Joe Mock / Ballparks
The year 2001 saw two new ballparks open in the Majors, and two more introduce significant changes. In the Minors, a true construction boom continues.
NEW BALLPARK RECAP FOR 2001
By Joe Mock
The patience of baseball fans in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee was rewarded in
2001, when PNC Park and Miller Park opened to rave reviews.
Note that no new ballpark wants to be known as a "Stadium" any more. From
1999 through 2001, five MLB teams opened new facilities. Four of the new
facilities had "Park" in their names, while the other two were known as "Fields."
And even though Milwaukee's and Pittsburgh's new revenue-generating machines are both called "Parks," the two couldn't be more dissimilar. PNC Park, the Pirates' new home, was built with only two seating decks - the first new Major League stadium in half a century with fewer than three decks - making it sleek and fairly low to the ground. PNC is situated along the north bank of the Allegheny River, a lovely setting. Also, the bustling downtown "Triangle" area is directly across the river, providing PNC with a simply spectacular view, as well as proximity to all of the shopping, hotels and restaurants of a thriving metropolis.
The Brewers' Miller Park, on the other hand, was built in the parking lots of now-demolished County Stadium. Since the old park wasn't near downtown, the new one certainly isn't either - putting it a long way from any nightlife or a scenic skyline. In fact, what the fans inside the stadium get to see when they look out through the glass panels in the outfield lacks any scenic qualities at all.
Milwaukee's new stadium was built with four seating decks, not two like Pittsburgh's . . . but that doesn't begin to tell the story of the height difference of the two. Easily the most distinctive feature of Miller Park is its retractable roof. And it is a massive apparatus, indeed, as the seven panels weigh a combined 12,000 tons! Needless to say, the exterior silhouette of the Majors' two new stadiums couldn't be more different.
In defense of Miller Park, it accomplished some very important goals for the Brewers - in fact, its accomplishments were probably more critical to Milwaukee's team than PNC Park was for the Pirates. First, Miller Park's roof allowed patrons to watch the game in comfort during the chilly weather early in the season. As a matter of fact, when the first pitch was thrown in the park's regular-season debut on April 6, 2001, it was 43 degrees outside. With the roof panels closed, the fans on the inside were quite comfortable.
=20 Second, the new stadium prompted an attendance boom. In fact, the Brewers' enjoyed the largest one-year jump in attendance in the history of Major League Baseball, as 78% more fans bought tickets in Miller Park's first year than in County Stadium's last year.
Third, spurred largely (but not entirely) by the bump in ticket purchases, the team's revenues surged upward - which had the unintended consequence of making it more difficult for the sport's esteemed (yeah, right) commissioner to try to convince Congress and everyone else that all of the teams are going broke.
And the winner is ...
In comparing PNC Park and Miller Park as baseball facilities (and not revenue generators), though, I easily gave the nod to the Pirates' new home. That's why PNC Park was awarded with the Best New Major League Park plaque by my BASEBALLPARKS.COM Web site for 2001.
Everyone keeps telling the White Sox that their stadium, only a decade old, doesn't come close to measuring up to the other new facilities in the Majors. Well, the team spent $8 million on renovations to New Comiskey Park prior to the 2001 season, including adding additional bleachers, reducing the distance down the foul lines and shortening the outfield wall.
The changes in Cincinnati were far more noticeable, though. Because the Reds' new ballpark, set to open in 2003, was going to be located so close to the outfield of the current stadium, the city tore down much of the outfield structure to make way for the construction of the new facility - making Cinergy Field into something that resembles Shea Stadium. For the first time ever, Reds fans can actually see the Ohio River while watching a baseball game, which is why the stadium was named Riverfront in the first place when it first opened back in 1970. And the Astroturf that had helped make the place look so modern back then was replaced with honest-to-goodness Kentucky blue grass for 2001.
No fewer than five new ballparks opened in the affiliated Minors in 2001,
and two other teams moved into heavily renovated facilities.
To me, the nicest of the six brand-new parks was KeySpan Park, the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones of the NY-Penn League. It has a lot going for it: its location along the boardwalk in the Coney Island section of town; its proximity to a colorful amusement park a block away; its own amusement-park theme in its design and its superior lighting touches. That's why it was awarded BASEBALLPARKS.COM's Best New Minor League Park for 2001.
In my mind, a close second was Staten Island's new facility. The name of the ballpark is a mouthful: Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George. While HOK's architectural design is certainly both very professional and impressive, it's the view that had everyone talking. Situated right on the water on the northern edge of Staten Island, fans could gaze across the harbor at the Statue of Liberty, lower Manhattan and Brooklyn - all the while watching the Staten Island Ferry chug into and out of its station a block from the park.
Both Lakewood, New Jersey and Lexington, Kentucky made their debuts in the South Atlantic League in 2001 in brand-new ballparks - although a cursory glance at a map tells you that neither city is in the South Atlantic part of the U.S.! As seems to be the trend, both stadiums carry corporate-sponsorship names: GPU Energy Park in Lakewood and Applebee's Park in Lexington. Both are very modern structures with lots of the amenities that fans enjoy.
Two teams in the Rookie-level Pioneer League were supposed to make their debuts in new cities in brand-new stadiums in 2001 - but only one did. That team was the Angels of Provo, Utah, who played in the newly constructed Miller Park on the campus of Brigham Young University. Unlike in Milwaukee, the "Miller" being referenced here is not a pilsner, but instead is an individual who donated a lot of money to the university. This ballpark, right at the foot of a huge mountain, is gorgeous. The team that was supposed to play in a new park, but didn't, was the Casper, Wyoming Rockies. Construction delays kept pushing back the opening of new Mike Lansing Field, until time - and the season - ran out. They will open in their new park in 2002.
Not new, but almost
The Albuquerque Dukes, long-time members of the AAA Pacific Coast League, moved out of New Mexico and into Oregon in 2001. The city of Portland poured $37 million worth of renovations into 75-year-old Civic Stadium for the team. The facility had to take on a corporate name, of course, and is now known as PGE Park.
And Wilmington, North Carolina welcomed pro baseball back to town in 2001. The Waves of the South Atlantic League (and Wilmington really is located in the South Atlantic region!) played on the campus of UNC-Wilmington at Brooks Field, spruced up to accommodate the new pro team. This college field is just a temporary stop until the team and city can get together on constructing a new park, probably in or near downtown.