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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
For nearly 40 years, springtime in Columbus has meant professional baseball in the form of the Columbus Clippers. Opening day on Thursday will mark the fifth anniversary of the opening of Huntington Park, which has become a nationally recognized fan favorite.
Columbus had other minor-league professional baseball before the Clippers, and a well-loved longtime venue, Cooper Stadium. But the Clippers and their new park in the Arena District -- a park designed for families and that showcases a revitalized Downtown -- are a winning combination.
Many fretted that moving to a $70 million stadium in a more upscale neighborhood would mean cutting ties with the past and pricing out those who had been loyal spectators at Cooper Stadium. But ticket and concession prices have been stayed reasonable, especially compared with other entertainments.
The park's design hearkens back to classic ballparks. And touches such as a statue honoring Cooper Stadium namesake Harold Cooper, credited with being the father of modern professional baseball in Columbus, have maintained a link between Huntington Park and Columbus baseball history.
Huntington Park has won over those who were partial to Cooper Stadium, along with new fans, who have come out for the first time because of the new stadium and its rave reviews. Harold Winters, a 93-year-old East Side resident who has worked as a Clippers usher since 1985, says Cooper Stadium was a "baseball dreamland," but he quickly adds that Huntington Park "is pretty darn nice and in a great spot."
Many people obviously agree. After seeing many seats unfilled at games in their last few years in Cooper Stadium, the Clippers have topped the International League in attendance. Last season, average attendance at games exceeded 9,200. That compares with attendance of less than 2,000 at many games in the several years before the move.
Thousands of baseball fans flocking to the Arena District have had a radiating impact on area restaurants, hotels and other businesses. Many of these places had been doing well around Blue Jackets home games and special events at Nationwide Arena, but often were very slow on non-event weekends and evenings. Now, they're busy more often, which means not just more success for business owners, but more jobs for local folks hired to serve these patrons.
Word has gotten out far and wide. Huntington Park won several polls and awards, including being named Ballpark of the Year over 11 other new or renovated facilities by BaseballParks.com in 2009. It won over storied big-league parks such as Yankee Stadium and the Mets' Citi Field, both of which were vastly higher-profile and more expensive than Huntington Park.
Joe Mock, webmaster of BaseballParks.com and an aficionado of ballparks nationwide, called Huntington Park "perfect" when the honor was announced.
Many fans on Thursday and throughout the season surely will agree.