SBJ/March 26-April 1, 2012/Facilities

Twins looking forward to putting ballpark back ahead of the pack



When the Minnesota Twins christened Hammond Stadium, their spring training park in Fort Myers, Fla., in 1991, other teams began to use it as a model to develop their preseason facilities.

Twenty-one years later, the Twins are playing catch-up with their big league brothers in a dated building with narrow concourses, no computerized point-of-sale system, a tiny team store and the lack of an outfield plaza, a popular feature at newer Grapefruit League ballparks.

To upgrade Hammond Stadium to meet the standards set by other Florida spring training parks, Lee County hired Populous to complete a master plan for the ballpark and the practice fields at the Lee County Sports Complex.

The study should be completed in the next few months. Pending financing at the county level, the Twins could see some improvements to the park over the next two years, said team President Dave St. Peter. The ballpark also is
Hammond Stadium was a model to others; now the 21-year-old is due for improvements.
Photos by: DON MURET / STAFF (2)
home to the Fort Myers Miracle, a Twins farm team.

The Twins’ wish list includes a bigger focus on retail to expand the team’s brand, a walkway around the 7,500-seat ballpark and a restaurant. The facility also needs a point-of-sale system; without one, buying food and drink is a cash-only proposition.

The Twins play to mostly sellout crowds and there is demand to build 1,000 to 2,000 more seats, St. Peter said. In addition, Twins fans have asked the club to provide more shaded spaces, a premium amenity in Florida.

Twins officials have seen JetBlue Park, the Boston Red Sox’s new facility down the road in Fort Myers, and have spent a lot of time looking at Bright House Field in Clearwater, spring home of the Philadelphia Phillies.

They have also toured Salt River Fields at Talking Stick and Camelback Ranch, the two newest Cactus League facilities in Arizona.

“There are bits and pieces out of all of those that we would like to incorporate here,” St. Peter said. Player development “used to be the driver of spring training, and now I think revenue tends to be the driver. Our goal is to have a very balanced approach.”

The $40 million renovation of Ed Smith Stadium and its baseball complex in Sarasota, spring home of the Baltimore Orioles, is the project most similar to what the Twins are pursuing, St. Peter said. Ed Smith opened in 1989, two years before Hammond Stadium opened its doors.

The Twins paid close attention to how well the Orioles wove their brand into the ballpark, which they moved into two years ago after the Cincinnati Reds relocated to Arizona. “There are some lessons to be learned there,” St. Peter said.

“I think Lee County Sports Complex, in and of itself, is at a little bit better level than where [Ed Smith Stadium] was at when they started, so I would like to think we can take it one step beyond that.”

Populous designed JetBlue Park, and ultimately the Twins would like to see Hammond Stadium renovated to a standard approaching what the Red Sox did with their new building, St. Peter said, keeping in mind cultural differences between the two teams.

“Our fans don’t want a mini-Fenway. They want a place that is uniquely Minnesota and that celebrates the history and tradition of the Twins,” St. Peter said.

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