We end 2019 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Ballpark Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #9: the Rocket City Trash Pandas prepare for their 2020 debut.
Opening Day is still months away, but there is already considerable buzz surrounding the Rocket City Trash Pandas (Class AA; Southern League), thanks to the groundwork laid by the team in 2019 to prepare for the 2020 opening of its new ballpark.
In 2018, ownership group BallCorps, LLC finalized plans to relocate the Mobile BayBears to Madison, AL in 2020, coinciding with the opening of a new ballpark in the Town Madison development. The move represents a return of Minor League Baseball to the Huntsville Metropolitan Area, which has been without a team since the Huntsville Stars (Class AA; Southern League) played their final full season at Joe Davis Stadium in 2014. It also marks the upcoming arrival of a notable ballpark project, one that took some significant strides over the course of this year.
Construction is on track for the $46-million facility, which will open for the Trash Pandas in April. Town Madison has thus far been built up with the opening of amenities such as hotels and retail, but the ballpark’s construction has been credited with helping to accelerate work on future projects, leaving some intrigue for how the facility will affect the area over the long run. The primary link between the ballpark and the development will be a food hall, a concept that was unveiled this year.
Ground was broken on the ballpark in 2018, but many key aspects of the facility came into focus during 2019. One of the most significant is its naming-rights deal, as the Trash Pandas in October announced a partnership with Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama (TMMAL) that includes naming rights for Toyota Field. Additionally, the Trash Pandas struck some key partnerships relating to the facility–including, but not limited to, ballpark-wide Wi-Fi and naming rights for planned bar area–and spent much of the year filling out their front office staff, laying the ground work for how the club will operate in its new ballpark.
This year also saw the Trash Pandas unveil their uniforms, adding to a brand that was first released to considerable buzz in 2018. Unveiled in June, the uniform slate features five jerseys–including primary home and road jerseys, home and road alternates, and a camouflage uniform that will be worn to honor military service members. Certainly, the arrival of a new Trash Pandas and a new ballpark should be a significant story line in the early phase of the 2020 MiLB season, and much of that will owe to the work done by the organization in 2019 to prepare for that milestone.