Fort Bragg Field is Ballpark of the Year

This is the 17th straight year that we’ve named a Ballpark of the Year, but it’s most definitely the first time the award has gone to a park where only one game was played.

Used for only one game, Fort Bragg Field is the 2016 Ballpark of the Year.  It was announced in an article in USA TODAY Sports Weekly (see photo). Pick up a copy on a newsstand near you to see our article on the three finalists: Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, Michigan; Spirit Communications Park in Columbia, South Carolina and the winner, Fort Bragg Field in North Carolina.

You can also read all about the award — with reaction from MLB headquarters, the architect, the man behind the playing field itself and even the commanding general at Fort Bragg — in our press release.

Here’s what the plaque looks like. Copies of this will go to Fort Bragg, Populous and MLB headquarters:


Feel free to add your comments about the park and/or the award below.

In-depth review of Fort Bragg Field

My in-depth review of Fort Bragg Field is now available. It features 25 photos and all of my behind-the-scenes observations of the impressive ballpark that was built for only one game, then was dismantled. Click here to read it.

You’ll learn what Major League Baseball had to go through to get approval, and then to pull off this herculean undertaking at the world’s largest military base. You’ll read what soldiers at the installation thought, and what the game-day experience was for them. And you’ll learn why a chair was left empty.

And perhaps most importantly, you’ll come to understand why MLB did this (short answer: to show appreciation to our military). After all, they sunk millions of dollars into building a temporary ballpark and then uprooting a game that was supposed to be played in Atlanta, all so our servicemen and women and their families could attend a Major League game for free.

It’s a great story, one that I’m honored to be able to share with you, since I got to see it all myself.

After reading both pages, please leave a comment at the bottom of the second page with your thoughts on the event, the park or the review.

Rousing Success at Fort Bragg

Happy Independence Day!

The Fort Bragg Game presented by Chevrolet was a rousing success.  The photo here shows the flyover by the choppers of the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade at the conclusion of the National Anthem.

To see the article I wrote for USA TODAY about the event, go here.

Be watching for our in-depth review of this fascinating one-time-use ballpark.  We’ll have much, much more to say about this park!

Fort Bragg event brings together “America’s game and those who defend America”

This is part three of our series on the MLB game that will be played at Fort Bragg, NC on July 3rd

In terms of population, Fort Bragg in North Carolina is the largest military installation in the U.S. Not only is it home to the world-renown 82nd Airborne Division, its nearly 55,000 service members represent about 10% of the U.S. Army’s total. When you include their families, military retirees and Department of Defense civilians, you’re looking at a quarter of million people within its 500 square miles.

So when Major League Baseball wanted to honor America’s military, Fort Bragg was the logical place to do it. That’s why a regular-season game between the Braves and Marlins will take place there this Sunday evening, as part of the massive Fourth of July celebration on the base.

As described in the first two installments in our series on this special event, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are footing the bill to build a temporary ballpark to hold this game … but that didn’t mean it was easy to gain the approval to do it.

Eric Hill is the Community Recreation Division Chief for the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation at Fort Bragg. Yes, titles and departments have long names in the Army. The ballgame on July 3rd falls under Hill’s jurisdiction.

Hill became aware of MLB’s desire to hold this game last August. At that point, quite a bit of legwork had already happened. After MLB broached the subject to the Department of Defense, it then “worked its way through the different channels and commands,” according to Hill. That included the IMCOM Commanding General, the Atlantic Region Director, Fort Bragg commanding General, and the Garrison Commander “and eventually the email ended up in my in-box.”

After discussions between Major League Baseball headquarters and the senior commander at Fort Bragg, “everyone saw the good in the gift. We told them we’re excited about it and wanted to pursue it.” Because the Army viewed the gesture as a “gift,” a formal process ensued where MLB had to make the offer formally, and then have it reviewed by numerous entities within the Department of Defense, finally reaching the Acting Secretary of the Army. Then the proposed construction process had to be reviewed by Congress.

This is how the fairway of the abandoned golf course looked just before construction started in March. Photo courtesy of Populous.

If this seems like an inordinately large number of steps, Hill points out that “all of this happened in a pretty tight timeline from how we normally handle things.” With the approvals and permits in hand, ground was broken March 9, which started a construction timeline that drew to a close this week. That allows the game to be played on July 3rd, “which is what (MLB) had proposed from the beginning, to tie together our nation’s birthday, America’s game and those who defend America.”

Read More

The story behind the “100% temporary” ballpark for Fort Bragg game

This is part two of our series on the upcoming MLB game at Fort Bragg, NC

The Major League game between the Braves and Marlins on July 3 will be played at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in a once-in-a-lifetime ballpark. Literally. That’s because the 12,500-capacity facility will be used only once. It will then be torn down, leaving only the playing field behind to be used by the recreation program for the service men and women and their families.

When Major League Baseball needed this unique facility designed, they went to the architects who are entirely or partially responsible for the majority of the big league parks in use today: Populous. For several reasons, this was no ordinary project for arguably the largest sports-architecture firm in the world. As a consequence, Populous didn’t rely on the team of architects in Kansas City that typically designs baseball stadiums. Instead, they turned to the firm’s Special Events Group.

“We’re actually serving as architects and event planners” for the upcoming game, explained Todd Barnes, a Principal at Populous. The relationship between Populous and MLB in event planning dates back to the 1999 All Star Game in Fenway, when the park’s cramped quarters caused the folks in MLB headquarters to question how they were going to pull off the Mid-Summer Classic there. Populous (back when it was called HOK) was called in to help.

Similarly, Populous worked with MLB on the All Star Game at Citi Field in 2013. For that, the firm’s Special Events Group “looked at all of the existing facilities and how to re-use different spaces for other All Star Game functions,” Barnes revealed. But since all of the facilities there were already in place, that makes the Fort Bragg project quite another story. “The difference with this project is that it’s a ground-up, design-and-build project, so we are the designer and architect on the project, as well as working on the event-planning side. Everything that’s being put in this ballpark right now is from the ground up. (And) it’s 100% temporary except for the playing field.”

You would think the one-time-use nature of the facility would make the design process radically different than Populous’ typical project, which is being built to last decades. Not so, says Barnes. Read More

Field being left behind after Fort Bragg game: “something we’re really proud of”

Through the generosity of Major League Baseball and the Players Association, a regular-season game will be played in a ballpark in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. That barely scratches the surface of this story, though.

The game, which will be played on the eve of Independence Day, is a first for a variety of reasons. Not only is it the first time an MLB game has been played on an active military base, it’s also the first time a ballpark is being built simply for a single game — and then will be disassembled immediately afterwards. All that will be left behind is the playing field, which will then be used by the base’s recreation program.

Since I’ll be writing about this for USA Today Sports Weekly, I’m conducting interviews with some of the key people making this unique experience happen. As we get closer to the event, we will bring you their thoughts — from MLB (where the idea originated) to the designer of the one-time-use ballpark to the key figure at Fort Bragg coordinating the event. Then follow us on Twitter the night of the game to see what it all looks like.

Let’s start with Tony Petitti, the Chief Operating Officer of Major League Baseball.

Petitti said that the original idea for this game grew out of brainstorming in MLB headquarters. “Our Special Events, Marketing and Communications Departments had been kicking around ideas of bringing the game to places where they don’t traditionally get to see the game,” he explained. A number of locations were suggested, but one stood out: Fort Bragg. They got in touch with officials at the base as well as other contacts within the Department of Defense. “We received a reaction of ‘Wow, this is out of the blue, but really exciting!’ When we (then) talked to the Players Association, they immediately saw the value in this and wanted to partner with us to make this happen.” Read More