Four new Minor League ballparks are opening in 2020, the most in a single season since 2009. But for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.The arrival of four new facilities means there are four ballparks that are no longer part of the Minor League landscape. This article,
Four new Minor League ballparks are opening in 2020, the most in a single season since 2009. But for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
The arrival of four new facilities means there are four ballparks that are no longer part of the Minor League landscape. This article, an exploration and appreciation of this newly defunct quartet, continues a tradition that began on the now-defunct Ben's Biz Blog. The lesson here is that everything goes away eventually, so it's important to enjoy it while you can. After that, all that's left are the memories.
Over the past decade, I have visited 20 now-bygone Minor League parks, including the four facilities chronicled below. What former Minor League ballparks have you visited and what are your memories of them? Feel free to get in touch via email or join the conversation on Twitter.
Kannapolis, North Carolina
Opened in 1995 (as Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium)
Home of the Piedmont Phillies (1995), Piedmont Boll Weevils (1996-2000) and Kannapolis Intimidators (2001-19)
Intimidators Stadium, which opened in 1995 as Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium, hosted South Atlantic League baseball for 25 seasons. For the first six of those seasons, the park was home to a Philadelphia affiliate, continuing a relationship for the franchise that began in its previous location of Spartanburg, South Carolina. A new era kicked off in 2001. The White Sox became the parent club, an affiliation that continues to this day. Perhaps more significantly, the team changed its name to the Intimidators in honor of Kannapolis native Dale "The Intimidator" Earnhardt. That name lasted until this offseason, when the Cannon Ballers moniker was unveiled ahead of the team's move to a new downtown ballpark.
I visited Intimidators Stadium in 2014, calling it "charmingly intimate" and praising the "atmosphere of camaraderie and quirkiness that makes it a quintessential Minor League experience." Its location, on Moose Road amid a generally woodsy backdrop, was a far cry from the downtown facility that will replace it. Highlights from my time in Kannapolis included socializing with the Booster Club, Dale's Mater sandwich -- tomato, mayo and pepper on white bread -- and the entertaining antics of superfan Paul "Uh-Huh" Buchanan.
Opened in 1984 (as Davis Ford Park)
Home of the Prince William Pirates (1984-86), Prince William Yankees (1987-88), Prince William Cannons (1989-98), Potomac Cannons (1999-2004), Potomac Nationals (2005-19)
Prior to the 1984 season, the erstwhile Alexandria Dukes moved to Woodbridge, Virginia, and became the Prince William Pirates. This marked the first of 36 consecutive seasons in which "The Pfitz" hosted a Carolina League team, a period involving five different names and six affiliations. The Washington Nationals became the parent club in 2005, the start of an affiliation that will continue in the team's new home of Fredericksburg, Virginia.
The Pfitz was a tough place to play in and operate out of. It had a claustrophobic concourse, cramped clubhouses, predominantly bleacher seating, an almost total lack of shade and an unglamorous and out-of-the-way office park location. Nonetheless, it will be missed. I visited the ballpark for the two final home games in Potomac Nationals history. Diehard fans were in abundance, waxing poetic about a place that strengthened their bonds with friends, family and, of course, the game of baseball itself. "This might be a dump," said P-Nats fan Steve McTeague, "but it's our dump."
Hank Aaron Stadium
Opened in 1997
Home of the Mobile BayBears (1997-2019)
Mobile's ballpark gets points for consistency. Hank Aaron Stadium opened in 1997 as the home of the Southern League's Mobile BayBears and remained such through 2019's farewell BayBears campaign. That squad has relocated to the greater Huntsville area, where it will compete as the Rocket City Trash Pandas. The team, like the BayBears of 2017, '18 and '19, will be an Angels affiliate.
One of Hank Aaron Stadium's most unique features is depicted in the above photo. The suites, typically located at the top level of a ballpark, were instead situated at field level. Even more unique? Prior to the 2010 season, the BayBears relocated the ballpark namesake's childhood home to the grounds of the facility. After extensive renovation, it became the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum. My first-ever professional ballpark visit, in 2010, was to cover the museum's star-studded opening. Things were more sedate when I returned five years later. One of the highlights was getting to meet, and write about, BayBears batboy icon Wade Vadakin. In 2020, Vadakin is taking his batboy talents to Pensacola.
Shrine on Airline
Opened in 1997 (as Zephyr Field)
Home of the New Orleans Zephyrs (1997-2016) and New Orleans Baby Cakes (2017-19)
When the Pacific Coast League's Denver Zephyrs moved to New Orleans prior to the 1997 season, they kept the Zephyrs name. The moniker had been a reference to a Denver train route, but it worked in New Orleans because the city had once had an iconic roller coaster named the Zephyr. The relocated Zephyrs played at aptly named Zephyr Field, which is located in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie. When the Zephyrs changed their name to the Baby Cakes prior to 2017, the ballpark's name had to be changed as well. Shrine on Airline referenced Airline Highway, the road on which it's located. Following the 2019 season, the Baby Cakes relocated to Wichita and became the Wind Surge.
My lone visit to this ballpark came during the penultimate season of the Zephyrs era, in 2015. In addition to standard ballpark fare, the concession stands offered New Orleans specialties including -- but not limited to -- po'boys, alligator sausage, crawfish etouffee and jambalaya. One of the team's players that season was Austin Nola, who enjoyed the rare distinction of having his surname on both the front and back of his jersey.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.