In the end, 2022 saw the ballpark world in a holding pattern, with 2023 potentially the time for long-running facility debates to be resolved, as you’ll see in our list of the Top 10 stories posted on Ballpark Digest as measured by page views.
We didn’t see many new or renovated ballparks this year, something we can attribute to the long-term effects of COVID: this year would have seen large new projects planned in 2020. Those projects were delayed or scrapped, while the large-scale MiLB renovations coming as a result of MLB’s new facilities standards won’t come to fruition until 2023 and 2024.
Still, there was plenty of drama for us to cover in the 2022 ballpark world, as you can see in our year-end list of the most popular stories on Ballpark Digest, as measured in page views compiled via Google Analytics and internal logfiles:
10. American Family Field renovations, development. For a small market team, the Milwaukee Brewers certainly are committed to annual ballpark upgrades, whether it be the installation of a year-round golf-centric entertainment space or the opening of a J. Leinenkugel Barrel Yard beer garden/restaurant in a prime left-field location. In the long term, the team is warning about the need for larger-scale improvements and renovations, while Milwaukee County is pushing for the team to create an entertainment district at the ballpark site and potentially neighboring properties. We should see further talk about big change at AmFam Field—and some divisive debates on who foots the bill.
9. Savannah Bananas growth. You can argue that Jesse Cole is the most fearless person in baseball. What began as an amusing sideshow to Coastal Plain League summer-collegiate games become a core of the Savannah Bananas business plan, beginning in 2023. After the 2022 Coastal Plain League season Cole announced the team would drop summer-collegiate play and focus on the entertainment side with full-time Banana Ball, hitting the road for a 2023 World Tour and exhibition games at Grayson Stadium. This new business model poses plenty of financial risks—but it would be foolish to underestimate Cole and his commitment to a fun and marketable fan experience.
8. Rogers Centre renovations. After years of debating a Rogers Centre renovation vs. a new ballpark, the Toronto Blue Jays corporate ownership committed to a $300-million multi-year renovation of Rogers Centre. A series of projects are planned over the coming two to three offseasons, focused on the interior of the building, including the 100L and 200L outfield, 500L, 100L infield, and field level (the current scope of the project doesn’t include any plans for the exterior of the building, turf field modification, and roof).
7. World Baseball Classic returns in spring 2023. After the 2021 World Baseball Classic was scrapped due to COVID concerns, the international tourney returns in 2023 with an expanded field and an emphasis on play at Phoenix’s Chase Field and Miami’s loanDepot park. Tournament organizers have done a pretty good job of setting up national rivalries and emphasizing both established stars and young talent.
6. Best of the Ballparks. We were a little concerned that the COVID 2020 shutdown/2021 slowdown would negatively impact interest in our annual Best of the Ballparks fan vote, but at the end of the day voting was way up over 2021 levels and surpassing 2019 totals as well. We saw interesting results up and down the line: PNC Park repeated once again as the MLB champ, Las Vegas Ballpark repeated, and Robin Roberts Ballpark won over historic Cardines Field in the summer-collegiate vote. We look for a bigger and better Best of the Ballparks vote in 2023, as we bring spring-training ballparks back to the competition.
5. Field of Dreams returns. The 2021 Field of Dreams game was a huge accomplishment for Major League Baseball, drawing a huge national baseball viewing audience and generating plenty of interest in the game. With investors planning on overhauling the iconic Dyersville, IA movie site, the 2022 Field of Dreams game may be the last one for now, as construction will prevent a match in 2023–and MLB is not committing to future games.
4. Potential 2023 MLB facility updates. The New York Mets and Detroit Tigers discussed bringing in the fences at Citi Field and Comerica Park, respectively, for next season. Both opened with fairly spacious outfield dimensions in an effort to make each into a pitcher-friendly venue. The Mets have been willing to tinker with the Citi Field dimensions over the years, and it looks like changes for 2023 are a go. In Detroit, the Tigers are more reluctant to tinker with the fences after crunching the numbers and concluding the ballpark plays a lot more neutral than fans assume.
3. Minors adopting new facility standards. It’s hard to arguing against improved ballpark conditions for players, but MLB’s imposition of new MiLB facility standards came at a challenging time, with the industry shut down in 2020 and many teams playing under curtailed circumstances in 2021. Some teams are looking at renovation costs of $20 million-plus, creating challenges both for the teams and ballpark owners like municipalities and other government bodies. So far many teams have responded to the challenge with workable upgrade plans, but we expect other teams in 2023 to fully realize what challenges are ahead.
2. New Tampa Bay ballpark. After years of aborted new ballpark plans, the Tampa Bay Rays might have finally come up with two potentially workable projects in St. Petersburg and Tampa. The key to both: tie the finances of a new ballpark to associated development, a plan that’s worked before in Atlanta and other municipalities. The overall plan, of course, is to set up a bidding war of sorts between Tampa/Hillsborough County and St. Petersburg/Pinellas County—a war that should create plenty of debate in 2023.
1. New Oakland Athletics ballpark. Speaking of bidding wars: the Oakland A’s managed to set up a perceived competition between Oakland and Las Vegas over a new ballpark. It’s really not been much of a competition, though: the A’s have remained committed to a $12 billion development that includes a $1 billion new ballpark, and efforts to set up Vegas as a viable alternative have fallen short. The A’s have not stressed what a transformative development is being proposed at Howard Terminal, though, and we expect future talks to put less emphasis on the ballpark and more on the benefits of the entire project—one of the largest non-transit projects ever proposed in California.
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