By JOE McFARLAND
The idea of a “perfect day for baseball” in Lethbridge is slated to acquire a whole new meaning when the Western Major Baseball League season begins.
While Bulls fans have been treated to a great on-field product over the years, including a WMBL championship in 2015, their home field has been in need of a makeover for a while. And this summer, they will finally get what they have been asking for, as crews put the finishing touches on a $2.3-million facelift.
But it hasn’t been an easy road.
“It was a long process,” admitted Bulls general manager Kevin Kvame. “It actually started about ten years ago when the stadium was renamed for Spitz.”
The intent was to upgrade the aging facility, modernize it and make it more fan-friendly.
“We went through three or four versions of drawings and stuff,” Kvame told Alberta Dugout Stories. “The first one was a really-sharp looking drawing keeping the old look. But over the course of visiting stadiums and doing cost analyses, it was almost unrealistic.”
The project team went on several trips to see diamonds in Great Falls and Missoula as well as Edmonton and Okotoks, in hopes of finding something that would fit their needs. They were impressed with Seaman Stadium, in particular.
“It’s a fantastic facility and if we can capture some of that, it would be great for our fans as well,” Kvame said. “So we combined some ideas from all of those places, because our footprint is different and you have to make due with what is existing unless you’re going to start from scratch.”
A complete teardown and rebuild was never part of the plan, he added.
Spitz Stadium sits in an interesting spot just off Mayor Magrath Drive near Henderson Lake. With Parkside Drive to the south and the Lethbridge Tennis Club to the east, there’s simply not a lot of room to expand. As Kvame points out, the footprint is different.
So instead of building out, they decided to build it up with an upper concourse behind the grandstand, which Kvame says will allow for fans to go to the top and look out over the field, but also turn around to see the lake and Mayor Magrath.
“We came up with a different vision of building this upper concourse and being more covered but still having that outdoor feeling to it,” Kvame said. “I think we’ve come up with a pretty great compromise and structure for the redesigned Spitz Stadium.”
In an ever-changing fight for attention, not just in sports, but in all facets of life, Kvame knows that the Bulls needed to up the ante when it comes to game-day experience for the fans, and he’s hopeful they are on the right path.
The upper concourse will include a new entrance and ticket office (which was previously housed in a nearby portable facility), with additional washrooms and concessions, a VIP suite and covered accessibility seating, as well as an upgraded fence line to enhance sight-lines.
“First impressions will be everything,” Kvame conceded. “If we can hook them in with the first visit, hopefully they will keep coming back.”
NOTHING BUT UPSIDE
From a fan standpoint, a revamped Spitz Stadium has been “long overdue” in the eyes of many. From a business standpoint, Kvame sees the opportunities ahead. He has seen the per-person spending numbers comparing different facilities and thinks this could help, admitting there is room to grow.
“I attribute that to the lines and lack of multiple locations for people to grab a food item or beverage item at the ballpark,” he said. “Part of the whole plan is to bring that per-person spend back up.”
The stadium will now feature four stand-alone concessions plus a couple more kiosks and locations where fans can grab their grub and beer. That’s up from the one-and-a-half they had before. It will mean more staff needed each game-day, but that’s okay in the eyes of Kvame.
“It’s not necessarily about making more money,” he believes. “But if we can have more people there, you’re going to win in the end.”
And that’s what it’s about: more butts in the seats.
A LEGACY TO BUILD
When we asked him about what he was personally excited for with the makeover, Kvame reflected on spin-offs for home-field advantage.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the crowd size increases and more excitement around the games,” Kvame smiled. “We are going to have so many more options and more space to do stuff in the stadium.”
The Bulls haven’t had a hard time winning at home, but Kvame knows the players get excited when the place is packed.
“It does push them to compete harder, too,” he added.
One home-grown player who will be able to play in the revamped Spitz Stadium is Bryce Oriold-Fraser. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound right-hander will play for his hometown Bulls this summer after he finishes his season with the Colby Community College Trojans.
“Oh wow, that looks very nice!” the hurler said in a Twitter message to Alberta Dugout Stories. “I’m very excited. It will be a big change, but in a good way.”
He has been playing at the field since he was 15 or 16 with the Junior Bulls and Prairie Baseball Academy camps.
“It is very nice to see they care,” the Vauxhall Academy alum added. “It makes more families want to come to the ballpark.”
While fans might be waiting on pins and needles to get into the stadium this summer, crews have been champing at the bit to get the work done. Old Man Winter has been throwing more than a few curveballs in their direction.
“It’s going to be a race to the finish line,” Kvame laughed. “The weather hasn’t been very cooperative. In fact, it’s been downright anti-cooperative.”
He admits it has been a challenge for contractors, but he was impressed with their progress when he went for his first tour in mid-March. Once he got up to the top, he realized the wait will be worth it.
“It’s going to be a magnificent change to the fan experience and what they see when they’re up there,” Kvame said. “I’m really excited to get some fans up there.”
Kvame, who also serves as the WMBL president, understands this will be the cherry on top for an organization continuing to build its reputation, but also for a community clamouring for the cold weather to subside so they can go outside and enjoy a perfect day for baseball.
“Lethbridge has a long history of baseball and other sports as well,” he concluded. “They continue to invest in a lot of facilities to make it an all-encompassing community for people of all interests. We’re really lucky to be in a community that does believe in all of those components.”
Now if only the sun would come out.