Clippers break ground to new home

 Messenger photo by Rachel Scofield
 Amidst the politicians and business people congratulating each other about “booorrrring stuff” at the Huntington Park groundbreaking on Aug. 2, Austin Hurley, 7, and Joey Sajdyk, 7, play baseball. Sajdyk, wearing jersey 44 of the Plain City Clippers, hurls an imaginary fastball, yet teammate Austin manages to make solid contact with his invisible bat.

On Aug. 2, local politicians and corporate leaders joined businessmen on their lunch breaks and girl scouts waving banners to break ground for the Columbus Clippers’ new stadium.

Hundreds of people endured sweltering heat as speaker after speaker described the future Huntington Park and thanked the multiple government and business entities that contributed time and money to the $56 million project.

After the speeches, children joined LouSeal and Krash, the Clippers’ mascots, and several Franklin County Commissioners to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Free stadium concessions including hot dogs and popcorn were available to anyone willing to wait in line.

Representatives from the major financial contributors joined the commissioners to dig into the dusty lot using decorative shovels with baseball bat handles and the Huntington Bank logo die-cut into the blades.

“Baseball fans, especially our season ticket holders, are going to love to go to games. They will enjoy the closeness to the field and the great sightlines in an accessible and affordable ballpark,” said Mary Jo Kilroy, President of the Commissioners. “We are paying attention to things that will attract new fans as well, including families, young professionals, and visitors from the nearby convention center.”

“Huntington Park will be unique, unlike any other ballpark in the major or minor league,” said Brian J. Ellis, President of Nationwide Realty Investors. “Ultimately, we want all visitors to have a great experience and take pride in having such a great facility in our community.”

Ellis said the ballpark would include rooftop bleachers like Wrigley Field in Chicago and a tall outfield wall reminiscent of Fenway Park’s “Green Monster” in Boston.

The commissioners promised that ticket prices and parking would remain affordable and Dime-A-Dog Night would continue to be a tradition.

Community reaction to the new ballpark has been mixed.

Mike Mobley of Hilliard goes to Clippers games several times a year. He used to sell Cracker Jacks at Cooper Stadium when he was younger and last Saturday he took his son Grayson, age 3, to his first game.

Huntington Park appeals more to him than Cooper Stadium, Mobley said. “The new ballpark will be in a little better neighborhood, and I hate to say it but (Cooper Stadium) is getting run down.”

To Ray Shaulisby of Sunbury, who also worked in the stadium concession stand as a young man, being run-down is part of “the Coop’s” charm.

At the game Aug. 4, he pointed to a patch of tall grass sprouting from the roof.

“You won’t be able to grow grass on (the new stadium’s) roof,” Shaulisby said.

Shaulisby is one of the “Boyz” who gather every home game in the uppermost section of the right field stands. Unbeknownst to the stadium management, the Boyz recently glued a brass plaque inscribed with their names to a beam near their seats.

Shaulisby said that he will miss the Coop, but he looks forward to the new ballpark. One feature he will especially miss is the George P. Dysart Memorial Park located outside right field. The park honors baseball greats who once played for Columbus.

Another member of the Boyz, Dan Dupler of Upper Arlington, said, “I’m very sad to see this place go. This has been my summer haven for many years and I’m disappointed that the Coop will no longer be home to the Clippers. I’ll shed a tear at that last game here.”

Drupler first came to the Coop with his dad in 1961 to see the Columbus Jets play baseball and Drupler later brought his own kids.

“I hope the prices and the atmosphere that have been the Columbus Clippers will stay the same, but in my heart I know they won’t. In two years, going to a game will be the exotic thing to do.  You won’t have regular people. You’ll have yuppies wanting to do the new exciting thing. You’ll lose the atmosphere that has given old timers like myself so much pleasure,” Drupler said.

Roy Woolever of Reynoldsburg, chairman and founding member of the Boyz agrees with Drupler.

Woolever said that he currently attends about half the games but will go to much fewer at the new ballpark because it will be “too far away and have more traffic.”

“I think they should have fixed this place and left it alone,” Woolever said.

Excavation of the new stadium will begin this fall with Huntington Park slated to open in April of 2009.

Franklin County will own Huntington Park as they do Cooper Stadium.

Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, who has led many revitalization projects in an effort to combat urban decay, praised the commissioners on building the stadium on a brown space.  The commissioners told the city that they intend to sell Cooper Stadium to an entity willing to revitalize it as well, Coleman said.

Commissioner Marilyn Brown announced that American Electric Power and Time Warner Communications joined the list of sponsors including Huntington Bank which contributed $12 million for the naming rights, the city of Columbus which contributed $9.3 million for the ballpark’s infrastructure, the Columbus Dispatch which contributed $6 million for the scoreboard naming rights and Nationwide Insurance & Realty which contributed $6 million for the concourse naming rights.

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