When Mandalay Sports Entertainment purchased the Shreveport
Captains in 2001, they did so with the intent of moving the team into a new ballpark in the north Dallas suburb of Frisco, just 35 miles away from the Ballpark in Arlington
. The relocation required the approval of the Texas Rangers, who waived their territorial rights in order to claim the new Double-A team, named the RoughRiders, as their Texas League affiliate.
The move wouldn't have been possible without the grand ambition of Frisco, a city whose population had swollen from 33,714 in 2000 to over 60,000 by the time the relocated Shreveport team arrived in 2003 to begin play in the $22 million Dr Pepper Ballpark.
With Frisco's population projected to reach nearly 230,000 by 2030, the ballpark was the first finished piece of the $300 million Frisco Entertainment and Sports Complex, which includes the 12-story Embassy Suites Hotel looming on the center field horizon.
Apparently Mandalay and the city of Frisco knew what they were doing. The ballpark has been vital in spurring local economic growth, while in their first year in business the RoughRiders ranked fourth in overall attendance among the 176 teams in Minor League Baseball. Plus, the top-notch ballpark has one of the better atmospheres that I've encountered.
Dr Pepper Ballpark has the look and feel of a community village. Walking trails connect six two-story "pavilions," which look like a more polished version of the mini-houses in Kannapolis. The top floor of the pavilions house the ballpark's suites, with the bottom floor containing the bathrooms and concessions. The press box is located in the large multi-story pavilion behind home plate. It's these house-like structures that ensure Frisco of one of the more unique ballpark designs in baseball.
The pavilions and seating bowl are separated by a wide, open-air concourse that wraps the ballpark, and the bullpens are built into the stands. With stadium seating from foul pole to foul pole (plus two sections hugging the pole in left) and berm seating encompassing the outfield, there's not a bleacher seat in sight. The Riders, as they are generally referred to, also have a state of the art video board in left center
Besides the pavilions, the other omnipresent aspect of Dr Pepper Ballpark is its commercial nature, including the soft drink naming rights. As such, the cola of choice is neither Coke or Pepsi, but RC Cola, which is a product of Cadbury Schweppes, the company that paid an undisclosed sum for 10 years of ballpark naming rights.
Among the barrage of advertising, you can't miss the two large ribbon scoreboards built into the outfield walls that flash neon advertisements throughout the game. The signage is so bright at night that all you can see of the center or right fielder is their silhouette when they are chasing down a fly ball.
Speaking of hard to see, the ballpark lighting itself is fairly dim. As I approached Dr Pepper from Texas State Highway 121 the first thing I noticed was the small size of the light towers. When the sun went down, I realized that there was a correlation between the size of the towers and quality of their light, although the outfield was well lit (probably so you could see the ads).
Despite the somewhat distracting nature of the advertising, Dr Pepper Ballpark is more big league than bush. They even have a tendency to fudge on actual attendance. Although the game I attended on a Friday night officially drew 112 fans over the 10,000-seat capacity, there were plenty of empty seats and not more than 8,000 actually present.
The fans were relatively quiet, even when the game hung in the balance in the ninth inning, but the between innings atmosphere was fun and boisterous with a number of clever, MLB-quality promotions that took advantage of the team's video scoreboard.
All in all, a ballpark wrapped around a village is a novel idea. Dr Pepper Ballpark emits an energy that is hard to describe, but fun to experience. There's not a bad seat in the house and the staff is extremely friendly. Frisco has proven that if you build it they will come, even if your ballpark shares the same market as a Major League franchise.
Among the nearby commercial developments is the Stonebriar Centre mall, where a large section of free parking has been set aside for baseball fans. The free lot is about a 5 minute walk from the ballpark, which the majority of fans enter from the center field entrance located just off of John Q. Hammons Drive, named after the developer of the surrounding retail space, and the same man who built a ballpark in Springfield, MO
that is now home to the St. Louis Cardinals' Texas League affiliate.
Ballpark Name Change
For the first three seasons the ballpark in Frisco was known as Dr Pepper/Seven Up Ballpark. It was renamed to just Dr Pepper Ballpark beginning in 2006.
"Renaming the stadium reinforces the Dr Pepper brand's iconic status in the Dallas/Fort Worth market and aligns more closely with a strategy that has long tied Dr Pepper to sporting venues and events," said Cadbury Schweppes, makers of Dr Pepper, in a statement announcing the name change on March 31, 2006.