Friday, April 11, 2008

Sounds cover all the bases to ready ballpark for opener

Aged stadium needed major upgrade to be playable By RACHEL STULTS • Staff Writer (TENNESSEAN) • April 11, 2008 The paint was still drying in the stands. And the sound of hammers and saws echoed through the ballpark Thursday as workers scrambled to get ready for the Sounds' home opener against the Iowa Cubs. Groundskeepers put the finishing touches on the pitcher's mound in preparation for tonight's game. And in the stands, a painter methodically stenciled row numbers on the concrete. It's show time for the aging Greer Stadium. The Nashville Sounds have spent more than $1 million during the off-season upgrading the stadium. Those fixes — a new clubhouse for players, better lights in the field, improvements to restrooms, walkways and seats — will keep it going for another three to five years. By then, the Sounds will need to make major renovations, build a new ballpark or consider moving out of Nashville. "If we had not spent the money we did over the last year it's safe to say baseball would not be played," said Sounds General Manager Glenn Yaeger. "We continue to express our need for a new ballpark, and how important that is for the future of baseball here in Nashville. We're hopeful we can identify a solution," The 31-year-old stadium was not meant to last beyond 30 years, Yaeger said. It seats 10,000 fans, typically draws 400,000 fans per season and is one of the oldest Triple A stadiums in the nation. "It was built as a Double A facility in 1977, and facility standards back then were much different," he said. "It was built on the cheap, and never would have been a facility that would have been approved today." This year marks the beginning of the Sounds' 11th season as a member of the Pacific Coast League and its fourth year as a Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. Nashville bucks trend Branch B. Rickey, league president, said Nashville's continued use of Greer Stadium bucks the national trend of building new minor-league stadiums. "There really has been a renaissance in minor-league facilities over the past 15 years," Rickey said. "Many municipalities have recognized (building new stadiums) is an opportunity to help local fans have access to outdoor recreation, access to live professional sports during the spring and summer." Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said that while city leaders are glad to see the upgrades, a deal to build a new one must be struck under the right conditions, in which the burden is not on taxpayers. "You can't neglect what you have," Riebeling said. "These were necessary improvements, and realistically speaking, we're more than a couple of years away from a (new) stadium under the best of scenarios, even if you started today." The Sounds have campaigned for more than five years to build a baseball stadium south of Broadway, on the west bank of the Cumberland River. A deal for the riverfront ballpark fell through last year, leaving fans wondering about the future of baseball in Nashville. But there are no immediate plans for relocating the stadium, and league officials say they must focus on working with what they have. Rickey said investing the money for improvements wasn't the best option, but one that was needed. "In order to be fair with home team players, visiting team players and with the umpires, something had to be done," he said. Clubhouse was too small Most of the upgrade dollars have gone toward building a new $750,000 clubhouse after Sounds management learned their facility was "unacceptable" by league standards. The old clubhouse, located under the stands, was too small for the players and in constant need of maintenance, especially when it rained and the roof leaked. The stadium's new 48,000-square-foot clubhouse is located behind the outfield and will be used by the home team, visitors and umpires. That clubhouse is still under construction and is expected to be ready by the April 28 home game. In the meantime, the Sounds will use the player facilities at LP Field while visiting teams will continue to use the clubhouse at Greer Stadium. Meanwhile, there are some improvements for the fans as well. Aged walkways and broken seats have been replaced. Lights in the infield and outfield have been upgraded. The scoreboard is fully functioning, and the restrooms have been improved with new fixtures and partitions. But there's still a lot more to be done. "It's a constant uphill battle," said Joe Hart, assistant general manager of operations. "We've been going at it hard since the first of January, but every time you walk through you see something else that needs to get fixed. We've got a things-to-do list about five pages long. But we're trying to be proactive."

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