Article and all photos by Joe Mock, BaseballParks.com
All rights reserved
The 2001 season was a noteworthy one in the world of Minor League ballparks. Provo, Utah welcomed the Pioneer League to town by playing its home games at Brigham Young University’s beautiful new park. The Staten Island Yankees’ long-anticipated stadium became a reality, as fans marveled at the awesome view of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. Similarly, South Atlantic League fans in Lakewood, New Jersey and Lexington, Kentucky filled the stands at the pretty new parks there. And Portland, Oregon welcomed the Pacific Coast League back to town with a $37-million renovation to their stadium.
But without a doubt, the biggest story in Minor League baseball this year had to be the return of pro ball to Brooklyn, New York. The Brooklyn Cyclones of the Class A New York-Penn League won not only the vast majority of its games, it also captured the hearts of fans in Brooklyn and all across the country, as Cyclones merchandise outsold that of all other Minor League teams and most of the teams in the Majors.
What a great feeling to drive around Brooklyn and see billboards like the one above! Yes, baseball is back, and the fans’ reaction was overwhelming. Most home games were sell-outs, allowing the Cyclones to be the league’s top-drawing team by far.
“The fan support has been great,” Dave Campanaro, the team’s media-relations manager, told me. “It’s a result of baseball returning to Brooklyn in a big way, reminding everybody of the history and the passion for baseball here.”
Amidst all of this hoopla, it would be easy to overlook the quality of the team’s home park. Well, BASEBALLPARKS.COM™ isn’t about to let that happen!
That’s why we’ve named Brooklyn’s KeySpan Park the Best New Minor League Park for 2001. The plaque shown to the right was given to Jeff Wilpon, the team’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.
Each year, the award goes to the new Minor League stadium with the best combination of attractive site selection, superior design and fan amenities. Therefore, the honor recognizes not only the governmental entities and team responsible for the new park, it also honors the architectural firm. In this case, Jack L. Gordon Architects, P.C. AIA deserves the credit for designing a thoroughly entertaining ballpark.
Let’s look at each of the three selection criteria:
New York City wanted to make a big investment in the decaying Coney Island area at the southern edge of Brooklyn. One aspect of the master plan was to build a top-flight baseball park . . . and the spot selected couldn’t have been better. Nestled between Surf Avenue and the beach, the location provides fans with an extremely interesting view.
One block to the east of the site is the Astroland Amusement Park, which includes a famous roller coaster called The Cyclone (shown here from Surf Avenue about a block from the park) — hence the team’s nickname. Fans at the games can watch the colorful rides just beyond the left-field fence.
Another interesting aspect of the view is the urban scene you see behind the third-base stands. Here you can see the high-rises and an elevated train (which the locals still call a “subway” even though it is above ground in this area), reminiscent of Yankee Stadium.
Beyond the center- and right-field fences of the park is the Atlantic Ocean. This scene includes the beach and boardwalk and a pier that appears to be an extension of the first-base foul line.
And perhaps the most-photographed element of the park’s view is the massive Parachute Jump ride, which towers over the ballpark in foul territory beyond right field. This amusement-park ride hasn’t been used for years, but it was spruced up just because it is so visible from the stadium. A very nice touch, indeed!
Without a doubt, the location of KeySpan’s park couldn’t have provided a nicer, more interesting view.
And if the design of the $35-million ballpark hadn’t taken advantage of its surroundings, then it would have been just another stadium with an interesting view. Instead, the architects at Jack L. Gordon did a superlative job in integrating the amusement-park theme throughout the facility.
One of the first aspects of this that one notices upon entering the stadium is the colorful neon rings around each of the light clusters at the tops of the light towers. Each is a different color, and it adds a wonderful, festive feeling to the park.
The canopies at the rear of the first-base and third-base seats are another great touch. They are a perfect blending of an amusement-park look — they are bright yellow and blue — and a baseball look, as they are shaped like the overhangs behind the pavilion seats at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium.
The multi-colored fluorescent lights that illuminate the main concourse behind home plate (see below) also add to the fun, as does the artwork of a roller coaster on top of the scoreboard.
As if looking at all of the fun design elements weren’t enough, KeySpan Park also features some great conveniences for the fans. One is the so-called “open concourse” that is so prevalent at new Major and Minor League stadiums. This allows fans to keep an eye on the action as they walk to the concession stands or bathroom.
And speaking of the concession stands, they are well spaced and have an adequate variety of refreshments.
Perhaps the most noteworthy amenity is the way the souvenir shop is configured. The team wanted to have a store that could be accessed easily from the outside of the stadium when there was no game going on. But they also wanted to avoid making it difficult for the fans attending the games to spend their hard-earned dollars on merchandise. Since the concourse for the seating bowl is one story above street level, they made a two-level store, with the levels connected by stairs. And considering the amount of merchandise the team moved during the 2001 season, all of that square footage made an awful lot of sense!
It is truly heartwarming to see baseball’s return to Brooklyn be such a success story . . . and the team’s outstanding ballpark is definitely part of that story!
If we were to award a “second-place” prize, in case you were wondering, it would probably go to the Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George (try saying that mouthful really fast three times!), the beautiful new home of the Staten Island Yankees. By the way, Memphis’ AutoZone Park won BASEBALLPARKS.COM’s 2000 award.