The Fourth of July is always an important date for Minor League Baseball teams, but this past weekend was extra special. After the cancellation of the 2020 season and a delayed, capacity-restricted start to 2021, this year's festivities represented both a return to normalcy and an opportunity for cathartic celebration.
The Fourth of July is always an important date for Minor League Baseball teams, but this past weekend was extra special. After the cancellation of the 2020 season and a delayed, capacity-restricted start to 2021, this year's festivities represented both a return to normalcy and an opportunity for cathartic celebration. It was a long time coming.
What follows is an overview of Independence Day celebrations at Minor League ballpark celebrations across the country, with front-office employees in a variety of roles talking about what it meant to them and their organizations.
Fresno Grizzlies (Chukchansi Park)
"From fireworks, food trucks and water slides to a walk-off home run on Saturday, 'Fresno’s Reopening Weekend' was a phenomenal experience and one that I will never forget. I am so glad that we were finally able to give our fans the huge Opening Day that we have been envisioning over the past year. All three days felt like the Grizzlies baseball we remember from before the pandemic and we look forward to riding this wave into the second half of the season." --Grizzlies team president Derek Franks
Bowie Baysox (Prince George's Stadium)
The Baysox -- the Double-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles -- were on the road on July 4. In their absence, the team's front office staged a "Star-Spangled Fourth of July" concert and fireworks show at the ballpark.
"We wanted to create an event that would bring our community together to celebrate the holiday. Through music and Fourth of July fireworks, we literally had people dancing in the aisles of Baysox Stadium throughout the night. The feeling of community and togetherness was amazing to experience. Many people commented that this was the first public event they had been to in 18 months." --Phil Wrye, Baysox assistant general manager
Syracuse Mets (NBT Bank Ballpark)
“I love that we are here to help our community come together and heal the wounds of COVID in some small capacity. To have a full park stand and sing our National Anthem together as one before the game was powerful and a memory I will never forget. That is what Minor League Baseball is all about: community and making memories.” --Syracuse Mets general manager Jason Smorol
Albuquerque Isotopes (Rio Grande Credit Union Field at Isotopes Park)
"The State of New Mexico finally eliminated all COVID-related restrictions on July 1, just in time for the huge holiday weekend. This community was bursting at the seams to return en masse to the ballpark, and July 3 and July 4 were unbelievable homecoming parties. More than 23,000 people came out to those two games, including a Minor League-high 13,035 on the Fourth.
And as wonderful as the weekend was from the fans’ point of view, our organization paused to pay tribute to an 18-year employee who embodied everything that was good about the Isotopes. Nick LoBue, our Vice President of Corporate Development since 2002, passed away at the age of 71 of COVID complications the day after Thanksgiving. Our organization is still reeling and feeling the impact of losing him. The Fourth of July was one of his favorite holidays and he loved hosting games on that day. He was also known for his sense of style, commonly wearing 'camp' shirts. So our entire full-time staff wore a specially esigned blue 'camp' shirt that Nick would have loved. The shirt featured a special 'NL' patch on the left sleeve in Nick’s memory." --Isotopes general manager John Traub
Charlotte Knights (Truist Field)
“This July 4 was the largest-attended event held at Truist Field since it opened in 2014. The community celebrated with a 30-minute fireworks extravaganza as the team honored all branches of our military throughout the evening. A spectacular event to celebrate the reopening of our country.” --Dan Rajkowski, Knights chief operating officer
Round Rock Express (Dell Diamond)
"What would 2021 be without a two-hour rain delay on the Fourth of July?! As crummy as that was, it didn’t deter anyone. Not the staff. Not the grounds crew. And the best part, not the fans. We had our biggest crowd of the year -- over 10,000 -- and every single one of them stayed. We got dumped on for well over an hour, and when the rain subsided and the tarp came off, our entire staff worked incredibly hard to make the field playable again as quickly as possible.
"It was hard not to get choked up during the anthem ceremonies. It rivaled Opening Day. We had a revolutionary color guard present the flags. After the anthem, the color guard turned to center field and fired a pair of muskets, which was followed by cheers. It was awesome! The game didn’t start until 8 p.m., and to boot, it was one-sided, almost four hours, and not in our favor. Despite that, virtually the entire crowd was still in their seats for our massive fireworks show that didn’t begin until just before midnight. It was chaotic, yet in a way, it was perfect. I’ll never forget it, that’s for sure!" --Steve Richards, Express director of ballpark entertainment
Fayetteville Woodpeckers (Segra Stadium)
"To see the park completely packed and to see our fans consume record-selling amount of food and drinks was made even more fulfilling considering how hard the industry had been hit the past year or so. Myself, along with so many others in our Food and Beverage fraternity, went nearly a calendar year away from our stadiums. It's amazing how excited our community is to have Woodpeckers baseball back in 2021 and this past weekend was exhibit A." --Austin Punzel, Woodpeckers director of food and beverage
Frisco RoughRiders (Dr Pepper Ballpark)
"We knew that Fourth of July weekend was going to be special, but it eclipsed our expectations. We are fortunate to have a team that is playing well, a fan base starved for entertainment, a staff that goes the extra mile and a ballpark that still shines as it did when it opened in 2003. There's no word other than 'wonderful' to describe the scene after the July 4 game ... so many smiling faces in the outfield grass waiting for the fireworks, it was a true piece of Americana." --Victor Rojas, RoughRiders president and general manager
Richmond Flying Squirrels (The Diamond)
"To see back-to-back sellouts put in perspective how much the Fourth of July means to Flying Squirrels fans and how dearly we missed everything about it. I couldn't help but smile the whole time. Fourth of July games are always special, but Sunday had its own unique feeling. I will always remember it." --Blaine McCormick, Flying Squirrels communications and broadcasting assistant
Lansing Lugnuts (Jackson Field)
“Like most teams and businesses, we were heavily impacted this past year and had a huge hole to dig out of. It may sound cliché, but each Minor League team ultimately is a community gathering place and we pride ourselves on being a venue that can bring people together. Above all else, people and communities drive our business. Most of us lost that ability this past year, so to have restrictions loosened and the ability to fill stadiums on July 4th weekend was nothing short of amazing. When you look across the country and see all the attendance records and packed stadiums this past weekend, it just brings a smile to your face and it’s something we’ll never take for granted.” --Tyler Parsons, Lugnuts general manager
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.