April means baseball. And in Columbus, baseball means Ken Schnacke. The Clippers general manager hasn't anticipated an upcoming baseball season as much as this one in a long time. Ten years, to be exact.
This season marks the 10th anniversary of Huntington Park, that gem of a Downtown ballpark that county leaders and Nationwide Realty Investors, among others, envisioned for the Arena District back when that planned neighborhood was in its infancy. Lots of things were done right in the development of the Arena District. You’d have to work really hard to convince me that anything was done better than Huntington Park.
To celebrate that anniversary, there’s a lot of cool stuff happening. More than $600,000 was invested to redo the playing field with new turf. A new $1 million scoreboard will be installed before the April 12 home opener. But that’s just window dressing for the big events; namely, Columbus will host not only the Triple-A All-Star Game on July 11, but also the Triple-A National Championship Game Sept. 18. Both pit the best of the International League, of which the Clippers are a member, against the best of the Pacific Coast League, the league where Joe DiMaggio once roamed the outfield for the San Francisco Seals. It’s the first time one city has hosted both of minor league baseball’s banner events.
Thank Schnacke for that. “I kind of let people know a couple of years out that I wanted these games for our 10th anniversary,” he says. “With my senior status, no one was really going to compete with me. In fact, everyone thought I was crazy.”
Schnacke, who’s been with the Clippers since November of 1976, says it’s going to be a lot of work. “Twelve years ago, I put so much on the line to raise money to open this ballpark,” he says. “I just needed to let some time pass before I started asking for more money. But I figured the anniversary was time.”
The All-Star Game in particular will be a big lift for Schnacke and a big treat for fans—a three-day celebration with the future stars of the game congregating in the Arena District, complete with a FanFest so big the city’s closing down part of Nationwide Boulevard to accommodate it.
And sometime this season, yet to be scheduled, another baseball celebration will take place in Columbus, an International League Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Schnacke, who’s been the Clippers’ general manager since 1989. He, along with the league’s all-time home run hitter, Mike Hessman, were voted in by a panel of league executives, members of the media and current Hall of Fame members.
It’s a great time to be a baseball fan in Columbus. Just ask Schnacke. The Cleveland native and lifelong Indians fan says he still gets excited for April, still loves the smell of freshly cut outfield grass, still remembers his first autographed baseball—Luis Tiant, the husky former Indians and Boston Red Sox pitcher with the corkscrew delivery. Schnacke considers himself one of the lucky ones, reporting to work for more than 40 years at a ballpark. “It doesn’t feel like I’ve worked a day in my life,” he says.