s Segra Park (2016), St. Paul’s CHS Field (2015), El Paso’s Southwest University Park (2014) and Arizona’s Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (2011).
This is not the first time Las Vegas Ballpark has been honored by Ballpark Digest: Earlier this season Las Vegas Ballpark was the winner in the annual Ballpark Digest Best of the Ballparks fan vote for Triple-A facilities. Over 85,000 fans voted in all five rounds of the Triple-A Best of the Ballparks fan vote, with almost 600,000 fans voting in the overall competition.