Thoughts on Renovating Historic Minor League Ballparks

By Ken Collum – Last Word On Baseball

Over the years, many people have weighed in on a very hot, if at times controversial, topic: do we or do we not renovate minor league ballparks? The topic really takes off when the park in question is a historic one, such as Sam Lynn Ballpark in Bakersfield, CA, or McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, RI. The circumstances surrounding the decision of whether or not to restore a stadium are numerous, but major factors include age, current condition, cost, and what needs to be redone.

Renovating Historic Minor League Ballparks

Let’s look at a prime example – Sam Lynn Ballpark. The stadium was built as one of the first parks to open in the California League in 1941. After 75 nearly-consecutive seasons of MiLB-affiliated baseball, the Bakersfield Blaze were extinguished when the Visalia Rawhide (Arizona Diamondback’s Class A-Advanced team) swept them under the rug in the second round of the Cal League Playoffs. It was announced that they, along with the High Desert Mavericks, would be contracted to the Carolina League for the forseeable future. Sam Lynn’s condition played a huge factor in that decision. Because the stadium had never been properly renovated or updated, and it lacked many modern amenities Major League teams want in an affiliate, they lost their franchise.

Let’s flip the coin to a different situation. Grainger Stadium in Kinston, NC, was built a few years after Sam Lynn, in 1946. It last held an MiLB team in 2011, when the Kinston Indians were moved to Zebulon, NC, and became the Carolina Mudcats (who had just lost that team to the Double-A Southern League when the first Mudcats became the Pensacola Blue Wahoos). They were recently granted a new franchise in the form of the Down East Wood Ducks, who will play at the same ballpark. Unlike Sam Lynn, Grainger Stadium has had multiple expansions, renovations, upgrades, and additions to make it an “up-to-date” minor league park.

In the case of McCoy Stadium, home to the Triple-A International League Pawtucket Red Sox, a recent feasibility study was released which stated that McCoy could not serve as a long-term ballpark in the minors, even if extensive repairs were done. The team is looking at buying a new piece of land in the downtown district to build a new stadium, but that’s a few years down the road. Until then, McCoy will be patched up as needed to keep the place in check.

So, what does this amount to? It’s really in the eye of who you ask as to whether a stadium can be saved or not. In the case of Bakersfield, Sam Lynn will continue on as an independent pro baseball park because it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. In Eugene, OR, another one will come down. Civic Stadium, which had last hosted the Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League, was built in the era of the Works Public Administration boom. Sadly, due to an intentional fire set to the main grandstand (which consisted of mainly wood and steel from the original building materials), the ballpark was burned beyond repair and will be demolished. The debate will go on, but its a worthwhile effort to spend some money to bring an old ballpark back to life, as opposed to spending huge chunks of cash to build a new one.

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