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What was once an abandoned outdoor shopping mall is becoming a bucket list destination for youth baseball players across the country.

Ballparks of America originally opened in 2017 but changed ownership and management in April 2020. Since its inception, the goal of Ballparks of America was to create an unforgettable “stay and play” experience for athletes, coaches and parents alike. That all started with the creation of the fields.

 

Building major league fields at little league size

The biggest draw of Ballparks of America is its five two-thirds-scale replica, synthetic turf fields: St. Louis Stadium, Chicago Field, Brooklyn Field, Boston Park, and the newest Kansas City Stadium.

“The original ownership group did an awesome job developing the area to build these fields — turning this old, abandoned outlet mall into an incredible youth baseball facility fit for major leaguers,” said sales and marketing manager Brad Margolin, who was an employee under the previous ownership as well.

Kansas City is a replica of Kauffman Stadium, where the Kansas City Royals play. It was previously Detroit Stadium before the start of this spring season.

The switch from Detroit to Kansas City was one general manager Scott Bailes said was his idea because of the number of teams from KC that play at Ballparks tournaments. Bailes said teams from Wichita and Kansas City would often ask why St. Louis has its own stadium but not Kansas City.

“Now we have multiple teams from Michigan every week that want to know where our Detroit field went,” Bailes said with a laugh.

Teams travel from all over the country to visit Ballparks. On April 16, the complex posted a graphic that showed teams from 36 different states were set to play at Ballparks of America.

Cooperstown Dreams Park is Ballparks’ biggest competitor, according to Bailes. Cooperstown is often looked at as a “rite of passage” for 12-year-old baseball players, Bailes said.

The park, however, isn’t having its opening day until July 23. With summer baseball starting Memorial Day weekend, teams that would have gone to Cooperstown decided to go to Ballparks instead. And they’re loving it, Bailes said.

“Coaches are telling us that the place is amazing — there’s more for the boys to do, the food is better, and it’s a better value pricewise,” Bailes said. “We’re opening a lot of doors that will hopefully help our sales going forward and make it even easier to fill this place up next season.”

 

Growing into the complex and community

Along with the experience of the fields, Bailes and Margolin said Ballparks wants the experience to be memorable for the families of players. To aid that, Ballparks of America has multiple partnerships with other Branson businesses.

The latest partnership was with White Water and Silver Dollar City. Players and their families received access to exclusive ticket pricing to both attractions, said a January announcement. In addition to the deal, Ballparks renamed two tournaments after Silver Dollar City/White Water attractions — the Time Traveler Showdown and the KaPau Plummet Klassic.

“After the first ownership group closed the doors and walked away, I spent most of my first year mending fences with local businesses,” Bailes said. “I think we’re in a good place now. We have a great relationship with Silver Dollar City and White Water. I mean, they’re our neighbors — and that’s one thing every family wants to see when they come to Branson.”

Ballparks of America also has partnerships with Great Southern Bank, The Tracks Family Fun Parks, Thousand Hills and more.

“We’ve tried to get as ingrained as we can in this community,” Bailes said.

In the last year, Ballparks has also made additions to enhance the family experience on campus. About a year ago, the Pro Shop opened, giving guests an opportunity to purchase and show off Ballparks of America gear. Located right behind Chicago Field, the Pro Shop offers clothing, hats, bats, balls and more.

This year’s addition was the Double Play Cafe, a gourmet ballpark food restaurant. Each field has its own hot dog based on the city the field is in. There’s also burgers, sandwiches and even a 24-ounce pretzel. The restaurant gives additional food options to go with the two concession stands on campus.

Margolin said even the small things are the biggest draw of Ballparks. Every team suite has lockers, and this year, every team that stays on campus gets a nameplate above their locker — something Margolin remembers being a big deal to him even as a senior playing college baseball.

The complex also offers a photography deal, allowing parents to “save the camera batteries for the family vacation photos,” a Facebook post said. Athletes can remember their stay with photo galleries and/or a poster of their time on major league-like fields.

“We want it to be that thing that when they have kids, they talk about how they went to Ballparks of America — we want that experience that is something they will talk about for the rest of their life. That’s why we keep adding; we want to make it more spectacular,” Bailes said.

 

Looking at the future of the complex

With constant additions to the complex — and the hope to continue adding more — Bailes and Margolin agreed the future of Ballparks of America is very bright.

In just the last year, Ballparks has more than doubled the number of teams registered for its summer tournaments, Margolin said. The on-campus suites are full consistently, and tournaments were full weeks or months in advance of the deadline.

The COVID-19 pandemic played a factor in how many teams could or would play last year. As part of the stay-and-play experience, teams are fed breakfast and lunch on campus. Bailes said the complex accounted for approximately 50 kids per day in food. Now, that number is more than 400.

Ballparks is also continuing to add to the experience for teams as well, including more extravagant opening ceremonies, home run derbies and day-to-day field experiences.

“I don’t know anyone else who does anything like us,” Bailes said.

Because of the reputation of the complex, other tournament operators want to host their own tournaments at Ballparks. In the fall and spring, tournament hosts like Game7 and GMB will compete at the complex.

The most well-known and likely most exciting guest at Ballparks, though, is Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth Major 70 World Series, where teams from across the United States and the world travel to Branson to play baseball. This year, teams will travel to Ballparks of America from Aug. 5-14 to play.

“This is stuff you just don’t find at other ballparks,” Margolin said. “We’re really developing this place to be a full-fledged baseball facility instead of just fields.”

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