The first impression when entering the concourse of Fort Wayne’s Parkview Field is to ask one self, “is this a minor league ballpark?” Built and opened in 2009, Parkview serves as home of the Midwest League’s Class A Fort Wayne TinCaps. Though celebrating its fifth year of existence, Parkview is still drawing “oohs & ahs” for its ambiance and charm. In fact, the magazine, Stadium Journey, which ranks and rates stadiums throughout professional sports on their amenities and fan comforts, named Parkview as Minor League Baseball’s top experience for the second consecutive year.
As I spent a recent extended summer vacation driving through the Midwest in search of the best minor league experiences I could find, my visit to Fort Wayne was time well spent.
Nestled in the middle of downtown Fort Wayne as part of the “Harrison Square” revitalization project, the ballpark’s capacity of 8,100 is the only thing “minor league” about the facility. Blending modern day amenities with “old school” architecture, the stadium ranks as one of the few parks offering fans a 360 degree viewing experience.
As TinCaps Vice President of Marketing and Promotions Michael Limmer shares, “we tried to bring the best ideas from over 100 minor league stadiums. We wanted to combine a first-class facility with all the options fans have come to expect, but also provide a unique experience that would provide them with something different each visit.” Indeed, as one walks the concourse of Parkview Field (local hospital Parkview secured the naming rights), the variety of food options are staggering. Mirroring its big league brethren, fans can choose from a variety of menu options at five permanent concession stands and 18 specialty carts located around the field. The food selections range from Chicken sandwiches and BBQ to Mexican and vegetarian/gluten free choices.
One of the ballpark’s most unique, and newest, additions is the “400 Club”, perched atop the center-field wall. Named for its distance from home plate, the 400 Club is the only luxury suite of its kind in Minor League Baseball’s 160 stadiums. While serving as the batter’s eye, the 400 Club’s glass windows allow fans to an up-close view of the entire field. The 400 Club was built with an $800,000 private investment by the TinCaps and opened for the first time on May 22.
Among it’s other features, Parkview contains a replica of Chicago’s Wrigley Field rooftop views with the aptly named Ortho NorthEast Treetops, a space that accommodates groups of 50 to 250 with a bird eye’s view of the action.
Elsewhere, in a stadium full of interesting and fun surprises, is a splash pad and amphitheater that sits adjacent to the “400 Club”. They provide both a great way to cool off and listen to music. A batting cage stationed along the first base concourse serves as a great way to watch players take hitting practice during the pre-game, but the TinCaps open it up to fans once the game begins to try their hand at either hitting or throwing a pitch.
“We can’t control what happens on the field (note: on the day I visited, Cedar Rapids won 2-1 on a sun splashed Sunday afternoon, courtesy of a two run homer in the sixth inning. 7,261 in attendance) or the drama of a close game,” Limmer explains, “but we can control the experience fans have with the food we offer, the vantage points in the park, the between innings entertainment and the promotions we conduct.” On this Sunday, it was a post-game autograph session with the TinCaps players and staff. The TinCaps staff does a great job of filling the calendar with promotions of all types, from the ever popular Fireworks nights (frequent) to family favorites such as Jake the Diamond Dog, a golden retriever who brings umpires water between innings and picks up bats, and national acts such as BirdZerk and Myron Noodleman.
The move from Memorial Stadium to downtown has been a boon at the turnstile as well. While Fort Wayne enjoyed decent success on the playing field and at the box office at Memorial Stadium, averaging around 250,000 fans a season, the jump at Parkview has increased crowds to over 400,000 fans.
“Experiencing a game is our best commercial,” offers Limmer. “When friends or family visit from out of town, our residents look to see if there’s a TinCaps game so they can show off Parkview Field. They’re proud of this community resource.”
Indeed, Parkview remains busy throughout the year as the venue hosts concerts, corporate events, and holiday parties. The ballpark is also a good community neighbor, allowing walkers and joggers access to the open concourse as they go through their paces.
Not one to rest on their laurels, the Fort Wayne staff keep the bar raised high to keep fans coming back for more. “We make the analogy to a new restaurant,” Limmer says. “If your experience is enjoyable–from the parking to the greeter to the quality of food, and you think it’s a good value at reasonable prices, chances are you’ll look forward to returning. We want people who attend a TinCaps game to feel the same way.” Based on the attendance, fan surveys, and smiles, that seems like a foregone conclusion.