LOWELL -- When it comes to short-season Minor League Baseball's cathedrals, Edward A. LeLacheur Park now rates as the St. Peter's Basilica of ballparks.
Nestled on the banks of the Merrimack River, this beloved local Hardball Holy Land has been recognized nationally for its charm, design and location by the legion of fans who pledge allegiance to the Lowell Spinners, the Boston Red Sox' short-season Class A affiliate in the New York-Penn League (NY-PL).
Many of Boston's top prospects begin their journey to Fenway Park, America's most beloved ballpark, in Lowell. Now the Red Sox players of the future get to start the road to The Show in one of the most beloved ballparks in the minors.
LeLacheur Park, home of the Spinners since 1998, has been named the best short-season ballpark in the country for 2017 by Ballpark Digest.
Ballpark Digest, one of the most read news publications in Minor League Baseball, declared LeLacheur Park the winner by a voting of fans from across the United States. The stadiums of all 22 short-season clubs in the NY-PL and Northwest League took part in the contest. LeLacheur Park had to win five rounds of matchups, which began in mid-July. In the finals, LeLacheur Park prevailed over Avista Stadium, home of the Spokane (Wash.) Indians.
"This is a wonderful honor," said Spinners owner Dave Heller. "I'm very happy. This is not a win for the Spinners and LeLacheur Park, as much as it is a win for the entire city of Lowell and the Merrimack Valley.
It's a national award. And it's great to see Lowell get the kind of national recognition it deserves."
Over the years, LeLacheur has been home to many future Red Sox stars, including outfielders Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley, Jr., but now it's time for this sparkling jewel of a ballyard to get some well deserved notoriety.
"This ballpark is home to generations of memories and it's an honor for the entire country to see what a special place the city of Lowell truly is," said Spinners general manager Shawn Smith. "This award celebrates all the fans of the Greater Merrimack Valley, while showcasing the partnership between the city, UMass Lowell and our ballclub. The best is yet to come!"
It certainly is as the Spinners, the city of Lowell and UMass Lowell reached an agreement on a new lease in June that will keep the team playing at LeLacheur Park for the foreseeable future.
"I've always felt that LeLacheur Park is a gem of a baseball facility," said Lowell City Manager Kevin Murphy. "This goes to show that people, beyond Lowell, agree that it is a gem. This honor shows that LeLacheur Park is kept and maintained in spectacular fashion."
And the baseball experience for Spinners' fans attending a game at LeLacheur Park in the coming years will be even better with scheduled improvements that include a new playing surface, a new drainage/irrigation system and new LED energy-efficient lights.
LeLacheur Park will host a celebration in its own honor as the Spinners will allow free entry to fans for their game against Hudson Valley on Sept. 5 at 6:35 p.m.
"We're going to open up the gates and let everybody in for free," said Heller. "You win an award like this, and the first thing you want to do is celebrate with your friends. So we're inviting 5,000 of our closest friends to come out to LeLacheur Park and enjoy a night of celebration under the stars."