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, #7: It was a bumper year for new MiLB ballparks in Las Vegas, Amarillo and Fayetteville.
In the 15-plus years we’ve been publishing Ballpark Digest, we can’t remember a season like 2019, where a full slate of new and notable ballparks was unveiled in Minor League Baseball. Our Ballpark of the Year was Las Vegas Ballpark, home of the Las Vegas Aviators (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), as well as the winner in our annual Best of the Ballparks fan vote. As we wrote on our visit to Las Vegas Ballpark:
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.”
In Amarillo, the Amarillo Sod Poodles (Class AA; Texas League) were an instant hit at downtown’s Hodgetown, the winner in the annual Best of the Ballparks fan vote. We were there for the ballpark opening, as an enthusiastic over-capacity crowd was on hand to cheer every move. We wrote this at the time: “In the end, the Sod Poodles dropped their inaugural game at Hodgetown in extra innings. But with a great ballpark experience and some nifty post-game fireworks, we’re guessing most of the fans in the above-capacity crowd went home happy—and will be back for plenty more baseball this season and beyond.”
In Fayetteville, the Fayetteville Woodpeckers (High A; Carolina League) unveiled Segra Stadium, adding a modern element to historic downtown Fayetteville. While the ballpark opened on time—and served as a key part of the logo/branding award meted out to the Woodpeckers in the annual Ballpark Digest awards—the area surrounding Segra Stadium is definitely a work in progress. We’ll be eager to visit the ballpark again in 2020 to see how the economic development is playing out. As we wrote after our 2019 visit:
There are traditional elements to ballpark that fit in perfectly with the existing Hotel Charles and other local buildings. But there are also modern elements designed to accompany the new next-door development, which will sport a modern design. When Fayetteville officials signed off on a new downtown ballpark, a stated goal was to bring modern investment into a historic area. On that level, Segra Stadium works well, and a visit in a year when all the various area elements are in place should yield even more pleasant surprises.