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The Best in Minor League Baseball

By Paul Swaney -- August 29, 2012 11:15 PM EDT

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What makes a great minor league ballpark? Is there a formula that one could use to build the perfect park? Nothing has been patented, but if there were one venue in the United States that captures everything that minor league baseball should be, it's Parkview Field in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Editors Note: This article is from the recent issue of Stadium Journey Magazine, the Best of Minor League Baseball. Pick up your copy today, or subscribe to get the best coverage of sports stadiums delivered to your home each month.

Named for nearby Parkview Hospital, the new home for the TinCaps opened in 2009, as a centerpiece of a massive project to re-vitalize downtown Fort Wayne. The project seems to be working with residents returning to Fort Wayne's downtown, including Harrison Square Apartments and Anthony Wayne Condominiums. It's hard to believe that this resurrection would be possible without the beautiful Parkview Field.

It all started with a new name for the team, with the re-branding to the TinCaps. The name is derived from Johnny Appleseed, who supposedly wore a tin pot on his head, and his buried in Fort Wayne. The theme is seen in many facets of the ballpark experience in Fort Wayne.

When examining what makes for a great ballpark experience, seven things need to be considered. First, the ballpark needs to offer food and drink of a high quality, and at reasonable prices. As you walk the concourse at Parkview Field, this need is easily met with ballpark favorites, BBQ, Mexican food, and even healthy and vegetarian options. You can find a local beer from Mad Anthony's Brewery at the center field concession. A wide selection of high quality items ensures that first time visitors will find something they like, and season ticket holders will have a variety to change things up all season long.

A second important factor is interesting seating options, and Parkview Field certainly has plenty of those. The TinCaps really did their homework when creating this park, and the seating options are varied and interesting. It starts with the typical stadium seats that stretch beyond each dugout in the lower seating section. The dark green plastic seats offer better than average legroom and cupholders. The top three rows behind home plate, known as the Legacy Seats, offer even more legroom, padded seat, drink rails and wait service. It is real luxury, and at only $12.50 a seat it is affordable to almost all fans.

Down the left field line, there are high top tables with four chairs which also have wait service ($36 per table). This would be a great spot for a small family, or small group outing, and again feels luxurious, but at only $9 per person.

The berm seating in the outfield is somewhat unique in that there is cement rows embedded with the grass, so fans have the option to roll out a blanket or sit in more of a bleacher-like setting in the outfield. There is also a smattering of beach chairs along the outfield concourse available on a first come, first serve basis.

An array of group seating and picnic options is available, and fans can access the TinCaps website for those opportunities. If you are able to sneak up to the top row of the Treetops Rooftop Party Area, then you can get some good pictures up there. Try visiting late in the game when the sun is setting, or the GE Factory Light turns on, for the best aesthetic quality.

The neighborhood of the park is a third important factor in the stadium's greatness. The ballpark is open during the day, and many residents take advantage by walking through the park, or stopping to read the paper or a book. The concourse is exactly one-third of a mile around, so three laps will get you a mile, and if you get hungry or thirsty, the TinCaps open a concession stand at lunch and serve wraps, sandwiches, and beverages.

With the downtown location, there are also numerous attractions, hotels, and restaurants so staying near the park and finding other activities would not at all be a problem if visiting for an entire series.

The fourth important element are the people. This includes the staff and the fans. The staff are truly proud of this ballpark, and it shows. Without Fail, everyone from the ushers to the concessionaires to the front office is committed to providing a great experience. Engage in a conversation with any employee and you'll find this to be true.

I have also found in my travels that a great ballpark breeds great fans. When you provide a beautiful venue, the beauty will come out in those who visit. There are enough areas for the kids to remain entertained, meaning that their parents can enjoy the game and the overall experience.

The fifth factor to a great ballpark is convenience. Parking is ample in either one of the nearby structures, one of the TinCap lots, or along the streets. You can easily be parked downtown and walk to Parkview Field, but if you're coming from out of town, it's just a short trip from I-69. The TinCaps draw good support, but don't always sell out. Even with large crowds though, it won't take fans an undue amount of time to get out of the stadium to wherever they may be going.

The sixth factor is affordability. This is especially important in Low-A minor league baseball, where the players may or may not be eventual major leaguers. Fans want to be able to bring the family, without having to empty their savings, and that is certainly possible at Parkview Field. With the best seats in the house going for only $12.50, this may be one of the best values in all of baseball.

Finally, there's that intangible that the best parks have. You don't know what it is that makes you so happy to be at this ballpark. Yes, it is all of the things mentioned above, but there's something more. You're a happier and better person somehow after going to a TinCaps game at Parkview Field. That may sound like hyperbole, but it's not. You will leave wanting to come back again, and really that's the test of any great sports venue.

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