Spring Training Design & Advancements in Player Development
“People who write about spring training not being necessary have never tried to throw a baseball” – Sandy Koufax
For die hard baseball fans, there is perhaps no greater experience than spring training. It’s where it all begins. It’s the start of what can be a game-changing season for a team and a city. It’s the end of the winter blues and the beginning of beautiful weather and lazy afternoons in ballparks that feel more intimate than you could ever imagine. If regular season ballparks are the equivalent of fans’ homes away from home, spring training ballparks are like returning to the room where you grew up. They feel familiar and nostalgic, comfortable and authentic. Spring training, for many fans, feels like going home again.
But spring training is very purposeful – and player development is serious business. In 30 plus years of designing ballparks, including spring training facilities, we have seen the dramatic impact the evolution of player development has had on design and planning.
Spring Training – A Residential Approach
Fans of spring training see the ballpark and adjacent fields. But behind the scenes, the training facilities on the site play an important role in the development of talent, giving players facilities where they can build their skills, develop their bodies and bond as a team.
The recently completed Minnesota Twins Academy at CenturyLink Sports Complex takes the training facility program to a new level with the environment and function. The Twins Academy has become the physical and symbolic center of player development for the Twins organization. By incorporating a residential academy, the Twins have created a spring training home that provides all levels of players an environment to thrive, rehab and acclimate to the team’s brand and culture. In addition to residential rooms, the academy includes a dining hall, player game room, player lounges, classrooms, tutoring facilities and a theater seating 200. Additionally, the on-campus environment offers nutrition, safe recreation, security and significant travel time savings for players on a full time training schedule. Young players in the Twins organization make the Academy home for spring training, extended spring training and instructional leagues, while interacting with players from all levels who use the facility for extended rehab assignments.
As designers, the new Twins Academy has allowed us an opportunity to assist our client in creating an environment that extends beyond merely functional space:
- Capture brand values – Early in the design process we charette, research and listen. We ask questions about and discuss the team’s brand with the client team who know it best – their executives, employees, athletes and fans. We listen, capture and better define what the brand represents and how the facility will be used to meet the specific needs and traditions of the team, while reinforcing and enhancing the team brand through design. We then translate these values through programming, architectural design and interior design, working with the team on all of the details that create a sense of place: environmental graphics, wayfinding signage, furniture selection and artwork selection. At the Twins Academy, themed player residential rooms are named after key players in Twins history; the theater concept, named Champions Hall, was reinforced by selecting wall graphics that tell the story of Twins Championships and the team’s values; and numerous other themed spaces throughout are based on moments in team history, helping to develop and create a sense of place and belonging for developing players.
- Build community – The Academy provides the Twins an opportunity to build a sense of camaraderie and community that is essential to a team’s success as a team on the field of play. We designed spaces like game rooms, dining halls, conference rooms and semi-private study space where players have the opportunity to come to know each other outside of the dugout and off the field, while also providing more private spaces for quiet relaxation. By consolidating the living, dining and lounging quarters, we created a way for the Twins to more cohesively introduce new players to the organization and provide ample opportunity for them to bond with their teammates. We went to great lengths to make sure the players were comfortable in their new home, conducting focus interviews regarding design issues, soliciting feedback on the design of the rooms and even building two iterations of the player rooms to make sure every convenience of home was provided.
- Acclimate players to team culture – The Academy was also carefully designed to integrate developing or recently acquired talent to a team’s culture. We worked with the team to evaluate how to best capture and communicate the brand to new talent – some of which plays itself out in compelling graphics throughout the living, eating and relaxing spaces in a building that reinforce the team’s defining moments and approach to the game. Every team’s culture is unique and design is an opportunity to clearly define that culture to shape new talents’ impression and experience as they join an organization. The team also took seriously the challenge of creating a home away from home for the players by investing significantly in an art program that adds a fine grain level of detail to communicate the team culture and values at every turn.
Spring Training – Development Tools
Outside of the Academy walls, design also plays an important role in the tools a team has and uses to develop and rehabilitate players. We work closely with team executives, managers and coaches, physical therapy staff and trainers, to understand the specific training components that are essential to growing the talent of the organization. The renovations of CenturyLink Sports Complex added significant new facilities to bring the facility to modern standards of baseball training:
- Agility fields – In recent years, we’ve added agility fields, which are designated playing field quality grass flat areas with an adjacent small hill with a prescribed gradient. Additionally, we incorporated a sand pit for other types of physical movement training. These areas are used for various training exercises to develop speed, agility and quickness, giving coaching staff another space to train and physically challenge their players.
- Weight rooms – The design of weight rooms has evolved. Just a decade ago, many weight rooms were small spaces stacked with weights and not much else. The evolution of how trainers work with baseball players has shaped our designs. It may be more accurate to now describe these rooms as physical conditioning rooms because traditional weight equipment now takes up a relatively smaller proportion of the square footage of these rooms. Significantly greater square footage is now allocated to these physical conditioning rooms due to the greater variety of equipment and training spaces required. Beyond just traditional weights, we now see more different types of aerobic training equipment, anti-gravity treadmills, slide training areas, elastic band training areas, body weight training areas, compressed air resistance equipment, medicine ball areas and heavy rope training areas.
- Hydrotherapy and physical therapy – The science behind physical therapy and training has also impacted design. More sophisticated approaches to rehabbing and long-term development of players has created a need for significant physical therapy offerings at a spring training complex and hydrotherapy spaces to supplement and support the health and well-being of players. A hydrotherapy room is no longer simply a stainless steel tub in the corner of the training room; we now have separate spaces with dedicated humidity control featuring deep, treadmill equipped therapy pools and hot and cold plunge pools.
The reality of sports is that player development, physical training and rehabilitation strategies will continue to evolve as rapidly as teams adapt to new medical research and science in order to offer their players to best opportunity to succeed on the playing field. Our opportunity, as designers, is to continue to listen to our clients and their changing needs and to assist them in defining those needs architecturally to enhance their ability to develop player talent and to enhance the team’s ability to indoctrinate their players with a deep understanding of the team and the team brand and culture.
Keep an eye on the blog – in our next post in this series, Dave St. Peter, President of the Twins (@TwinsPrez), will talk about capturing and creating a continuous brand through design, from Minneapolis to Fort Myers.