By JASON BELT and MICHAEL LEVITSKY
HAGERSTOWN — From the corner of West Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue, you can see the future of baseball in the Hub City.
There aren’t any home runs flying yet. But next spring, the cranes and construction workers will be gone. The 6.25-acre site in downtown Hagerstown will be changed into a ballpark with a capacity for about 3,000 fans. It will be a ballpark that reflects the history and traditions of this hard-working city of 43,000 people, according to planners.
“Our goal is to make sure that the design ties into the community,” said Jonathan O’Neil Cole, the ballpark’s architect and a founding principal of Pendulum Studio, a Kansas City architectural firm.
Professional baseball is part of Hagerstown’s DNA. Pro teams have played in the city for more than 100 years with only brief gaps The latest gap began September 2, 2019, when the Hagerstown Suns played their last game at historic and outdated Municipal Stadium.
In April or May 2024 – depending on when the ballpark is finished – baseball returns. An expansion franchise in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball is expected to move to the new ballpark and become the 11th team in the Atlantic League. Hagerstown’s team will have local and regional rivals. Other Atlantic League franchises are located in Frederick and Waldorf in Maryland and in Lancaster and York, Penn.
For now, there are some important unknowns about the team. Its name is scheduled to be announced July 20, according to Downtown Baseball LLC, which owns the franchise. Downtown Baseball conducted a team-naming contest and received more than 1,700 entries from fans. The finalists: Battle Swans, Diezel Dogs, Flying Boxcars, Haymakers and Tin Lizards.
Details of the ballpark’s design also haven’t been revealed to the public. In May, the Maryland Stadium Authority released early renderings showing the grandstand, picnic areas, bullpens, walking paths and a batter’s eye. The Stadium Authority is overseeing the project for the Maryland General Assembly, which approved funding of $70 million for the project in 2021.
One thing is clear from interviews with those planning the ballpark. The final design will reflect Hagerstown history. The city was a hub for railroad transportation in the 19th and 20th centuries leading to the name Hub City. It also was a center for manufacturing of bricks.
“We know the city has a long history in brick masonry. That’s one of the important pieces of the design,” said Cole, the architect.
The location in downtown also is significant to the design. A landmark running along the ballpark is a “Cultural Trail,” a half-mile walkway. The trail connects Hagerstown attractions including the downtown Arts & Entertainment District, City Park and the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.
“There are opportunities to take advantage of the pedestrian experience. It’s an urban ballpark,” Cole said.
Cole has been involved in the design of 29 minor league ballparks. For him, the importance of capturing Hagerstown’s essence and history is at the forefront.
“We don’t believe in cookie-cutter design,” Cole said. “You don’t just take a ballpark from somewhere else and drop it off. We want to respond to the context of the cities that they’re in.”
Part of that mission is to design a ballpark that will be used for many purposes besides playing baseball games. That is a feature of some of the most iconic ballparks. In Baltimore, fans can stroll down Eutaw Street to have a look inside Camden Yards, the city’s famous baseball ballpark, on days when the Orioles aren’t playing.
Janet Marie Smith, who worked for the Orioles and contributed to the design of Camden Yards, said one of the challenges in any urban ballpark is “how do we use what we built for baseball for other things?; how do we build other things that the community might want into this model?”
History also can help create an emotional bond, said Smith, Senior Vice President, Planning and Development for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“There’s just so many places where baseball has intersected with our American history. It’s fun when buildings are able to tell their own stories, even if they’re new buildings,” she said.
A major emphasis of independent baseball league stadiums is on fan experience and accessibility. The number of fixed seats has moved from 5,000 to closer to 3,500-4,000 to provide flexible seating for non-sporting events.
“If we want to have a concert there, it would probably be better to have some more moveable seats because that way it’s a different fan experience compared to a baseball game,” said Greg Snook, the President and CEO of the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, Inc.
Along with the many seating options, the stadium will have eight private suites, measuring 15-by-20 feet, each with 12 seats overlooking the field, according to Chuck Domino, a consultant for the team’s ownership group.
“It’s not being over-built for the market size that it’s in,” Domino said.
The ballpark will feature multiple “neighborhoods” throughout the concourse, with a beer garden in the right-center field, a bar in the leftfield corner, and a picnic area behind the leftfield wall.
According to Domino, these areas will be key for non-baseball fans.
“Baseball fans are great and you need them as your core, but we really want to build the stadium to attract casual fans who may not watch any of the game,” he said.
Though the ballpark is expected to draw mostly from Washington and surrounding counties, there also will be fans supporting the team from beyond Maryland and learning about Hagerstown’s history from its design.
James Stiles, a longtime resident of Hagerstown, made “memories for a lifetime” at the old Municipal Stadium. Now, from his home in North Dakota, he is following the new team on social media. He said he and his family are planning a reunion at the ballpark. He might even buy a season ticket just to show support.
“Our boys grew up there,” Stiles said, speaking about minor-league baseball games. “That we still care and are supportive says much for the significance of baseball in Hagerstown.”