Top 10 Minor League Ballparks
Update: The story has been corrected to reflect that only two of the Red Sox's four minor league affiliates have short and tall left field walls.
Three years ago, Baseball America took a crack at ranking the best ballparks in the minor leagues. Now, we’re giving it another go. We sent surveys to broadcasters and scouts across the country and asked them for their take on the subject.
The rules were simple: In all of your travels, which park would you be most likely to return to if you were a fan? The answers were widely varied—some big names made the list for the reasons you might expect, and some smaller parks made the list for reasons you might not.
1. BB&T Ballpark, Charlotte (International)
Opened: 2014 | Affiliation: White Sox
Three years after laying claim to the crown, the Knights ran away with the title in this year’s balloting. BB&T Park quickly became known for the majestic Charlotte skyline that hugs its outfield wall. More than that, Charlotte gives a major league feel to players who are just a step away from the majors.
“It is legitimately a major league-style ballpark, but for a Triple-A team,” one broadcaster wrote. “Completely renovated and upgraded with the best technology and amenities, incredible views and sight lines from everywhere in the park as well. Just a gorgeous ballpark.”
Judging by the attendance figures, BB&T Park’s allure hasn’t waned over the years. In 281 openings over their first four seasons, the Knights have drawn 2,613,812 fans through the gates. That’s an average of 9,302 per game, or about 91 percent of the stadium’s capacity.
Beyond Knights games, BB&T Field has also hosted a variety of other events over the years. USA Baseball’s College National Team regularly makes stops in Charlotte during its summer swing, and the park hosts plenty of college games during the regular season as well. The ballpark has also hosted concerts on its field during the offseason, with the first coming in 2016 when the Dark Star Orchestra came through the Queen City.
It’s not just broadcasters who love Charlotte. The park is a favorite of scouts, too.
“It has a good downtown location,” one said. “It’s an outstanding stadium with great view of the downtown. Very classy stadium.”
2. Blue Wahoos Stadium, Pensacola (Southern)
Opened: 2012 | Affiliation: Reds
Though it’s more ocean than skyline, Pensacola’s views from the stands helped it move up the ranks.
3. Coca-Cola Park, Lehigh Valley (International)
Opened: 2008 | Affiliation: Phillies
The Phillies’ Triple-A home houses one of the most creative, fun-loving minor league experiences in the country in a park that has a modern, major league feel.
4. Dell Diamond, Round Rock (Pacific Coast)
Opened: 2000 | Affiliation: Rangers
The franchise is owned in part by Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan and you can tell from the moment you step up to the Fireball Grill, which serves burgers made from cattle raised on Ryan’s farm. The spa party area and rocking chairs are nice touches, too.
5. Parkview Field, Fort Wayne (Midwest)
Opened: 2009 | Affiliation: Padres
This is the only lower-level park to place among the top 10, and for good reason. Like Charlotte, Fort Wayne gets high marks for its skyline. The 360-degree concourse is the envy of other franchises, too.
6. Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham (International)
Opened: 1995 | Affiliation: Rays
The most famous team in the minor leagues got a stadium befitting of its reputation in 2014, when upgrades added a video board, a luxurious suite area and a spacious concourse. Since then, Duke University has moved its home games to the DBAP as well.
7. FirstEnergy Stadium, Reading (Eastern)
Opened: 1951 | Affiliation: Phillies
One of just three parks on this list built before the year 2000, FirstEnergy Stadium has embraced its history and place in the community. As a result, the Fightins have consistently finished among the top two in the league in attendance.
8. Hadlock Field, Portland (Eastern)
Opened: 1994 | Affiliation: Red Sox
Built in 1994, Hadlock has stood the test of time as one of the jewels of the minors. The park has earned so much acclaim that broadcasters and executives in 2016 named Portland the best road city in the minor leagues.
9. AutoZone Park, Memphis (Pacific Coast)
Opened: 2000 | Affiliation: Cardinals
Eighteen years after it opened, Memphis still ranks among the best. A recent rebrand tied the team’s identity more closely with the city, which boasts some of richest history and most vibrant nightlife in the minors.
So Close, So Far
Triple-A Opening Day serves as yet another harsh reminder of just how difficult it is to take that last step to the big leagues.
10. Dunkin’ Donuts Park, Hartford (Eastern)
Opened: 2017 | Affiliation: Rockies
The newest park on the list, Hartford’s opening was delayed a year due to construction delays. By finishing among the Top 10 on this list, it seems the payoff was worth the wait.
Only In The Minors
Choctaw Lazy River, Frisco (Texas)
Plenty of ballparks around the country have swimming pools, but only one has a river. During the 2016 offseason, the Frisco RoughRiders unveiled plans for a sprawling, 3,000-square foot river behind the outfield wall in right field and center field to be used during the season as a place for fans to seek refuge from the searing Texas sun. The Lazy River is 3 feet deep, runs roughly 175 feet long from end to end and is one of the most innovative features to come through the minors in recent memory.
Snorting Bull, Durham (International)
“Hit Bull. Win Steak.” Those four words are about as iconic as it gets in the world of the minor leagues. They were made famous in the 1988 movie “Bull Durham,” and they still ring true today. The snorting bull still stands proudly atop the Blue Monster at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and the promise is still valid. If a Bulls player hits the bull, he wins steak. It’s as simple as that.
Bat Dogs, Various
What started out primarily with the Trenton Thunder and Greensboro Grasshoppers has now spread across the country. Fans can find bat-retrieving dogs in ballparks across the minors, including Las Vegas (Finn), Jacksonville (Sgt. Scampi), Myrtle Beach (Deuce) and Frisco (Brooks). And that says nothing of Jake the Diamond Dog, who helps turn every day into a dog day of summer.
Al Tuna, Altoona (Eastern)
Citi Field has the home run apple, Marlins Park had the statue, and Altoona has Al Tuna. Every time a Curve player hits a home run, Al Tuna, a large, orange anthropomorphic fish, comes bolting out of the center field wall to stage a celebratory dance. It sounds like a fish story, but it’s true.
Chattanooga Choo-Choo, Chattanooga (Southern)
No, we’re not talking about the Glenn Miller song from 1941. We’re talking about the train that departs its station every time a Lookouts player hits a home run. Chattanooga is also home to the Tennessee Valley Railway Museum, and the outfield train brings a little bit of that heritage to life.
Mr. Celery, Wilmington (Carolina)
The Royals’ high Class A affiliate is the Wilmington Blue Rocks, and yet their mascots are a moose, Rocky Bluewinkle, and a vivacious vegetable named Mr. Celery. Rocky Bluewinkle easily connects via the pun, but a stalk of celery? Why? As the story goes, team executives saw Lake Elsinore trot out a pink bunny whenever their team scored, so they found something random of their own. The celery, of course, is to cel-ebrate a run.
Red Sox Monsters, Various
If you’re even a tangential baseball fan, you know that Fenway Park has the Green Monster in left field. If you’re a prospect coming up in the Boston system, it would be nice to have some place to practice fielding balls coming at you off of a 37-foot high wall. So two of the team's four full-season affiliates—Pawtucket, Portland, Salem and Greenville—has a replica of the monster in left field as well as the team's spring training home in Fort Myers. The ballparks give players and fans alike a taste of the majors at a minor league cost.
Crazy Hot Dog Vendor, Reading (Eastern)
Reading’s FirstEnergy Stadium is known for many, many things in the world of the minor leagues, but the team’s most identifiable quirk has to be the man riding the ostrich while heaving hot dogs into the stands. Yes, you read that right. Every game, a team employee straps into a rideable ostrich costume, loads up a satchel full of hot dogs and flings them to eager fans. The phenomenon has caught on well enough that he’s even become a logo on the team’s hats.