Before there was a Chase Center.
Before there was Riverfront Market or the Delaware Children’s Museum.
Before there was Iron Hill Brewery, Big Fish Grill, Justison Landing, Penn Cinema, Russell Peterson Wildlife Center, Riverfront Mini Golf, Constitution Yards, the headquarters for AAA, Barclays and Navient…
Before all of this, there was Frawley Stadium, home of the Wilmington Blue Rocks.
Considering the many steps forward the Riverfront has taken over the past two decades, it’s easy to lose sight of the first one. Let’s not.
To me, the rebirth of the Riverfront began with the announcement in 1992 that through the efforts of visionaries such as Steve Taylor, Dan Frawley and Matt Minker, minor league baseball was returning to Wilmington. Furthermore, a first-class stadium would be built for the Blue Rocks on the site of the former Dravo Shipyard, a neglected part of the city’s riverfront. (Wilmington did have a minor-league baseball franchise named the Blue Rocks from 1940-52. In fact, Phillies legend Robin Roberts pitched for them.)
I like baseball as much as our president likes to tweet, so upon the announcement, my business partner and I were like kids who had just learned the circus was coming to town. We’re getting season tickets—immediately. For one time in our lives, we would have front-row seats. Every game!
So, the day after the announcement, we began the quest to reserve those front-row seats. It wasn’t easy. There was no Blue Rocks staff, no ticket office, no clear point of contact. We ended up discovering a Minker Construction trailer in Hockessin that was doubling as a makeshift Blue Rocks office. And when we showed up announcing we were there to buy season tickets, we were greeted like guests who had showed up a week early for a dinner party. Come back next month; tickets aren’t available yet. We haven’t even broken ground on the stadium… was the response, as I recall.
We refused to take no for an answer, however, and insisted they accept our deposit for eight front-row seats behind the dugout on the first-base line. Today, I still have four of those seats.
And I remember opening day, April 17, 1993, as if it were yesterday. It was breezy and overcast, far from ideal baseball weather. It didn’t matter. The atmosphere was electric. Robin Roberts had returned to throw out the first pitch, and professional baseball was happening in Wilmington—in a stadium that Minker, a diehard baseball fan operating on sheer willpower, miraculously built in just six months.
When the Rocks’ Raul Gonzalez capped a four-run rally in the bottom of the ninth with a two-run single, a magical day came to a fitting conclusion. Blue Rocks history was reborn. And so was a long-ignored Wilmington Riverfront.
This season, the Blue Rocks will be celebrating their 25th anniversary, and I encourage you to find the time to catch a game or two. The parking is free, a reserve box seat is only $10, and the dizzy bat race is as entertaining as ever.
In retrospect, it’s not hyperbole to say Frawley Stadium was a field of dreams. The Riverfront area was an eyesore before then, far from the bustling destination it is today.
In fact, for those of us who’ve been around a while, it’s rewarding to sit in the stands, do a panoramic survey of the setting, and marvel at all that has happened since that opening pitch.