This year, we have two new ballparks in the world of Major and Minor League baseball, both of which have been highly controversial. First, we have the Atlanta Braves leaving a facility barely 20 years old as they move into a ballpark that was built with lots of public money in some shady dealings. The new place, SunTrust Park, is one of the rare MLB stadiums to be placed in the suburbs. Despite the perceived open space of leaving downtown, parking is problematic and some fans have to walk over a highway bridge (another controversy) to get to the park. Ballpark Digest has a terrific preview of everything SunTrust Park that I suggest checking out. Next, we have the soap opera in Hartford, which finally looks to have come to a conclusion. After the new Yard Goats spent all of 2016 on the road, the city vs construction company fiasco was figured out enough to let another company finish the job and the team opened Dunkin’ Donuts Park last week. It may become a great ballpark, but for a city and state drowning in financial problems, it may be tough for citizens to let go how much money was spent here. I know I sound Debbie Downer despite my love of stadiums and fan culture, but the background of these two new ballparks is hard to ignore.
Elsewhere, this offseason saw a two-team franchise shift between the California and Carolina Leagues. Both Cali teams had ballpark issues as Bakersfield was not up to MILB standards while High Desert had rent squabbles with the city of Adelanto. Both of those stadiums will still house baseball though as they have teams in the independent Pecos League this Summer. The Carolina League picks up the loss of the Cali teams as Pro baseball returns to Kinston as the newly-named Down East Wood Ducks play in Grainger Stadium. The other team will temporarily play for a few years on the campus of Campbell University in Buies Creek until a new ballpark is completed in nearby Fayetteville. In the Florida League, the Washington Nationals moved their Spring Training to a new ballpark in West Palm Beach and that was enough to facilitate a move of the Brevard County Single-A team from Viera to Kissimmee. It’s “Back to the Future, Part II” as Osceola County Stadium is back with the Florida Fire Frogs. It’s been a very strange offseason as you almost never see a ballpark that lost minor-league ball get a team back and it happened twice this year.