It’s always a sad situation when a city loses a Minor League Baseball (MiLB) team. El Paso saw its beloved Diablos move away following the 2004 season. When the City realised that it would take a new ballpark to lure an affiliated Minor League franchise back to that market, they constructed one of the great facilities in the sport.
The sadness of 2004 has given way to rejoicing as the Pacific Coast League’s El Paso Chihuahuas now play in the City’s new ballpark. No doubt the rejoicing will turn to euphoria with the announcement that the El Paso Chihuahuas’ Southwest University Park has been named as BaseballParks.com ‘Ballpark of the Year’ for 2014.
The announcement of the award was made in the pages of the August 6th edition of USA Today Sports Weekly. Joe Mock, frequent contributor to USA Today publications, wrote the article that announced that El Paso’s park is the winner of this year’s honour. Mock is also the President of Grand Slam Enterprises, which owns and operates the BaseballParks.com website.
The honour is given annually to the new or remodelled baseball stadium with the best combination of aesthetics, architectural design, attractive site selection and fan amenities. The plaque representing the award will be presented by Mock at the Chihuahuas’ home game on August 28. This marks the 15th straight year that BaseballParks.com has presented such an award.
Mock noted about last year’s winner, Regions Field, home of the Birmingham Baron:
Prior to this year, the fans and media in Birmingham exhibited the greatest response to their park winning the award. This year, though, the level of excitement over my in-depth review by fans in the El Paso area has even topped what I saw last year. When they learn that their park has won this national honor, I expect the interest to be off the charts.
Josh Hunt, Managing Partner of MountainStar Sports Group, which owns and operates the Chihuahuas, was thrilled with the news. He said:
This is truly an honour for us, as well as for the entire community of El Paso. I believe our City can be very proud that the El Paso Chihuahuas play in a venue that is recognised as being the best new ballpark in the country. From the outset, ownership’s objective was to build a first-class facility.
The unique design was a key factor, as well. The project team started with a small, tight amount of land in the heart of our city and turned it into a ballpark with distinct ‘neighbourhoods’ that make up the total venue. And to top it off, we have incredibly supportive fans that create the best environment in Minor League Baseball. Populous, the construction team and consultants, and the City of El Paso should be very proud of this honour. It’s really very special.
El Paso’s Project Engineer for the Ballpark, Alan Shubert, was equally happy when informed about the award. He commented:
This is fantastic news. Everyone involved in this worked diligently to have the very highest quality qallpark, and it’s nice to know that this quality is being recognised with this award. Beyond that, El Paso deserves the best. It’s a great town and it deserves this honour. I hope this Ballpark is the first of more great venues to come for the City.
Pat O’Conner, the President and CEO of Minor League Baseball, released a statement that said, in part:
We commend the Chihuahuas organisation, MountainStar Sports Group and the city of El Paso for their dedication to creating a first-class environment for their players and fans.
Since 2000, Minor League Baseball has built an impressive 58 new ballparks and Southwest University Park is yet another shining example of the immense popularity, growth and stability of Minor League Baseball in the sports landscape. Many of our stadiums feature the same amenities as Major League Baseball stadiums, and allow players to hone their skills from the early stages of their professional careers in our state-of-the-art facilities.
We commend the Chihuahuas organisation, MountainStar Sports Group and the city of El Paso for their dedication to creating a first-class environment for their players and fans. It is an honour for an MiLB stadium to be recognised as Baseballparks.com’s Ballpark of the Year for 2014.
Nationally known architecture firm Populous was behind the design of the Ballpark. Their job was particularly challenging because of the small size of the chosen site.
Mike Sabatini, Principal at Populous and designer of Southwest University Park, said:
The ballpark is situated on one of the tightest sites in Minor League Baseball but the constraints of the site became opportunities for us. This allowed us to create a unique, asymmetrical ballpark that is authentically El Paso. As an architect, there is nothing more gratifying than seeing a community enjoy and appreciate a ballpark and its design, which is exactly what has happened in El Paso. Here at Populous, we share in the pride El Pasoans feel in their new park, and in winning this award.
Populous is no stranger to this honour; this marking the eighth time one of their ballparks has won, including PNC Park in 2001, Petco Park in 2004 and Pensacola Bayfront Stadium in 2012.
David Bower, Principal at Populous said:
Our design philosophy is rooted in creating incredible experiences and designing solutions that are authentic to the place, capturing the best attributes of a community, a city and a region through design. In El Paso, we are incredibly proud of the way this philosophy manifested itself – we captured the city’s prominent architectural style, from the classic brick to the influence of public art – on a site that allows for complete connectivity to the city and has become a spot for baseball to thrive in El Paso for decades to come.
The other finalists for the 2014 award were Cubs Park, the new home of Cubs spring training in Mesa, Arizona; and BB&T BallPark in Charlotte, North Carolina. Charlotte, like El Paso, has a Triple-A franchise.
This year’s new parks are all outstanding. In particular, the Charlotte Knights’ new facility is gorgeous and offers fans one of the very best views in the sport. In the end, though, the setting, exterior and miraculous design job by Populous carried the day for Southwest University Park. The fact that such an exemplary ballpark could be built on a site of less than six acres is astonishing.