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Home Field: 121 Financial Ballpark, Jacksonville, FL

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When Ken Babby bought the well-established minor league baseball team, the Jacksonville Suns, in 2015, he could have left things as they were, and all would have been fine. The ballclub had won three Southern League championships in the prior seven seasons and was quite popular in northeastern Florida. However, Babby saw that the franchise could be a better version of itself, and he arrived with a mission to make coming to a Jacksonville ballgame “affordable family fun.” 

Photo Courtesy MiLB

Toward that end, Babby changed the team’s name to the distinctively humorous and regionally relevant Jumbo Shrimp. A unique Tiki Terrace was built, and new concession food items attracted coverage from the Travel Channel. His fan-friendly ideas quickly won over local baseball followers.

During their first year as the Jumbo Shrimp, Jacksonville achieved a 23% increase in attendance and set a team record for season attendance. 

A primary goal behind the stadium’s approximately $2 million renovation was to create, as Babby described it, “a cleaner, crisper looking baseball grounds …” in an interview with WJCT News. In keeping with this concept, the stadium — then called the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville before assuming its current name, 121 Financial Ballpark, in 2020 — features LED lighting, creating a clean, crisp look. Cleanliness, as the Jacksonville Daily Record noted in a 2016 Babby profile, “is a ‘big thing’ for him.” 

Photo Courtesy MiLB

Babby underscored this interest when the Jumbo Shrimp introduced the “Cleanest Ballpark initiative” for the team’s home games in 2017.

The campaign got a big boost in 2020 when Jacksonville partnered with Advanced Disposal, a sustainability-oriented solid waste solutions company, on a deal that included installing a new set of recycling bins, which made it easier for fans to recycle aluminum and plastic. 

“Working together, we are committed to setting the highest standards of cleanliness at the ballpark,” Babby said in a statement. “Our fans have come to expect a clean and safe environment.” 

One particularly successful program has been the “Clean Team,” which the Jumbo Shrimp launched to keep 121 Financial Ballpark looking nice and tidy. Team members’ work starts before the home games begin and continue until the last out. Their duties include emptying trash receptacles, removing trash from the main concourse, responding to spill calls, and ensuring the restrooms are clean and stocked with paper products and soap. 

Photo Courtesy MiLB

The team also worked to get its fans invested in making the stadium the “Cleanest Ballpark in the Minor Leagues” by including useful, educational information in the game day programs and by showing PSAs on the video scoreboard. To further promote its cleanliness agenda and create a fun connection with its fans, the Jumbo Shrimp devised a cute idea of honoring a child and selecting them to clean off the home plate before the start of a game. 

The franchise’s interest in doing good work for the community has extended beyond creating a lively, clean atmosphere at the ballpark.

The ballclub has collaborated with area charities and co-founded an educational program focused on the sports business industry with a local high school. 

During the 2023 baseball season, the Jumbo Shrimp is donating its share of the 50/50 Raffle, which is done at every home game, to Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville. When the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the Minor League’s 2020 season, the team hosted movie nights, a bingo night, and Independence Day fireworks show in 121 Financial Ballpark. These events fit in with the organization’s mission to present affordable family fun, “even when there’s no baseball game going on,” Babby said.

Photo Courtesy MiLB

In 2020, the team introduced Jumbo Shrimp-branded license plates, with proceeds benefiting the St. Johns Riverkeeper, a local nonprofit whose mission is to protect the St. Johns River, which has been called Jacksonville’s “crown jewel.” 

“The Jumbo Shrimp’s acknowledgment of how important the river is sends a powerful message that we have to protect the river, and we have to take care of it,” Jimmy Orth, St. Johns Riverkeeper executive director, told the Florida Times-Union. “It’s important to our community and important to our economy.”

Jumbo Shrimp management has passed down the significance of community involvement to its players. Several players participated in Major League Baseball’s 2023 PLAY BALL initiative when it was held at 121 Financial Ballpark. This worldwide campaign has baseball clinics for youngsters who are underserved and interested in baseball. 

“It’s cool to look back and realize that I was exactly like these kids,” shared Jake Walters, Jumbo Shrimp pitcher. “To see how the roles are reversed, now it is just important to make sure that you’re giving back.” 

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