Places and Spaces: Get 'Em to Play Ball!

On June 14, 2007, the Detroit Tigers were down by three and heading into the bottom of the ninth at Comerica Park. A near sellout crowd of over 41,000 people sat anxiously as the team’s top players hit two singles and scored two runs on a double and a groundout, pulling the Tigers to within a run of tying the game. But with a runner on third, last year’s American League champions fell short of the win, as their last two batters struck out swinging.
When you’re sitting in the stands at a game like that, it’s easy to see why baseball has long been the great American pastime. And, if the Major League Baseball (MLB) park of your choice is located in a downtown district, near a waterfront, or even next to a convention center—like most parks built in the last 10 years—you will see how handy it can be. Groups can take part in batting practice, host receptions for up to thousands of attendees, or just have a small boardroom meeting before an afternoon game.

Ballparks today boast a mix of flexibility and functionality in unique locations. “With most of the meetings that we have, the planner will do something special, such as offer tours of the ballpark, which will include dugout visits,” says David Tingley, manager of special events at MLB’s newest park, Busch Stadium in St. Louis, MO. Event options at the park include three conference rooms for pre-game meetings, several porches for cocktail parties of up to 2,500 people on non-game days, and several club rooms that can be adjusted for groups of up to 1,000. Its largest club room, the 25,000 sf Redbird Club, played host to this year’s Build-A-Bear stockholders meeting, which was attended by 135 people—the company’s most well-attended meeting since it went public three years ago.

“To be able to go down to the field when there wasn’t a game was a huge draw,” says Sharron Catalutch, executive assistant to the president of Build-A-Bear. “We definitely would have a meeting there again. It’s a great venue.” Tingley has arranged for former players to meet with groups on non-game days to sign autographs and take pictures, and has even opened the press room so that attendees can sit in the chairs and ask questions to the players standing at the podium.

Monica Pence, director of public affairs for The Baltimore Orioles, considers the location of Camden Yards in Baltimore to be ideal for planners. “With the convention center right next door, we have a large number of groups that are convention-related,” says Pence, who also sees the construction around the park as a harbinger of good things to come. “The hotels and meeting venues are expanding westward, so instead of being on the edge of things, the area will expand until there are venues on the west and east sides of the ballpark.”

New construction includes a 757-room Hilton Baltimore that can be seen behind the outfield walls. The hotel is scheduled to open next year and will include 60,000 sf of meeting space and a sky bridge connected to the convention center.

Kristan Dolan, special events coordinator for Jacobs Field in Cleveland, stresses her park’s versatility when advertising. “We have the ability—with the view of the field and the outdoor facilities—to do a lot of unique things and be very flexible, whereas in other locations you are confined to the four walls of a ballroom.” Jacobs Field offers indoor suites and outdoor porches, with the largest able to hold 500 people. Outing options include corporate scavenger hunts, cocktail parties in the dugouts, and packages that let up to 20 guests pick up bats and hit practice balls on the field.
In Houston, Kala Sorenson, VP of special events at Minute Maid Park sees groups of all shapes and sizes. “It really is from A to Z,” says Sorenson. “We’ve got galas, trade shows, weddings,
concerts—it really is across the board.” Sorenson adds that special events have accommodated up to 10,000 guests—including a star-studded charity gala for former President George H.W. Bush’s 80th birthday party, which brought over 5,000 people out to the park.

With 16 conference rooms, wide concourses, and several club rooms and pavilions, as well as the option to host events on the field, Sorenson notes, “There’s really not much you can’t do.”