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Charlotte tops ranking of International League ballparks

  • Charlote-park

    A view of the Charlotte skyline from the visiting radio booth of BB&T Ballpark. The venue was rated No. 1 in the International League in The Blade's vote of media representatives.

    JIM WEBER

  • SPT-StateBaseball02p-huntington-park

    Huntington Park in downtown Columbus has earned strong reviews since opening in 2009. It placed third in The Blade's ranking of IL ballparks.

    The Blade
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With 14 possible choices, fans might think that a ranking of International League ballparks would be filled with variety.

But a Blade poll of IL broadcasters — the media members who see all the different venues around the league — shows that most announcers agree on which ballparks belong at the top and bottom. 

Each broadcaster — as well as some former league broadcasters who are familiar with each park — was asked to rank every ballpark but his own park, with 13 points going to the top ballpark down to one point for the ballpark at the bottom.

Charlotte’s BB&T Ballpark, which opened just four years ago, averaged 11.8 points per voter to top the poll. After Charlotte came a run of West Division ballparks as Victory Field in Indianapolis was second, Huntington Park in Columbus was third, Toledo’s Fifth Third Field was fourth, and Louisville Slugger Field was fifth.

“Part of the reason Charlotte is at the top is the setting — you can see their downtown beyond the fences, and it’s right next to the Panthers’ stadium,” longtime Toledo announcer Jim Weber said. “After that, I’ve always bragged about our division, but it’s true: The ballparks in the West Division are all pretty good.”

Charlotte received 10 of the 17 first-place votes, while Indianapolis took five and Columbus received one.

VIDEOMud Hens broadcaster Jim Weber talks about what makes Fifth Third Field special

Fifth Third Field did not receive a first-place vote, but the ballpark did garner two second-place ballots as well as three third-place votes. Only one voter selected Toledo’s baseball home since 2002 as low as seventh, and none were lower.

Weber said he does not hear anything but raves when other broadcasters talk about Fifth Third Field.

“I remember when Fifth Third Field opened, people thought it would not allow a lot of home runs,” Weber said. “I think people realize now that Fifth Third Field is pretty fair.

“And I think the unique design gives it a lot of attention. It is striking when you walk in at street level and you are at the top of the lower deck.”

The only International League ballpark that received the widest range of votes was Durham Bulls Athletic Park. It finished in the middle of pack but received a first-place vote as well as five last-place votes.

Weber explained that many of the voters were penalizing Durham’s home field because a 2014 renovation moved the visiting radio box down the first-base line, offering no view of the right-field corner and a skewed vision of home plate that makes calling balls and strikes a guessing game.

“We used to be behind the plate in Durham — and in those days nobody would have ranked them last,” Weber said.

Another interesting case was Buffalo’s Coca-Cola Field, which opened in 1988 during a time when that city was in the running for a major-league franchise. As a result, the third-oldest ballpark in the league was built with the idea that its 16,907 capacity could easily be expanded if that city received a major-league franchise, which has not happened.

“It’s probably too big for Triple-A,” Weber said. “There’s nothing wrong with it; it’s just a monster for our league.

“Even when they have 10,000 fans, it can seem as if nobody’s there.”

Outside of Durham, the two ballparks that received last place votes were Norfolk’s Harbor Park, which received four, and NBT Bank Stadium in Syracuse, which took 10 of the 19 bottom votes.

“Norfolk and Syracuse are cookie-cutter ballparks,” said Weber, noting that Norfolk is the league’s fourth-oldest ballpark, opening in 1993, while Syracuse got its stadium four years later.

“They’re not maintained very well, so everyone has a bad impression of them.”

RANKINGS

Here are the rankings for the 14 ballparks in the International League in a poll of 19 league announcers past and present. Voters gave 13 points to the best park in each voter’s eyes, 12 to second place, etc. Since voters were not allowed to vote for their home park, these rankings are based on the average score for each ballpark (total points divided by number of voters for that particular park).

First-place votes are in parentheses; last-place votes are in parentheses with an asterisk.

1. Charlotte (10): 11.8

2. Indianapolis (5): 10.9

3. Columbus (1): 9.9

4. Toledo: 9.7

5. Louisville (2): 8.8

6. Lehigh Valley: 8.1

7. Durham (1)(5*): 7.4

8. Buffalo: 6.2

9. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: 5.8

10. Pawtucket: 5.4

11. Rochester: 4.2

12. Gwinnett: 4.1

13. Norfolk (4*): 2.8

14. Syracuse (10*): 1.7

Contact John Wagner at jwagner@theblade.com419-724-6481, or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.

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