March 12th 2007 day: Diamond Box
March 16th 2012 day: Dugout Box
March 15th 2015 day: First Base Terrace
By Cole Shoemaker
Despite being the first* true “super spring training complex,” meaning it was the first spring training ballpark to be a destination in its own right for fans, and an elaborately extensive training system for players, the dichotomic Hammond Stadium was always perceived as somewhat of a disappointment as a structure.
For most of history, baseball fans went south simply to get an early peek at their favorite team, because spring training baseball was closer to the sport as it was originally conceived: smaller parks, cheaper ticket prices, and a significantly more intimate fan-player relationship.
And Hammond Stadium was arguably the first step away from that, as spring training baseball became more of a mini-major league experience, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
This complex was the prime example of the kind of state-of-the-art facilities that communities would offer big league clubs to entice them to relocate. Instead of having to train in a separate area from your ballpark, the Lee County Sports Complex consisted of a system of baseball diamonds reminiscent of a “sophisticated major-league camp.” The site included ten indoor batting cages, 53 pitching rubbers, a bullpen that could accommodate ten relievers, a minor league clubhouse, and a major league clubhouse larger than that of the Metrodome! There was even a players’ lounge and a sauna.
Twins marketing director Laurel Prieb asserted it would be “a jewel.” According to the Star Tribute in “A Bit of Baseball Heaven,” the consensus was “that the Twins’ facility and the Mets’ 3-year-old complex in Port St. Lucie are the Grapefruit League’s best.”
“I’ve seen them all in Florida, and Boardwalk and Baseball might be more grandiose, but this is more functional,” said Prieb. “It’s the best in baseball.”
And it was. It was a game changer. You can draw a direct line originating here (1991) to Space Coast Stadium (1994), to Steinbrenner Field (1996), to Roger Dean Stadium (1998), to Surprise Stadium (2003), to Camelback Ranch (2009), all the way to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (2011), in terms of increases in aesthetic value, fan amenities, and player development resources.
But this vision of a “super spring training complex,” a far cry from the intimate Tinker Field where they trained for 54 years, isn’t what made Hammond Stadium a disappointment.
What made Hammond Stadium such a disappointment was that its grandiose Churchhill Downs-style exterior design had such a bland interior design, and dramatically so by comparison. The initial shock and awe faded quickly when one entered the gates. The Twins managed to execute such an attractive façade, one rarely seen anywhere in all of baseball at the time, that it made the pedestrian interior design just that much more palpable. You can imagine how ecstatic fans much have felt upon approach, only to be completely underwhelmed by the visuals on the inside.
An overhanging roof and windows, railings, lattice, and a spire atop the main ramp gave the park what folks called at the time a nostalgic “old Floridian style.” Team officials called it “something like a combination of Fenway Park and Churchhill Downs,” complete with a steeple and a fountain. The stroll toward that façade further accentuated that impression, as fans approach the ballpark via a magnificent palm tree lined path. The initial plans even called for a series of three reflecting pools in-between the palm trees, but this was cut due to costs, and replaced with manicured grass.
“This is exactly what we wanted,” said Bill Hammond, the county official who supervised the project. “What we dreamed of and planned for was an old-style facility with a certain style and grace that would still be highly functional and have all of the modern conveniences.” This was meant to be a truly visionary concept for spring training baseball.
In truth, that aesthetic vision was always more of a façade, literally and figuratively, than a reality for fans. The interior design was remarkably constrained in comparison, heavy on concrete and aluminum bleachers. While the interior vacuity was persistently notable due to the contrast with the exterior, it became downright self-evident when compared to the more attractive interior designs of later spring training parks.
Opening in 1993, City of Palms Park next door integrated those aforementioned royal palms inside the ballpark. Space Coast Stadium had a scoreboard that celebrated home runs by launching a blinking baseball satellite and fumes of smoke. Steinbrenner Field had those identifiable Yankee windscreens. The Ballpark at Disney (or whatever) had a gorgeous stucco second deck façade adorned with a matrix of dark blue and green tiles, along with trellised silver roofing. Roger Dean Stadium had an identifying and attractive set of beige clubhouses as a backdrop.
By the end of the 1990s, Hammond Stadium’s iconic exterior was just a veneer for a sterile ballpark.
Luckily, the latest round of extensive renovations added some magnetism behind the mask. While the beautification of the outfield scene isn’t quite at the level of Ed Smith Stadium or some others, the ballpark’s new “grand entrance” gives Hammond Stadium that “vision” it had for years on the outside, but desperately needed on the inside.
I love when the concept between “exterior,” “concourse,” and “interior” is blurred, and that is exactly what this element does, giving the entire park room to see and breathe.
The Twins technically call this creation the “grand vomitory,” (lets use the term “grand entrance”) which enhances what I call the “compress and release” concept. Like with everything, a mix is necessary in design: the main concourse is closed below the second deck, with an open terrace level at the top of the second deck. When you exit the main concourse through this grand portal, you get that tremendous explosion into the stands for a dramatic entrance, which appropriately overwhelms the senses, while you can still walk around on the terrace level concourse and see the game. The Orioles do something similar, but the Twins do this as well as anyone. I’ll elaborate later.
The rest of the renovations are top quality, despite being a bit too unimaginative. We have an outfield boardwalk concourse similar to McKetchnie Field and Charlotte Sports Park. There is the second open terrace concourse, like at Ed Smith Stadium. Everything else is pretty much what you would expect: expanded 360 degree concourses, lots of trendy drink rail seating, new seats, new concessions, two new bars, brand new suites, new party decks, etc. It’s all pretty formulaic, but well done. I should also note the state-of-the-art player development academy is pretty groundbreaking, although these reviews are solely focused on the fan experience.
My only quibble, which is fairly significant given the complete sense of absence, is with their decision not to substantially improve their scoreboard system. No videoboard! Little information is displayed about the game situation. You’d think after $48.5 million, they could improve this.
But overall, this was a great renovation, even if many of the features are very derivative of other Grapefruit League ballparks. At the end of the day, Hammond Stadium had staying power because of its initial bold vision statement and attractive exterior design. Now 25 years later, to the tune of nearly $50 million, the Twins finally integrated some of that vision on the inside, resulting in a (near) top tier Grapefruit League park.
*For the purposes of this discussion, I’m excluding the tragically ill-fated Homestead Stadium. While Hammond Stadium broke ground a number of months earlier, so it was still the “first” in my opinion, Homestead Stadium opened in 1991 (although with no tenants), and was rebuilt after Hurricane Andrew using the same design as before. You can put everything written here on steroids for Homestead Stadium. It was way ahead of its time, both inside and out. It was finally matched in 1998 by Roger Dean Stadium, yet Homestead Stadium never hosted a team. Please read the story if you haven’t here and here.*NEXT - Setting