2008 – The Ballpark Year in Pictures

Big Stories of 2008: 115,000 in LA; Washington has a new ballpark at last

Welcome to our yearly look at the top ballpark stories. In 2008, the big event was the opening of a new ballpark in Washington, DC, and we were there to cover its first game. It was a chilly affair, but it warmed the hearts of baseball purists everywhere to see the Nationals in their new facility.

There were also new pro parks in Allentown, Springdale and Billings, and naturally you’ll find full reviews of all four of these new gems here in BASEBALLPARKS.COM.

My ballparking-visiting year was, on average, one of my best. While I didn’t visit as many different parks as I have in recent years (it was 53 in 2008, while I hit 57 in 2007 and 65 in 2006), the visits I made were doozies. For instance, this year I attended the very first game in three of the four new parks that made their debut in 2008. I went to Louisville for the Triple-A All Star Game. I attended playoff games in the Florida State League and the Cal League. Seventeen of the 53 parks I hit were ones where I’d never seen a baseball game. And perhaps most significantly, I attended the baseball game with the largest attendance in the history of the sport.

Here now is my recap of the ballpark highlights of 2008:

I’ve been to some really big baseball events — World Series, All Star Games, ballpark openings — but nothing compares to the phenomenon at the Los Angeles Coliseum on March 29. With 115,300 fans on hand, it was by far the largest crowd ever to witness a baseball game. Check out our photo essay on the incredible evening.

One new park opened in the Majors this year, and it was a long time in coming! The District Columbia, which did everything it could to bungle the deal, raised the curtain on Nationals Park on March 30. I think it was silly to play on a Sunday night in March in Washington (i.e., freezing temperatures), but I was there nonetheless to review the park. This shot is of President Bush making the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Night.

But even though there was a new park in the Majors in 2008, Nationals Park wasn’t deemed to be the best new baseball stadium. No, our Ballpark of the Year award went to a Double-A Minor League facility, Arvest Ballpark. It’s in Springdale, Arkansas, and it’s the home of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. This shot was from Opening Day, April 10.

An even more ambitious project was completed on the outskirts of Allentown, PA. Coca-Cola Park (it seems funny that there’s never been a significant ballpark with that name prior to now!) is the first-year home of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.

It was good to see the architects at HNTB back in the game. It had been quite awhile since a ballpark they’d designed had come on the baseball scene, and they did a fine job with Dehler Park, new home of the Billings Mustangs. This shot is from Opening Night at the park on July 1, 2008.

There are few parks as photogenic as Louisville Slugger Field, so it was the perfect place to play the Triple-A All Star Game, as shown here.

What can be said about Yankee Stadium that hasn’t already been stated over and over? You know 2008 was its last season. You know the All Star Game was played there this year. You know the Yankees won 26 World Series as tenants of the place. And you probably know that huge prize fights and football games took place here. This shot was taken July 28.

Although not eliciting the same emotional fervor as the closing of Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium also saw its last baseball in 2008. This shot is also from July.

It’s always good to see charitable endeavors taking place at ballparks. In this shot, the personable Eric Byrnes is signing autographs at a fundraising event during an Arizona Fall League game at Scottsdale Stadium.

There are other examples of fine charitable work happening at ballparks, such as foundations established by teams. The Dodgers’ “official charity” is ThinkCure, and volunteers were out in force at the massive exhibition game at the LA Coliseum in March (see top photo on this page).

To me, the best feel-good story of 2008 — a story that unfolded at ballparks around the American League — was Josh Hamilton. I think his performance in the Home Run Derby in New York was the highlight of the whole season! His compelling autobiography, Beyond Belief, tells the whole story of his comeback from cocaine addiction, a comeback that was only possible with God’s help. I highly recommend this moving book.

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