Parks and Recreationby Brian Borawski
February 11, 2005
Throughout the league, many teams are going through some sort of transition with their stadium. Some are adding seats, some are making minor renovations, and some are trying to get public funding for a new stadium. While many of these don’t equate to a full fledged story, I figured I’d do a quick update on who’s doing what with regard to their stadium.
This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, as I’m sure just about every team is doing “something” with their ballpark, but these are the things of which I’m aware.
Detroit Tigers – In 2003, after complaints from both players and the fans, the Tigers finally moved the left field and left center fences in 20 feet at Comerica Park. A consequence of this is a 20-foot wide strip of dead space between the new fence and the old fence. It seems like every time I went to the park and walked by the statues in left center, I’d hear someone comment “They should do something with that space.”
The team announced earlier this winter that they’ve begun renovations to move the bullpens (originally in right field) into that space, and they’re going to add seats in right field. I think a lot of this is being done in anticipation of the All Star Game this summer. Since more homeruns go out to right field, the new seats should make a welcome addition for events like the Home Run Derby.
Chicago Cubs – Wrigley Field will be able to handle more bleacher creatures. Specifically, it’ll be able to handle 1,790 more. The city approved the addition without a sidewalk support column that the local residents considered unsafe. To compensate the city for the approval, the Cubs are going to pay for a neighborhood park, and they’ll be paying for a trolley service that will pick fans up from Michigan Avenue hotels and drop them off at the ballpark.
Washington Nationals – With baseball returning to the D.C. area, the renovations on their interim home, RFK Stadium, have begun. The field dimensions are symmetrical, with the lines being 336 feet, the alleys measuring 380 feet, and straightaway center going out 410 feet. The pitcher's mound will be portable because the baseball team is sharing the stadium with D.C.’s soccer team, the United.
Florida Marlins – The Marlins’ stadium escapades are turning into a soap opera. First, team officials made an official and public trip to Las Vegas to show they have suitors if Miami doesn’t want them. Then former Marlins owner, and current owner of Pro Player Stadium (currently renamed Dolphins Stadium), H. Wayne Huizenga, informed the Marlins they’re no longer welcome to play in his stadium after 2010.
Faced with eviction in half a decade, team President David Samson hit up the state for $60 million, essentially saying they’ll relocate if they don’t get the funds for a new stadium. The response from Florida Senate President Tom Lee was inflammatory to say the least by calling the Marlins’ front office terrorists.
As it stands, the measure for public funding has pretty significant resistance. It didn’t help matters much when the team signed Carlos Delgado to a $52 million contract. The thought is that if they can afford to pay a player that much, they can afford to build their own stadium. The recent announcement that the team and the county have reached an agreement only goes so far since it’s the state that they’re hoping will pony up the $60 million.
Los Angeles Dodgers – In 1999, News Corp. began upgrading Dodger Stadium to current seismic standards after they found out a fault runs underneath the stadium. The upgrades were put on hold when News Corp. was in the process of selling the team, and now new owner Frank McCourt has decided the upgrades aren’t necessary. Instead they’re in the process of adding 1,600 premium seats at about the same cost that seismic upgrades would have ended up costing.
Toronto Blue Jays – Rogers Communications, Inc., the owner of the Jays, recently purchased the SkyDome. Some aesthetic improvements were promised such as new turf and a new scoreboard. The biggest change is name of the stadium. It will now be called Rogers Centre.
Oakland Athletics – The team’s Vice President of Venue Development, Lewis Wolff, is buying the team from current owners Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann. Unhappy with the Coliseum, Wolff has been working on a stadium plan since joining the team in November, 2003.
There’s a ton of posturing going on here. Wolff will try to get the best possible deal from the city of Oakland for a new stadium, but rumors are flying that the team could relocate to as close as San Jose or as far away as Las Vegas or Portland. For now, the former fraternity brother of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig is assuring Oakland that he wants to stay, and has given the city and county exclusive rights for one year to come up with a stadium plan.
Kansas City Royals – A 15-member task force that includes city and county officials was formed to discuss the benefits of a downtown ballpark. The task force’s recommendation is due on May 1st, but most interestingly enough, owner David Glass played coy and claimed that the league’s competitive balance issues are much more important to him then building a new ballpark. When asked point blank if he’d take a new stadium if it was paid for, he dodged the question by talking about needing 100% support from the city and county. When asked a second time, he finally conceded that he’d take a fully financed stadium.
Minnesota Twins – The Twins nearly ten-year quest for a new stadium will once again be delayed, most likely until after the gubernatorial race in 2006 has come and gone. Minnesota and Minneapolis seem to be holding their position, but it will be interesting to see how time wears down the opposition. It’s not so much whether the Twins need a new stadium or not (they probably do), it’s whether the taxpayers or the millionaire owner who will directly benefit from the stadium should foot the bill.
Boston Red Sox - A two year renovation of Fenway Park is planned. The most significant part of the renovation is the creation of “The Pavilion,” which will be a new category of premium seats behind home plate. The Pavilion seats should be available for the 2006 season. Another major change is an overhaul of the .406 Club behind home plate. Named in honor of Ted Williams' 1941 batting average, the renovations will create two levels of club seating where only one now exists, resulting in 200 more seats. Over 2,000 additional seats or standing locations are also being added on the roofs that extend above the right and left field stands. In all, capacity will increase to 38,815 from 36,298.
Several aesthetic improvements are planned for Lansdowne Street, including new trees, street lights and a widened sidewalk. A food court and a new restaurant are also part of the plans.
Several field and club improvements are also part of the renovation. The clubhouse, batting cages and the tunnel between the clubhouse and the field are set to be improved. Also, a new drainage system is being designed to reduce flooding and shorten rain delays.
St. Louis Cardinals – Construction of the Cardinals’ new home continues. The new Busch Stadium is on track to open for the 2006 season, but it’s had its road blocks. In November, 2004, the team had to halt construction of the stadium because there wasn’t enough unobstructed space between the south side of the stadium and the highway that it borders.
Also in November, 2004, a county proposition passed that would stop public financing of professional stadiums unless the measure was approved by the voters. This called into question $46.3 million in bonds the county issued to helped subsidize the stadium. While local attorneys didn’t seemed concerned that this would affect the bonds already put into place, Moodys downgraded the debt rating on the bonds, citing legal and political uncertainties as to whether the county would be able to make their first payment on May 1, 2005.
Finally, in December, 2004, the team and the St. Louis Fire Department reached a tentative agreement with regard to the proximity of the stadium to the highway. The deal involved the team pitching in to pay for valves similar to fire hydrants for the nearby highway. I tried to confirm that this agreement had been finalized, but I’ve yet to hear from my source.
References and Resources
Business of Baseball Website http://www.businessofbaseball.com
Field of Schemes http://www.fieldofschemes.com
Brian Borawski is a member of SABR's Business of Baseball Committee and writes about the Detroit Tigers at his own website, TigerBlog. He welcomes comments, questions and suggestions via e-mail.