Way back in 1931, a new baseball diamond opened near Columbus, Ohio. This concrete behemoth was one of the biggest diamonds in minor league baseball, and it held roughly 15,000 people, on a good day. The field was so old, in fact, that it was one of the first diamonds in America to have lights. Red Bird Stadium, Jet Stadium, Franklin County Stadium, Cooper Stadium – no matter what you called it, you knew that you were talking about Triple-A baseball in central Ohio.
Well, the years were rough on the field, and the owners realized that it either needed to be destroyed or fixed up. The concrete was deteriorating, the area around the stadium was becoming a ghetto, and the Coop was just out in the middle of nowhere. Instead of renovating the field, the owners of the Columbus Clippers, decided to move the team to a new home. Thus, Huntington Park was born.
A view of the backstop and signage at Huntington Park. Photo Credit: Robert M. Barga
Huntington Park is the current home of the Columbus Clippers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. The park, as with the team, is entirely owned by Franklin County. Huntington Park opened on April 18th, 2009 with a game against the Toledo Mud Hens, who beat the Clippers 3-1. Over 11,000 people gathered to watch that first game, resulting in the first sellout of the season.
Huntington Park is far smaller than its predecessor, at 200,000 square feet, compared to the 300,000+ square feet that the Coop occupied. The city block is so small, that the Clippers needed to get special permission to shorten the distance between home plate and the backstop. Even with the small size, the openness of the new park, along with the general layout, makes it feel bigger than it truly is.
The entire left-field side of Huntington Park is seating. You can see the Roosters On The Rood bleachers at the very top. Photo Credit: Robert M. Barga
Huntington Park has a seating capacity of 10,100 people, and it has gone past this number 15 so far this season. For those who wish to sit, there are tons of options from which they can choose. Though there are the normal boxes, club, and grandstand seats, there are also rooftop bleachers, seats along the right-field wall, and seats on balconies hanging out from the bar. For those not interested in being confined to chairs, there are picnic tables, standing tables, and even a small patch of lawn for the kids to play in. Even with all of these distinct viewing areas, the park is designed to flow, and so all of the sections sort of meld into each other.
One of the problems with having such a small park is how close the fans are to the game. While this might seem like a good idea, Huntington Park is on track to have the most foul balls beamed, not popped up, into the stands. This is highly dangerous, and something that all fans need to look out for. Additionally, with a park this small, Friday games are normally overflowing, and there is not enough room for all of the fans. This results in unhappy crowds, and a loss of money.
The overall look of Huntington Park seems to be planned out very well. Frankly put, it looks, and feels, like a tiny version of a MLB diamond. There is a large green wall on the right-field side, commonly known as the Mini Green Monster. Like other fields, there is a lawn-seating area, which is perfect for families. There is even a fountain for the kids to play in. Like most large parks, Huntington also has holes cut into the walls, so freeloaders – including one bum that I have seen at a few games – can stand there and watch. Finally, there is the most important feature, an outside HDTV.
This small lawn is open to anybody with any ticket, first-come, first-serve. It is perfect for frolicking kids and picnics. Photo Credit: Robert M. Barga.
When Huntington Park was planned, one of the the main concerns was how ‘green’ it would be. They started by picking a location which had potential, but was simply urban blight. Then, they used plants and other natural features to keep the urban-heat effect from occuring. All of the water in the park is at room temperature, and it all uses energy saving materials. Finally, the only spots in Huntington Park that are air conditioned are the press boxes, the dugouts, the locker rooms, and the supply rooms. Even the suites get no AC. This commitment to energy efficiency is awesome, as it saves money, and helps the environment.
Location, Location, Location
As any Realtor will tell you, location is fundamental in property; ballparks are no different. Located at the corner of Neil Avenue and Nationwide Boulevard, Huntington Park has probably one of the best positions possible in Columbus. Built right off of I-670 and 315, and pretty close to I-71, Huntington Park is easy to find. There is a major issue in finding the park, however, as the signage is not yet on the highways. Instead, you should follow the signs to Nationwide Arena.
The skyline of Columbus, as viewed from behind center-field. Photo Credit: Robert M. Barga.
Located near downtown gives Huntington Park a fair bit of advantages. For starters, from almost any seat in the park, you are able to see the city's skyline. While it might not be that impressive, it helps give the park a nice, signature feel. By sitting in the heart of the city, the park is open to anybody. You get done with work and want to find something to do? Why not catch an evening game. Live on OSU’s campus? Just jump on the COTA #2 and you are on your way. Being in the city, instead of on the outskirts, really helps attract spectators to the Clippers’ games.
The nicest feature about Huntington Park’s location is that it is smack-dab in the middle of the Arena District. The Arena District is a thriving area between the Short North and Columbus proper, where lots of things happen. You can catch a movie on the Arena Grand, take in a concert at the LC, or simply eat and drink at many of the local establishments. More importantly, when there is playoff hockey at Nationwide Arena (right next door), some lucky fan heading to the hockey game is going to grab a home run ball. Huntington Park is located where all the action is.
Though it is nice that Huntington Park is located in the Arena District, it does create a major headache during rush hour and other events. During the playoffs, parking was split between the Clippers and the Blue Jackets, with neither group having enough space. The same is true when there is a large concert at either the Arena or the LC. During rush hour, traffic is so backed up that it takes me about 30 minutes to get there (normally would be about 10), even if I leave an hour early.
One of the many fully stocked bars that are scattered throughout the park. Photo Credit: Robert M. Barga.
Like most parks, Huntington Park has food everywhere. From stand-alone booths, to full-menu concourses, you only need to walk about 20 feet to buy something. Unlike most parks, these stands sell things other than just the normal ballpark fare. There is carved meats, quesadillas, and other little surprises, for you to consume. While each location sells beer, you can find dozens of small beer stands around the park; let me tell you, Huntington Park has a great selection of beer.
As if the ballpark food was not enough, there are also special eating and dining locations throughout the park. Roosters On The Roof is a Roosters restaurant with bleacher seating, all the way up on top of the park. City Barbeque has its own stand, on the right field line, serving up pulled pork, chicken, and ribs for about $5 each. There is also a Bob Evans section, where you can get your hometown favorites. Finally, there is an actual bar, which is quite nice, with good food, and even better drinks.
This guy really knows how to spot a deal: an unknown Clippers fan watches the game from outside of the park. Photo Credit: Robert M. Barga.
When Huntington Park was put up, people got worried about the price of going to a game. At the Coop, you could go to a game, get two dogs and a beer, and only be out about $20. Here at Huntington Park, that has changed a little, but not much. It seems as though the entire goal of the park was to stay reasonable, and well within the average person's budget.
Let’s see the cost of a normal day at the park:
-Two Dogs: $6
As you can see, it only costs about $21-$30 to attend a Clippers game, which isn't too bad. This is pretty cheap, considering it costs about as much to get the cheapest ticket, let alone food, beer, and parking, for a Blue Jackets game. Plus, if you think the food and drink is too expensive, you can pack in your own – provided it is not glass or alcohol. There are also special promotions, such as free tickets for children and Dime-A-Dog Night, that will help to keep the costs down.
For the ultimate value-customer, I recomend bringing a lawn chair, a cooler of brew, a grill, and some dogs, then sitting outside on the sidewalk, staring in.
History in the Making
Matt LaPorta swings and connects for the first Grand Slam in Huntington Park history. Photo Credit: Robert M. Barga.
One of the joys about this being the inaugural year for Huntington Park is the fact that all of the fans are making history happen. Fans have seen the first wins, first losses, first home runs, and the first grand slam. Additionally, they are seeing events that are setting records, like the most sell-outs in the minor leagues and the most bases stolen in a season. Baseball is a game with a great history, but rarely can current fans be a part of it. This is why opening a new park is such a blessing, it not only reinvents the team and the town, but it lets the citizens actually be part of it.
When you look at all of the parks around this country, you notice that they are normally cut of similar molds and styles. Minor league parks are more cookie-cut then those in the Bigs. It is hard to find a park that is nice and open, yet big enough for Triple-A teams to play. Huntington Park does this well, and it incorporates everything you expect from a park into one package.
A look at the Mini Green Monster, the deep-right wall of the park. Photo Credit: Robert M. Barga.
Everything at Huntington Park is carefully planned, and well received. From the cost and selection of food, to the pricing of the tickets, everything is affordable. From the suites, to the holes in the fence, everybody can see everything. From the statue of Cooper, to the pieces of 100-year-old gloves and bats that line the walls, it is clear that history matters. Huntington Park took everything that we have come to expect, and everything that we forgot we needed, and put them into one place. I truly believe that this park is one of the best minor league parks in the country, and it certainly is the best ballpark, of any level, in Ohio.