And now, our ballpark feature presentation
What makes a Minor League ballpark unique? The food? The fans? The view? The answer to that query is, of course, all of the above. But perhaps above all, what makes a Minor League park unique are its stand-alone features, those architectural quirks, creative constructions and down-the-line additions that simply
What makes a Minor League ballpark unique? The food? The fans? The view? The answer to that query is, of course, all of the above. But perhaps above all, what makes a Minor League park unique are its stand-alone features, those architectural quirks, creative constructions and down-the-line additions that simply can't be found anywhere else. Over the past decade, this writer has visited every Minor League park and seen all there is to offer. What follows are 11 ballpark features that, for a wide variety of reasons, really stood out.
Albuquerque Isotopes -- "Simpsons" statues on the concourse (Rio Grande Credit Union Field at Isotopes Park)
The Albuquerque Isotopes' name is partly an homage to the city's longstanding connection to the field of nuclear science. But it's also, of course, a reference to "The Simpsons." In a 2001 episode of the series, Homer launches a crusade to keep his beloved Springfield Isotopes from moving to Albuquerque. At Rio Grande Credit Union Field, statues of Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa (sorry, no Maggie) can be found across the concourse of Colorado's Triple-A affiliate's ballpark. These statues were procured during the 2009-10 offseason by Isotopes general manager John Traub, who spotted them on the premises of a kitschy Los Angeles furniture store.
Daytona Tortugas -- Jackie Robinson Ballpark and Museum
Daytona's venerable Minor League ballpark was renamed in honor of Jackie Robinson in 1990 in recognition of the fact that Robinson and his Brooklyn organization teammates played there during 1946 Spring Training. The outer concourse of the Class A Advanced Cincinnati affiliate's ballpark now includes a Jackie Robinson Museum, which offers photos and information related to Jackie's historic time in Daytona. The museum also includes such interactive elements as a long-jump sand pit. Can you jump as far as Robinson did during his illustrious track and field days? (Answer: no).
Durham Bulls -- Hit Bull, Win Steak (Durham Bulls Athletic Park)
The Triple-A Durham Bulls' iconic "Hit Bull Win Steak" outfield sign was a case of real life being inspired by Hollywood. The sign was the invention of Ron Shelton, Minor League Baseball player-turned-writer and director of "Bull Durham." The original "Hit Bull Win Steak" sign was a movie prop, installed in right field at the Bulls' then-home of Durham Athletic Park. It's been an integral part of the Bulls' gameday experience ever since. The current "Hit Bull Win Steak" sign, located in left field at the Triple-A Tampa Bay affiliate's current home of Durham Bulls Athletic Park, was installed in 1998. It is the sign's third iteration. To get rid of it now would be a big missed steak.
Fort Wayne TinCaps -- Tuthill 400 Club/Summit Club (Parkview Field)
The TinCaps' Tuthill 400 Club, a group seating area located 400 feet from home plate, gives fans the opportunity to watch a game from behind the center-field batter's eye. This unique location was made possible via the installation of a 75-foot wall of shaded windows built directly atop the outfield wall. Three years later, the Class A San Diego affiliate unveiled The Summit. Located directly above the Tuthill 400 Club, the Summit is an outdoor group area that provides yet another unforgettable center-field vantage point.
Frisco RoughRiders -- Choctaw Lazy River (Dr Pepper Ballpark)
The most unique and memorable group area in all of Minor League Baseball is the RoughRiders' Choctaw Lazy River. Situated beyond right field at the Texas Double-A affiliate's Dr Pepper Ballpark, the 3,000-square-foot figure-eight-shaped Lazy River gives swimmers and tubers the opportunity to watch the game in the water. This truly one-of-a-kind attraction opened during the 2016 season, with Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki taking the inaugural ride.
Harrisburg Senators -- Life-Size Bobblehead Hall of Fame (FNB Field)
Many Minor League teams have a ballpark-based Hall of Fame. But only the Harrisburg Senators honor inductees by installing a giant head-nodding figurine on the concourse. The Double-A Washington affiliate's Life Size Bobblehead Hall of Fame was established in 2016, with Vlad Guerrero as the first inductee. He was followed by Cliff Floyd, Matt Stairs, Bryce Harper, Matt Stairs, Brandon Phillips, Stephen Strasburg and Jamey Carroll. Ryan Zimmerman was scheduled to be honored in 2020. His Life Size Bobblehead presumably will appear in 2021.
Lakewood BlueClaws -- Miniature Golf Course (FirstEnergy Park)
The BlueClaws are a Jersey Shore-based team, and in recent years, the Class A Philadelphia affiliate has added a variety of boardwalk-style food and amusements. This includes a nine-hole miniature golf course that opened in 2018. The circuit features a beachy, aquatic motif, and all of its holes are named after notable BlueClaws alumni. Among those thusly commemorated are Ryan Howard, Rhys Hoskins, Carlos Ruiz and Cole Hamels.
Nashville Sounds -- Guitar Scoreboard (First Horizon Park)
The Nashville Sounds pay homage to the city's status as the capital of country music. The Triple-A Texas affiliate's previous home of Greer Stadium featured a guitar scoreboard. This iconic oversized instrument inspired the Sounds to install a new one at their current home of First Horizon Park, which opened in 2015. This scoreboard features a massive digital display on the guitar's body, equivalent to 360 32-inch televisions. The ballgame's inning-by-inning line score, meanwhile, is displayed on its neck.
Quad Cities River Bandits -- Concourse Ferris Wheel (Modern Woodmen Park)
Modern Woodmen Park, the longtime home of the Davenport, Iowa-based Quad Cities River Bandits, features a stunning view of the Mississippi River-spanning Centennial Bridge. The structure is located beyond right field; just beyond left, there's a man-made creation of a different sort. The River Bandits, the Class A Houston affiliate, constructed a ballpark Ferris wheel in 2014. This towering amusement ride, which stands 110 feet tall, offers unparalleled views of the playing field as well as the city that surrounds it.
South Bend Cubs -- Synagogue team store (Four Winds Field at Coveleski Stadium)
As part of a series of ballpark renovations that took place prior to the 2013 season, the South Bend Cubs (then the Silver Hawks) refurbished a former synagogue and made it their new team store. The synagogue, located beyond left field, operated between 1901-91 and had fallen into disrepair. Now known as "The Cubs Den," it's an unlikely majestic location to purchase hats, T-shirts and various other souvenirs from Chicago's Class A affiliate.
Tri-City Dust Devils -- Sunshade (Gesa Stadium)
It rains so rarely in Pasco, Washington, that the hometown Tri-City Dust Devils don't even keep a tarp on the premises. But they do have to deal with a desert climate, resulting in intense heat that often made the third-base side of Gesa Stadium uninhabitable until sunset. The Class A Short-Season San Diego affiliate remedied this situation by constructing what is, in essence, a giant set of window blinds. This hulking steel structure, 56 feet high and approximately 152 feet across, towers above the first-base grandstand. It provides shade to fans (and players) throughout the ballpark, rendering habitable areas that once had been a sun-scorched no-man's land.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.