March 29, 2016
By Mo Stein, FAIA, FACHA, Principal, Fred Ortiz, AIA, Principal and Andy Henning, Principal, AIA, LEED AP, HKS Sports & Entertainment Group

In many ways, spring training is the best part of baseball. For most, it is the closest a fan will ever come to professional sports teams, players and the field. Today, the expectations for spring training have evolved greatly. For fans, the expectation of an up-close opportunity to create their own stories and memories is more important than players, the best-of-class opportunity to excel and prepare mentally and physically is paramount. For communities, the integration of sports with expanding economic development is often the key to success.

As fans, we love baseball. As architects, we have learned some critical expectations that have allowed us to create the very best in spring training.

We design the fan experience. Fans own it.

The fan experience is absolutely not a single right answer. You cannot apply it or label it; rather, it is how it makes you feel. Fan experiences are personal, an intimate opportunity to connect, with or without an actual game. It is immersion in the world of baseball, not just behind the scenes, but inclusive of all emotions. The experiences at a great theme park may be planned and patterned. Everyone gets the same ride. The experience at spring training ought to be unknown and unexpected, different every day and different for each person, not dependent on age or experience. The joy of baseball is ageless. In baseball spring training, we want to accommodate anticipated opportunities, to see a player or watch the action from your spot, and those that are unexpected, to be at the right place at the right time for the “planned surprise” of a lifetime. Our job is to set the stage for both the expected and unexpected, respecting the pattern of the game, allowing the fans to write their own script. 

West Palm Beach

Connect people and place.
In spring training, we want to integrate the baseball complex in all aspects with the community. Whether the setting is rural, neighborhood or urban, baseball has always been a tool to bring people together, a tool to create community identity and presence. The edges of spring training are deliberately transparent, to organize opportunities to approach the game and the experience from a sense of discovery and excitement, much different from a sense of security or silos. We want to engage the architecture and planning to create a sense of place, not just a collection of fields and fences. We want to connect people with place to put you right inside the action, not outside looking back. Use the site to integrate your experience, not separate or exclude.

Baseball is social.
We strive to take advantage of baseball from many touch points, creating a recipe of experiences that incorporates as many ways to evolve your time as possible. Enjoy a seat on the baseline, the lawn or a suite. Watch with your children, or gather your friends. Sit, or wander the practice facilities. Watch your own private batting practice. Take in the main game or a collection of other simultaneous practice games beyond. Enjoy the sun or the shade. Spring training is not just the game but a collection of experiences. How many can you create or find?   

Team culture, values and goals are unique.
The basic mechanics of baseball may be consistent, but the culture, values and goals of each team are unique, requiring a highly customized approach. Every club has the single expectation to be the last team standing in October, but other than that, the defined vision and expectations of each team are understood and celebrated in the spring. Otherwise, every spring training site could be the same plan, same pattern. That no longer works. Every team has a brand message and personality to integrate. A promise that every time a fan connects with the team, be it physically in the stadium or the unforgettable moment, the brand is specific, meaningful and inspiring. 

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Creating a destination.
The same criteria we use to create the best spring training facilities are consistent with the opportunity to create great public events or destinations. Creating a game-day experience is similar to a public festival, charity run or specialty event. These facilities, while often thought active for one month a year, are valuable year-round. We can learn a lot from creating public spaces for baseball that translate the destination for much broader impact. Most of these facilities use practice fields for youth or adult recreation and tournaments, taking advantage of parking for staging other very large events and feature great public settings – both inside and outside and formal or informal. Spring training should be seen as a destination set as a point of pride all year long.

Posted in Sports & Entertainment