1996 : Oldsmobile Park Opens in Lansing

When:
April 3, 2023 all-day
2023-04-03T00:00:00-04:00
2023-04-04T00:00:00-04:00

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Lansing’s minor league ballpark – Oldsmobile Park – made its debut on April 3, 1996, with a college game between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.

Two days later, with the temperature around 40 degrees and ice still clinging to metal bleachers, the Lansing Lugnuts baseball team began play against the Rockford (Ill.) Cubbies.

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Professional baseball was back in Michigan’s state capital for the first time in 55 years. It was welcomed with enthusiasm the likes of which the Minor League landscape had never seen before.

An astounding 538,326 rooters attended games at Oldsmobile Park during the 1996 regular season, making Lansing the first Class-A team to break the 500,000-fan mark in its first year. The total was additionally the second-highest Class-A attendance in MiLB history (topped only by crosstown rival West Michigan during the same 1996 campaign) and ranked the Lugnuts fourth in the nation in Minor League attendance. As the cherry on top, Baseball America took a poll to determine the nation’s favorite Minor League nickname. The Lansing Lugnuts finished second.

In the mid-2000s, Michigan’s automobile industry was in trouble. Lansing’s automotive history is a proud one, dating back to native son Ransom E. Olds and his Olds Motor Works at the turn of the 20th century. With General Motors struggling, however, plants were shut down throughout Michigan, including in the heart of Lansing. Unemployment grew precipitously. Though the Lugnuts’ attendance remained consistent in spite of the area’s hardships, it soon became untenable for GM to pay the naming rights to maintain Oldsmobile Park. (The Oldsmobile brand, after all, had been closed in spring of 2004.)

During the 2009-2010 offseason, the Lansing Lugnuts reached a new naming rights pact with Lansing’s own Thomas M. Cooley Law School, the largest law school in the country. Entering 2010, it was agreed, Oldsmobile Park became Cooley Law School Stadium.

Additionally, Jackson National Life Insurance and the Lugnuts agreed to a separate contract to name the team’s natural turf as Jackson Field. The field’s dimensions are idiosyncratic and captivating, with 305-foot short porches down the left and right field lines culminating in 23-foot tall walls. The power alleys do a hitter no favors, stretching out to 380 feet in left-center and angling all the way to 412 feet at deepest right-center. As such, the park lends itself to regular highlight-reel grabs and the definite possibility of an inside the park home run.

Cooley Law School Stadium

Sources:

Lansing State Journal, April 4 and April 5, 1996.

Jesse-Goldberg-Strassler, “Cooley Law School Stadium / Lansing Lugnuts“, Ballpark Digest, January 10, 2013.

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