I grew up during the 70s and 80s when concrete bowls and domes dominated the sports landscape in America. My first Major League game was at the Seattle Kingdome and I remember how larger-than-life it was; it was nothing like the tee ball fields where I spent my very limited athletic career chasing balls. This multi-purpose monolith was anything but welcoming. Fans were greeted by cold slabs of concrete and seats that were so far away from the field, players could only be identified by their position, as it was impossible to decipher any name on their jersey. Grass was replaced by unnatural green rolls of plastic artificial turf that, despite all intended appearances, was nothing more than camouflage for the grey cement that lay beneath. The baseball pastoral idyll had become entombed in sterile concrete structures.
The 90s saw a resurgence of new stadiums that paid homage to the ballparks of old—there was actually character to each new stadium and yes, even real grass. Domes were replaced with open-air parks and the grey concrete disappeared in favor of brick walls and exposed steel. Both Major League and Minor League teams were getting new parks as the trend spread across the country, and Columbus was no exception.
Completed in 2009, Huntington Park accommodates a cozy capacity of 10,000. The smaller crowd, coupled with the well-planned layout of the stadium, ensures that every seat has a great view of the game. Having visited the ballpark on several occasions, I’ve had the opportunity to sit everywhere from Box Seats to General Admission, including Lawn Seating and the Standing Room Only area, and can attest that there really is not a bad seat in the house. While I enjoy visiting the larger stadiums, I’ve come to appreciate the Minor League parks as they offer a more intimate feel, and Huntington Park has easily become my favorite ballpark.
The park is home to the Columbus Clippers, the back-to-back Triple-A National Champions (2010, 2011)—a feat which unfortunately loses some of its impact in this football town. Prior to moving into the new ballpark, the Clippers were affiliated with the New York Yankees for whom they produced such notable stars as Don Mattingly, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera, among numerous others. As the Clippers/Yankees era came to a close, the Clippers served a brief stint as the Minor League team for the Washington Nationals—a move that was, more or less, meant to wait out the contract between the Indians and their then-Triple-A team, the Buffalo Bisons. Coinciding with the opening of Huntington Park in 2009, the Clippers became the Cleveland Indians Triple-A affiliate. The transition to the Indians organization has given this home-town team even more local flavor now that their parent team is just up the road.
When I was in middle school, my brother and I visited our sister and her soon-to-be husband here in Columbus. While we were introduced to many things that would come to define Columbus for us, the highlight for me was our trip to Cooper Stadium to watch a Clippers game. Almost 30 years later, I find myself back in Columbus and still can’t think of a better way to spend a summer day than at Huntington Park, watching a Clippers game with a cold Columbus Brewing Company India Pale Ale in hand.
Whether played in front of a crowd of 50,000 or a bleacher filled with a couple hundred, fans come to watch the game. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what kind of stadium baseball is played in; it’s the game that’s important. It’s just a little more enjoyable to experience when played in open air and on real grass.