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By Joe Mock, Ballpark Guru at BaseballGuru

Even though no new Major League stadiums will be opening in 2002 (now that the Padres' new home is so hopelessly behind schedule that it probably won't open until 2004), that doesn't mean that there's no news on the stadium-construction front this year. In fact, one would have to characterize the ballpark-building-boom in the Minors as being overwhelming! Here's a rundown:

Class AAA

Two cities will be opening new facilities for their Triple-A teams in 2002. The Fresno Grizzlies of the Pacific Coast League will be moving into a new multi-purpose facility, if not by opening day, then soon thereafter. Stadium-achitect heavyweights HOK designed the stadium to accommodate football, soccer and concerts, as well as the National Pastime. And perhaps the most storied franchise of the International League, the Toledo Mudhens, will be moving out of Ned Skeldon Stadium and into a new downtown facility, which is shown in the photo. Ned Skeldon, which is in the western suburb of Maumee, was originally a race track that was retrofitted for baseball. By the way, according to the mammoth book Minor League Baseball Standings, the first year a pro baseball team in Toldeo was called the "Mud Hens" was in 1897 in the old Interstate League. Almost continuously since then, Toledo's team has carried this nickname.

Class AA

One AA franchise will move into a new ballpark this year. That team is the Midland RockHounds, members of the Texas League off and on since 1902. The new park will be part of the sprawling Scharbauer Sports Complex, which will also include a football stadium for Midland's nationally renown high-school teams. The new baseball facility is making its debut with an exhibition game between the RockHounds and their major-league "parent" (the A's) on March 27th.

Class A

You almost need a program to keep track of all of the new ballparks in A ball!

Little Aberdeen, Maryland is the home not only of Cal Ripken, but also a new stadium (see the photo, which I took last year) and a new team in the short-season New York-Penn League. Yep, the owner of the franchise is the entity known as "Ripken Baseball" and the team will be an Orioles farm club. Veterans Memorial Stadium had been the home of pro-baseball in Cedar Rapids, Iowa for 52 years, but a brand-new stadium has been built on what was the outfield of the old park. The Kernels of the Midwest League will be the tenants. And while the Lynchburg Hillcats of the Carolina League aren't getting a brand-new facility, rickety Merritt Hutchinson Stadium (for years called City Stadium) has gotten a much-needed face lift during the offseason. The Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League will have a new ballpark this season, but it won't be ready by opening day. The team is hoping that new O'Brien Field will be completed by late May. The Pittsfield Astros of the New York-Penn League are becoming the Tri-City ValleyCats (ugh! what a name!) for 2002, and they will be moving into a sparkling new facility on the campus of Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, New York.

Rookie Leagues

The Pioneer League will probably see two new parks make their debuts in 2002. The Casper Rockies will finally get to play in Mike Lansing Field, which is situated along a lovely stretch of Wyoming's North Platte River, after a year of disappointments and construction delays in 2001. And the Missoula Osprey may or may not get to play in new Missoula Civic Stadium this year. The Montana team knows that construction won't be done by opening day in June, but they aren't sure whether they will be able to move into the new park before the end of the season or not.


And it looks like the following minor-league cities will open new baseball parks in 2003: Albuquerque, New Mexico (Pacific Coast League); Rome, Georgia (South Atlantic League); Frisco, Texas (Texas League) and Eastlake, Ohio (South Atlantic League -- and don't get me started about how exactly the northern tip of Ohio can be considered "south" or "Atlantic"). It's possible -- but not really likely at this point -- that these cities could also have new ballparks: Greenville, South Carolina; Reno, Nevada and Jacksonville, FL. In the case of these three cities, new parks probably will be constructed, but it's unknown if they will be done by 2003.

Right now, it looks like Cincinnati will be the only Major League city with a new stadium in 2003, as the Great America Ballpark is due to open next door to Cinergy Field on Opening Day of next season.

Whew! It's not easy keeping up with all of these changes. For the latest, you can always check out the Ballpark Changes area of my site BASEBALLPARKS.COM!

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