The last time Pat O'Conner was at Parkview Field was opening day of 2009, the first baseball game ever played in the downtown stadium.
O'Conner, president of Minor League Baseball since 2007, returned to Fort Wayne on Wednesday for the Midwest League's Fall Meeting, which the TinCaps played host to for the first time this week.
“One of the neat things about coming to ballpark openings and coming back (later) is watching the maturation of the ballpark in the area,” O'Conner said. “When you look at Parkview Field and the surrounding area, it's the epitome of what Minor League Baseball can do in a city to build up commerce, to build up quality of life for the community.
“I told Mike Nutter earlier (Wednesday), I can't believe the ballpark's 10 years old, it doesn't look it.”
Nutter, the TinCaps' president, was more than happy to show off the ballpark the TinCaps have called home for a decade, which was a point of pride for the team as it hosted the meetings. Nutter said that not only O'Conner but representatives of other teams in the Midwest League marveled at how well the stadium has aged.
Many of those representatives had not been to Fort Wayne since 2010, when the TinCaps played host to the Midwest League All-Star Game.
“To a man, people that were coming around – and I'm talking about people with great venues and great cities; ... people are just saying, 'Man, what this ballpark looks like after 11 full seasons, we just haven't seen something this clean,'” Nutter said. “The compliments that came were really overwhelming.”
For his part, O'Conner had plenty of praise for the TinCaps and the way they have developed relationships with the community. He envisions Minor League Baseball as central to the communities in which it has teams, an affordable way for families to have a day out and people from different walks of life to find common ground.
“This is a great venue,” the 61-year-old O'Conner said. “When you come to this venue and you watch a ballgame, you see generational crowds, you see grandma and grandpa, mom, dad and kids ... which really tells me (baseball) has resonated well in Fort Wayne.”
“To be able to coattail on success stories like (the TinCaps), I think it validates the body of work that we try to do in (MiLB headquarters) and what 160 clubs across the country try to do for minor league baseball,” the organization's president added.
O'Conner's praise for the TinCaps' ability to connect with Fort Wayne underscored what he believes is the minor leagues' biggest challenge in the 21st century: staying relevant to its local fan bases.
When the MiLB president, an Ohio native, was in his teens and 20s, he would go to games and only be concerned with the location of his seat, the concession stand and the bathroom. He emphasized that fans today want more, including Wi-Fi that allows them to share the trip to the ballpark on social media, and social areas such as the 400 Club at Parkview Field.
“Technology is our future,” O'Conner said.
Despite changing tastes, the president insisted Minor League Baseball remains healthy and vibrant.
When he spoke to the assembled representatives of the Midwest League on Wednesday, his message was simple, according to Nutter.
“(He said) keep up the great work,” Nutter said. “Our industry is great. ... The game is strong.”