Dunked: Dunkin’ Donuts Park won’t open in 2016

The Eastern League has made formal what was widely expected:  the Hartford Yard Goats will play no games in Hartford this year. Dunkin’ Donuts Park, the $63-million ballpark that sits nearly finished in downtown Hartford, will not open in 2016.  The Hartford Courant‘s report can be found here.

The former New Britain Rock Cats had originally planned to move into the facility on April 7 of this year. However, last winter it became apparent that the facility wouldn’t be completed by then, so the home opener was pushed back to May 31.  The revised plan called for the park to finished by May 17 so the team could get the park ready for baseball by the end of the month. When that failed to occur, the Eastern League decided to push back the opener indefinitely.

A series of charges and countercharges then began to fly between the developer of the park and Hartford’s mayor. A lawsuit was filed by the developer to force the city to permit them to complete the work. With the situation now embroiled in a court battle, the official announcement came Friday that there would be no baseball at the facility in 2016.

Not since the Winston-Salem Warthogs failed to open their new park (originally scheduled to debut in April 2009) for a whole year has there been a ballpark story of this magnitude. However, the Warthogs had the ability to return to their old park in Winston-Salem for the 2009 season because they weren’t changing markets. The Yard Goats, though, can’t do that. Even though their previous home is only nine miles away in New Britain, that ballpark recruited a new tenant, leaving the Yard Goats with nowhere to return to. Their games have largely been played at the visiting team’s home or in Norwich, CT. That makes Hartford’s situation even worse than Winston-Salem’s.

Of course, the Winston-Salem franchise (which cleverly changed its nickname to the Dash) opened BB&T Ballpark the next year, and it was named our 2010 Ballpark of the Year. To this day, they are always among the league leaders in attendance … so there can be happy endings to these sagas.

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.

A peek at Petco

San Diego, one of America’s prettiest cities (and the one with arguably the best weather), is hosting the MLB All Star Game for the first time since 1992. This time, though, it’s at Petco Park, which opened in 2004. Let’s take a look at this gorgeous ballpark.

The current home of the Padres is in downtown San Diego. Their previous home, called Jack Murphy Stadium until 1997 when it adopted its current name, Qualcomm Stadium, is located in Mission Valley, about nine miles northeast of Petco. Qualcomm is still the home of the NFL Chargers, at least through the 2016 season. The team can opt to join the Rams in Los Angeles after this year if they choose, which would leave the future of Qualcomm Stadium in doubt.

The future of baseball in San Diego is not in doubt, though. The Padres’ lease at Petco lasts until 2030 (or earlier if the original bonds are retired sooner). The team then has two options to extend their stay by five years.

HOK (now called Populous) was the architect for Petco, based on a design by Antoine Predock. Including the acquisition of land, it cost $453 million to build, of which $146 million came from the team and the rest from various city taxes and the selling of bonds.

And it’s significant to note that it was our Baseballparks.com Ballpark of the Year for 2004, even though Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia opened that same season.

The completion of the ballpark was delayed several times during its construction. One delay was over a court decision that invalidated a ballot initiative (that had already been approved by voters) and another was over the planned demolition of a building.  That structure was the Western Metal Supply Company building, which had been designated a historic landmark. The solution? Keep the building, and incorporate it into the design of the ballpark. Today, its southern corner acts as the left-field foul pole, and its interior has been converted to bars and group areas. Porches were added to its front to provide a wonderful view of the field, and its roof is a great party area. The photo below was taken from it.


That building isn’t the only special feature of Petco. Its Park At The Park is a 2.7-acre grassy patch beyond the park’s outfield. It’s perfect for families with kids who’d rather play whiffle ball or run to and fro than watch the game. The parents can keep tabs on both the kids and game via the chunk of the field visible from the area and on a huge video screen.

Read More

Coming to Fayetteville

It appears Minor League Baseball is returning to Fayetteville, NC. This will require a new ballpark.

Several possible sites have been mentioned in the media, but a source close to the situation told me that almost certainly the new park will be constructed behind the Prince Charles Hotel. This majestic 91-year-old structure is currently empty, but investors bought it at auction and will spend about $10 million converting it into apartments or condominiums.

Parking lots (one of which is rarely utilized) occupies most of the area behind the hotel. It appears this is where the new ballpark will be constructed. This will place it quite close to the city’s district of quaint shops and restaurants on Hay Street.

This is also adjacent to the boarding platform for Fayetteville’s AMTRAK station. The photo above showing the ballpark site (snapped when I was in the area to cover the Fort Bragg Game on July 3rd) was taken from that platform.

While most of the details about the new park and the team that will play in it haven’t been made public, it appears the team will be in the high-A Carolina League and that the Astros will be heavily involved — perhaps owning the franchise that will play there. Since they don’t already possess a team at this level, they will be purchasing one, but not one in the Carolina League now.  It would be a franchise currently in the California League, one of two that would transfer from that high-A league to the Carolina League.  The Astros would like for this to happen by 2017, or 2018 at the latest.  The team that would be owned by the Astros will most likely play in another facility in the Fayetteville area temporarily while the new park is being designed and constructed. No, the temporary home will not be the ballpark used by MLB at nearby Fort Bragg. That facility is currently being disassembled. Read More

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!