2016 – The Ballpark Year in Pictures

Big Stories of 2016: it only took a century for championship to come to Wrigley; MLB’s idea and execution for pop-up ballpark were superb; nothing but embarrassment in Hartford; goodbye to Viera and (sort of) to Kissimmee; spectacular debut in South Carolina and send-off in Georgia; dumpy parks in Cali are “contracted”

Text and photos by Joe Mock, BaseballParks.com
All rights reserved

It was a year of highs and lows in the world of ballparks in 2016. As we do at the end of each year, we take a breath and look back at the important stories that involved ballparks. If you’d like to peruse our pictorial essays from past years, there are links to them here. As always, to stay on top of the biggest ballpark news of the day, follow us on Twitter.

The biggest news in the ballpark world involved the park with the shortest lifespan: one game. Major League Baseball came up with the brilliant idea to partner with the Players Association in constructing a temporary stadium on a military base as a way to thank America’s men and women in uniform. Little did they know the massive impact that gesture would have when they selected the biggest base of them all (North Carolina’s Fort Bragg) and scheduled it for the Fourth of July Weekend. An All Star cast was assembled to design the stadium, build it and install a big-league-quality playing surface. The night of July 3rd saw the Braves fall to the Marlins in front of a packed house of soldiers and their families, while everyone in attendance (including those covering the event for the media, like me) will never forget it. And as soon as the game was over, they immediately began disassembling the ballpark. All that’s left is the field, which will be used for recreational baseball and softball. For its impact on all involved, Fort Bragg Field won the coveted Baseballparks.com Ballpark of the Year Award.

Well, that took a while, didn’t it!?! The Cubs moved into Wrigley Field in 1916, and it took a full century for them to win a World Series. That’s a drought unparalleled in professional sports. Good for the Cubs!

A spectacular new ballpark burst onto the Minor League scene on April 14th, when the Columbia Fireflies of the South Atlantic League opened Spirit Communications Park. The $37-million, Populous-designed facility is a beauty. Perhaps its most intriguing aspect is its location, in the heart of of the 181-acre campus of the state’s long-abandoned mental hospital. The grounds are being re-developed with offices, shops, a hotel, apartments … and a fantastic baseball stadium.

Baseball said goodbye to several parks in 2016, none more consequential than Atlanta’s Turner Field. The Braves’ two-decade home was given a first-class send-off by the team. This photo shows the National Anthem prior to the park’s final game on October 2nd. SunTrust Park opens in the northern suburbs of Atlanta at the beginning of the 2017 season.

There were two other ballparks in the Southeast that saw their tenants say good bye.  The Washington Nationals moved out of Viera where they’d held spring training since 2003, back when they were still the Montreal Expos. Meanwhile, the Astros said so long to Osceola County Stadium (right) in Kissimmee (although, interestingly, the Florida State League team in Viera is going to move to Kissimmee in 2017), where they’d held spring training since 1985. That’s because the Nats and ‘Stros are moving into a brand-new two-team complex in West Palm Beach in 2017.

Out West, two ballparks are also losing their tenants. In both instances, their stadiums were so sub-standard that the teams were essentially wiped from the face of the earth. No longer is there a Bakersfield Blaze (home to the worst ballpark in the affiliated Minors) or High Desert Mavericks (where the next-to-worst park in the California League was located — shown to the left). So the Cal League is shrinking by two teams while the Carolina League will expand by two.

It was high time that the big-league All Star Game came to one of the most pleasant venues in the Majors: San Diego’s Petco Park.  It was an excellent site, as the American League defeated the NL 4-2.

In November of 2013, the Braves surprised everyone when they announced they were going to build a new stadium north of downtown Atlanta. The fact that they kept it under wraps was quite impressive. Well, in 2016, the Rangers pulled off a similar trick, when they held a press conference to let the world know of their plans for a new ballpark adjacent to Globe Life Park in Arlington. Since it would require voter approval for Arlington to earmark the funds to help construct it (the City and team would share the cost evenly), a pitched battle ensued over the ballot initiative. Despite polling and predictions that it would go down in flames on election day, voters in Arlington overwhelmingly passed it. While the initial announcement indicated the park wouldn’t open until 2021, as 2016 drew to a close, it appeared that the retractable-roof (which means air conditioning to overheated Rangers fans!) stadium will open a year earlier than that. (Image courtesy of the City of Arlington)

Without a doubt, the most embarrassing ballpark story of the year is Dunkin Donuts Park in downtown Hartford, CT. Its construction timeline called for the beautifully designed park to be completed for the Hartford Yard Goats’ opener on April 14. When that deadline was missed, it was pushed back to May 31 (when the above shot was taken, along with those in this photo essay). When that date came and went, the accusations and lawsuits started to fly. The builder accused the City of making too many changes, while the City found mistake after mistake made by the builder. A different construction company was named, but by then it was too late: the team had to play the entire schedule away from Hartford. What a disaster. They will try again to open the ballpark on April 13, 2017. One assumes it will finally be ready … but the Eastern League has already issued a warning: if it’s not done, the City stands to lose the franchise.

Visit our 2015 Ballpark Year In Review here.

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What do you think was the biggest ballpark story of 2016? Have any thoughts about the news items above? Post a comment below:

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