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Batting Around: New ballparks for a new era

Abundance of 2021 openings includes Worcester and Beloit
Worcester's Polar Park and Beloit's ABC Supply Stadium are expected to be open for Minor League Baseball games in 2021.
February 11, 2021

Welcome to Batting Around, a long-running compendium of Minor League ballpark news. It's been a while. The previous edition of this column, featuring a roundup of ballparks that had been renamed during the 2019-20 offseason, appeared on this site 364 days ago. The facilities featured in that column have yet

Welcome to Batting Around, a long-running compendium of Minor League ballpark news. It's been a while.

The previous edition of this column, featuring a roundup of ballparks that had been renamed during the 2019-20 offseason, appeared on this site 364 days ago. The facilities featured in that column have yet to host a game since being rechristened, as no Minor League Baseball was played anywhere in 2020. Of course, you already knew this.

The specifics regarding the 2021 campaign are yet to be determined, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The restructuring of the Minor League Baseball landscape is nearly complete, and the ongoing nationwide vaccination campaign has inspired optimism that spending a summer's evening at the ballpark once again will be a possibility this year. With that in mind, what follows is a look at recent (and perhaps not-so-recent) ballpark news designed to get you up to speed for 2021 and beyond. Expect much more coverage on these ballparks -- and the teams that call them home -- in the weeks and months to come.

While the overall number of Minor League Baseball teams has been reduced from 160 to 120, this season will nonetheless introduce a prodigious tally of new ballparks. Nine teams are expected to operate out of venues that have never before hosted a Minor League game, and these stadia can be divided into three categories.

2020 holdovers

Four ballparks slated to open last year will debut in 2021.

Toyota Field (Madison, Alabama) -- Toyota Field will host the Rocket City Trash Pandas, who relocated from Mobile, Alabama, following the 2020 season. To say that the Trash Pandas have waited a long time to make their debut would be an understatement, as the team's name and logos were unveiled in October 2018. At that point, the Double-A franchise was preparing for a final season as the Mobile BayBears.

Yet-to-be-named Fredericksburg ballpark (Fredericksburg, Virginia) -- This facility will serve as home of the Fredericksburg Nationals, who relocated from Woodbridge, Virginia, following the 2019 season. The team previously existed as the Potomac Nationals, Washington's Class A Advanced affiliate in the Carolina League.

Riverfront Stadium (Wichita, Kansas) -- Following the 2019 season, the New Orleans Baby Cakes relocated to Wichita and rebranded as the Wind Surge. This breezy entity is set to play at Riverfront Stadium, a brand-new ballpark built at the same location as the city's previous Minor League facility, Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. Had the 2020 season happened, the Wind Surge would have competed as the Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins. In 2021 and beyond, however, the team will play in the Texas League as the Double-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. Wichita's previous Minor League Baseball entity, the Wranglers, played in the Texas League from 1987 through 2007.

Atrium Health Ballpark (Kannapolis, North Carolina) -- Unlike the other ballparks that were slated to open in 2020, this one did not involve a relocation from one city to another. Kannapolis' team previously played at Intimidators Stadium, a reference to Kannapolis native Dale Earnhardt Sr., that also was the name of the team. The Chicago White Sox affiliate rebranded as the Cannon Ballers in conjunction with their October 2019 move to a new downtown facility.

Fresh for 2021

The four ballparks listed above will be joined by a pair of still-under-construction facilities scheduled to host Minor League Baseball in 2021.

Polar Park (Worcester, Massachusetts) -- The relocation of the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox to Worcester was the culmination of a long saga, one that began when an ownership group headed by then-Boston Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino bought the franchise with plans to move to nearby Providence in early 2015. Those plans fell through, but regional relocation efforts continued until an agreement was struck with the central Massachusetts city of Worcester. Polar Park, designed by renowned stadium architect Janet Marie Smith, will host the Worcester Red Sox (colloquially known as the WooSox) in 2021 and beyond. Construction is largely complete and the stadium is expected to be ready before the season starts. A 35-year lease agreement was authorized last month, featuring myriad financial adjustments related in part to cost overruns associated with construction delays caused by COVID-19.

The team's planned final season at its longtime home of McCoy Stadium was canceled, but the PawSox staged a variety of initiatives at the ballpark and in the community, culminating in a 33-hour Grand Finale goodbye. This was followed by a "Ballyard Sale" of memorabilia and equipment.

ABC Supply Stadium (Beloit, Wisconsin) -- The Beloit Snappers are slated to open the 2021 season at Pohlman Stadium, their home since 1982. But at some point during the campaign, this longtime Midwest League entity (recently named an affiliate of the Marlins) will transition to a new stadium in downtown Beloit. Construction of this privately funded facility was spearheaded by team owner Quint Studer (a native of Janesville, Wisconsin who also owns the Pensacola Blue Wahoos). The ballpark is located alongside the Rock River, a proverbial stone's throw from the Wisconsin/Illinois border.

In conjunction with the move, the team will change its name. The five finalists are Cheeseballs, Moo, Polka Pike, Sky Carp and Supper Clubbers.

New to the scene

As part of the ongoing reorganization of the Minor Leagues, three ballparks that previously hosted independent teams are expected to join the affiliated ranks.

TD Bank Ballpark (Bridgewater, New Jersey) -- TD Bank Ballpark, located in Somerset County, opened in 2009 as the home of the Atlantic League's Somerset Patriots. The team is slated to become the Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees, who are located some 60 miles to the northeast. In preparation for this transition, the Patriots have committed to a host of ballpark improvements largely geared toward enhancing player development.

Constellation Field (Sugar Land, Texas) -- The Sugar Land Skeeters also were formerly members of the Atlantic League. The Houston Astros purchased the Skeeters in the fall, and they're in line to become Houston's Triple-A affiliate. Constellation Field, which opened in 2012, is located 23 miles southwest of Minute Maid Park.

CHS Field (St. Paul, Minnesota) -- The Twin Cities are both Twins cities, as the St. Paul Saints have signed a Player Development License to become Minnesota's Triple-A affiliate. The Saints, formerly of the American Association, have played in CHS Field since 2015. This facility is less than 11 miles away from the Twins' Target Field, accessible via light rail on the Metro Green Line.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.