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After 2020 limbo, 2021 finally yields new ballpark openings

We had laid in our travel schedule for the 2020 season early in the year, crossing the country for ballpark openings. That schedule was scrapped along with the MiLB season, but this month finally saw some debuts of notable facilities.

We’ll be visiting each of these venues over the course of the summer as the crowds return, but for now we’ve been monitoring the progress of each, from beginning of planning to Opening Day. All three ballparks were scheduled to open in 2020, but the debuts were delayed after the campaign was scrapped due to COVID-19. None of the three are opening to optimal conditions, with capacity limited and social distancing in place for now. (We’ve have separate looks at the other ballparks debuting this season on schedule.) Here’s a look at each.

For Huntsville, the debut of the Rocket City Trash Pandas (Double-A South) marked the return of pro baseball to the area since the departure of the Huntsville Stars (Class AA; Southern League) to Biloxi. The ballpark is located in suburban Madison, the centerpiece of a new mixed-use development that could include a hotel just past the outfield concourse. Alas, the visionary who pushed through the ballpark and team launch from beginning to end, Ralph Nelson, has departed for new projects in Maryland, but the talented front office he put together guided the team through its Opening Day paces. Here’s a look at the ballpark from our archives.

The Fredericksburg Nationals (Low-A East) completed a decade-plus journey for a new home, as the former Potomac Nationals (High-A; Carolina League) finally fled Pfitzner Stadium for a more comfortable and suitable home. You can check out our preview here, which also details the long journey to the new facility. For owner Art Silber and his family, who cycled through multiple ballpark plans before scoring in Fredericksburg, the opening was understandably emotional:

“Sometimes you have a dream,” Art Silber, the team’s owner, told the crowd as the grounds crew finished drawing the base lines. “And then in a moment you wake up, and you find out that it’s real. And that’s this moment right now.”

Atrium Kannapolis

We’ll be out in July, but worth noting: the return of baseball to Kannapolis in the form of the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers (Low-A East) at Atrium Health Ballpark. Like Toyota Field, Atrium Health Ballpark was designed to be an economic activity driver as much as a baseball venue, and early returns see investment returning to a largely abandoned downtown Kannapolis. Jarah Wright tells the story of the ballpark here, while Mark Cryan devotes a chapter of the third edition of Cradle of the Game (due to be announced any day–really) to the topic.

Finally, we saw the opening of Riverfront Stadium, the new home of the Wichita Wind Surge (Double-A Central). We’ll devote a separate story to that opening. And there are still plenty of 2021 pro ballpark openings to discuss, including new projects in Worcester and Gastonia. These ballparks

All photos courtesy of the teams mentioned.

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