TinCaps President Mike Nutter still hears people refer to Parkview Field as “the new stadium.”
“If we're still calling it 'new,' that's great,” Nutter said in an interview last week. But in fact, it's been a decade since the baseball stadium opened for business. That point was brought home Monday when the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission approved replacing Parkview Field's sound system, which had been projected, accurately, to last eight to 10 years.
When Parkview was preparing for its first Opening Day, some residents doubted the new facility would be around long enough to need to start replacing systems. Indeed, when the long, impassioned community debate over whether Fort Wayne needed a downtown baseball stadium began, the “no's” were close to pitching a shutout.
“We would guess that it was about 70 percent,” Nutter recalled. “And (then-Deputy Mayor) Mark Becker and I think we met with all 70 percent of them.”
There was a litany of concerns. “There's not enough parking and there's not enough this and not enough that,” Nutter recalled. And, “this is going to cost every taxpayer thousands of dollars.” (In fact, Nutter said, parking has turned out to be a problem only during the handful of weekday games. And there were no tax increases to cover the public portion of Parkview's cost.)
“We went out and talked to everybody we could,” Nutter said. “We strongly believed that it would work.”
Nutter remembers the moment he knew the tide had turned. In March 2009, before the first pitch had been thrown, the team hosted what it expected would be a low-key open house for community members who wanted to see the new facility. Instead, “it was thousands of people,” Nutter said.
In those days, not even Nutter would have suggested the park would be as successful as it has proven. More than 4 million people have attended games in the first 10 seasons, an average 5,782 per game – more than 58 of the nation's 59 other Single-A teams. Parkview's general excellence as a ballpark has been recognized by baseball-industry magazines. And perhaps most amazingly, the park has drawn more than 1,221,395 people to non-game activities – more than 700 functions each year, from parties, weddings and batting-practice get-togethers to the regionally known Fort-for-Fitness races.
“We believe that is the highest for all of Minor League Baseball,” Nutter wrote in an email Wednesday. “That's 160 teams around the country from rookie ball up to AAA Baseball.”
Though that figure doesn't include the 50 to 150 people who visit the stadium on their own on nice days. Those who walk the stadium or have lunch in the stands symbolize how fully Parkview Field has been accepted as a vital, central part of downtown.
Parkview's decade of success does not mean, of course, that Fort Wayne should uncritically jump into every proposal and every public-private partnership that comes down the pike. But it argues for keeping an open mind about boundary-stretching ideas.
Parkview Field has helped build community pride that has led to such efforts as The Landing, Electric Works and Riverfront Fort Wayne. And it offers a lesson we sometimes are tempted to forget: Courage and determination can make a difference.