Cleveland Indians announce changes for Progressive Field in 2015

The Jake is 20 this year, and Indians ownership has decided it’s in need of a refresh. While the ballpark was certainly a premier venue during its first decade of operation, the times have changed and the novelty has worn off. Repeating the team’s 455-game sellout streak is unlikely as the Jake is too large for today’s MLB. And there are aspects of the look and feel of the place that are very 90’s. The Indians felt it was time for a wardrobe change, if you will.

gatec

Reimagined center field gate

Much of the effort will be focused on the outfield, where seating and circulation will be reconfigured. Gate C in center field will be opened up. Currently the gate is a fairly nondescript plaza with some young trees and little signage. Views into and out of the ballpark were obstructed. To remedy this a food court and bar in center will be removed. This is a well conceived transformation, as it’s this gate that many fans parking downtown will use (those arriving via the light rail system use Gate A in left field).

The other major change, which can be seen at the top of the sketch above, is the modified upper deck in right field. The Rockies removed seats in their similar RF sections and transformed them into huge rooftop decks at Coors Field. However, unlike in Cleveland where the seating bowl will apparently remain intact, in Denver actual concrete risers were removed. The result at the Jake will be patios that will only face the field. Perhaps the Indians are doing this to preserve seating capacity for the future. Whatever the reason, it’s not as interesting as the 360-degree treatment at Coors.

Transformed upper deck

Transformed upper deck in RF

Bullpens will be reconfigured from their “slit” design to terraced next to the batter’s eye. The concourses will undergo their own freshening, with bright colors everywhere in the form of paint and vinyl. A kids play area will be expanded. Current capacity is 43,000. As a result of the RF changes, capacity will drop to 37-38,000. The changes should at least attract fans who haven’t been to the yard in a while, though in Cleveland, only winning will keep bringing them back. I’m glad I got a chance to visit before the Jake undergoes this facelift.

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JPA approves revised Coliseum lease

MLB will formally review and approve the lease terms. Although owners meetings are scheduled for next week (during which they may vote on a new commissioner), approving a lease extension is really a matter for MLB’s legal and operations teams to review. No owner votes needed for that.

Mark it down: NHL Stadium Series coming to Levi’s on February 21

A Ticketmaster snafu last week probably spoiled the surprise, but it wasn’t much of a surprise anyway. The NHL today announced that Levi’s Stadium has been awarded one of the prime Coors Light NHL Stadium Series games on February 21, 2015. The game will feature the home Sharks and the much reviled, defending champion Kings.

When talks initially started about hosting a Bay Area version of the Stadium Series, the question was whether to hold the game at picturesque, touristy AT&T Park or at the newer, much larger Levi’s. In the end, size won out. Hopefully, what will also win out is the desire to curb needless theatrics.

The Valley isn’t San Francisco, and it definitely isn’t Los Angeles, though at its worst it aspires to be the latter at times. Last year’s game at Dodger Stadium had so peripheral things going on during and before the game (roller skating, beach volleyball) that it was perfectly – and perhaps ironically – emblematic of the California fan experience: easily distracted, ready to move on to something else if the weather’s good.

There’s a hockey rink behind there somewhere. Credit: Hans Gutknecht, LA Daily News

As the discussion was being had locally by the host Sharks, an uprising of support came from the South Bay to hold the game at Levi’s instead of AT&T, because the Sharks are a South Bay team, not just a Bay Area/Northern California representative of the NHL. While it’s unclear how many fans expressed this sentiment, since many of them are longtime season ticket holders, Sharks management had to hear them out and give their voices weight. It also doesn’t hurt that Levi’s Stadium is arguably considered the destination outdoor venue on the West Coast.

This time the game will be in a football stadium, which is set up to be congruent with hockey, so there will be less open space to worry about filling as there would be at AT&T. There should be enough casual interest to sell 68,500+ seats, though that will be borne out over time and with published ticket prices. The rich tech population should eat this novelty up just as they have 49ers seat licenses. Another huge sporting event, Wrestlemania 31, is scheduled for March 29.

Seating chart for Stadium Series game

Seating chart for Stadium Series game

With the announcement, all that’s left is to figure out how to theme it. I shudder to think of the marketing concepts. Nevertheless, I expect to be there with a bunch of friends. How about you?

River Cats announce new indoor club at Raley Field

The River Cats organization spent much of last week hyping up a big announcement scheduled for Saturday, August 2.

Given the mysterious nature of the team’s affiliation with the A’s after 2014, some thought the announcement would have to do with changing affiliations, say to the Giants for instance. Rules set in place by MLB and MiLB prohibit such announcements during the season. Teams aren’t even allowed to formally seek out new PDC’s (player development contracts) until mid-September, after the minor league season ends. Naturally, River Cats management refused to answer questions about the situation, so nothing new on that front.

What did they announce, then? A new 5,000 square foot, air conditioned club, named the Western Health Advantage Legacy Club. Open to all season ticket holders, the WHALC will also be available for special events. The air conditioning is a key point, since that sets it apart from other spaces within the park. The club will be an extension of the suite level down the left field line, above the beer garden.

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The River Cats are finding themselves competing with the resurgent (at least off the court) Kings, whose downtown arena is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2016 season (2017 as a fallback). A ceremonial demolition ceremony at the mall where the arena will sit was held over the weekend. It’s better for the River Cats to make such amenities available before the new arena opens, the better to lock in sponsor and entice business-type season ticket holders whose eyes may already be wandering downtown.

As for that affiliation announcement? We’ll have to wait until September.

Soft open becomes hard lesson for many fans at 1st Levi’s Stadium event

I didn’t attend tonight’s Sounders-Earthquakes game at Levi’s Stadium, so I can’t comment on any aspects of the experience there. I won’t get into the architecture either, even though I have seen the stadium in every stage of construction multiple times per week over the last two years. I’ll reserve those thoughts for after August 29, the date of the Friday Night Lights high school football event. That event will not only be the cheapest to get into at the stadium ($20 general admission, less than a tour ticket), it will feature a doubleheader, meaning fans can roam around the venue for six hours if they wanted to. That’s exactly what I’m going to do. Anyway, I’ll let this tweet sum up the experience inside for now:

The big mystery leading up to the game was whether or not the venue and the City of Santa Clara could handle the influx of fans. Tonight’s game was positioned as a sort of soft open, with a crowd no larger than 50,000 expected. The upper deck was closed off to cap the capacity. If the open house for season ticket holders was a dry run, Saturday night was to be the first real test. Despite advisories to come more than 2 hours early, many fans faced gridlock on the surface streets leading to the stadium. Fans who arrived in the area 60-90 minutes before the match start were often turned away as their designated parking lots filled up. As part of the TPMP (Transporation and Parking Management Plan), the lots were roughly divided into quadrants based on which direction/highway you were coming from. Arriving from the east on 237/880? The red lots are for you. From the south/southeast on 101/87? Try the green or purple lots. As Tasman Drive and Great America Parkway backed up, those going to the more remote lots eventually had an easier time getting and out. Sure, that meant an extra 15-20 minute walk, but it was probably worth it. It sure beat some fans being stuck for an hour in the parking garage across the street from the stadium. Parking inventory isn’t going to improve over the next couple of weeks, so it will be absolutely paramount for the team/City to more efficiently route fans along those surface streets. Even so, it highlights a problem with the street grid in north Santa Clara – there are no side streets. Everything’s set up in a superblock fashion, and the commercial “neighborhoods” within have no outlets besides the heavily impacted major intersections that service them. I’m sure that the TPMP will be revised to improve this performance, but there’s no fixing the street layout. That said, Great America Parkway has four lanes north and south. It should be capable of getting cars in and out of the stadium vicinity. My advice?

For some people, getting out was worse than getting in. For others it was the exact opposite. The above tweet is half-joking, but parking closer to either 101 or 237 can’t be a bad idea if you want to get in and out quickly.

Transit was another story. Caltrain and VTA have been pitching the idea of transferring people coming from SF/Peninsula at the Mountain View station, then trekking the 25 minutes on light rail to Levi’s Stadium. The circuitous route (with a small section of single track) is far from efficient. VTA wants to boost light rail ridership, so this seems like a good way to do it. It’s not the fastest way to get fans to the stadium. If they want to get fans to the stadium fast, they’d have fans disembark at the Lawrence station 3.5 miles southwest of the stadium. From there express buses would be lined up to take fans 15 minutes the rest of the way. Riders arriving via the main spine of the light rail system (from Downtown, East & South San Jose, plus Campbell/Los Gatos) had to deal with overstuffed trains and mechanical breakdowns. One train shut down at the River Oaks station and its air conditioning system went out, motivating many riders to pop out emergency windows to get fresh air.

LevisStadiumBusService

VTA’s route map showing light rail and bus service

VTA is working on an additional track siding to store more trains, which should improve capacity. That’s still not enough. A 3-car trainset holds around 500 people including standees. That should improve service frequency from the every 10 minutes service VTA was advertising but not delivering. However the problem is infrastructure. There needs to be an alternative in place to better facilitate all of the fans overflowing at the Great America Station platform. Some fans told me that they walked to other LRT stations to avoid the crowds. The agency should follow a practice it already follows when there are breakdowns or other high-impact delays: employ bus bridges. By providing an overflow option for light rail riders, VTA can ensure that more fans can make the regular or special northbound Caltrain trains. Set up bus bridges to Mountain View, Great Mall, Alum Rock, Tamien, Winchester, and Ohlone-Chynoweth. That should relieve pressure on the light rail system and allow fans going to Downtown San Jose to utilize freed up trains. Otherwise you get stories like the one from Merc sports editor Bud Geracie, who lined up for light rail once the game ended before 10 and didn’t arrive at the Tamien station until nearly midnight.

My advice to fans? If VTA doesn’t introduce redundancy, take Caltrain to Lawrence (from SF/Peninsula or San Jose) and Uber/Lyft/Sidecar/Taxi the rest of the way. Fair should be around $20 or less each way, quite reasonable if you’re in a group.

Coincidentally, there was one aspect of VTA that was working well: the express buses. The five routes, which served Cupertino, Eastridge, Gilroy, Los Gatos, and the Fremont BART station, got in and out swiftly. Fans on those buses didn’t face the overcrowding experienced on light rail. They got to the BART station as early as 10:30. Another alternative I heard a lot about was bicycle. Whether biking straight to the stadium (if based nearby) or transferring from Caltrain, the trip proved fast and trouble-free. Bike racks at the stadium were packed, indicating that some fans had been planning those routes for weeks if not months.

Capitol Corridor was running on a normal weekend schedule. Fans who rode Capitol Corridor had to leave the game early to catch a 9:30 northbound (eastbound) train, the last one of the night. For 1 PM Sunday 49er games, the schedule has been changed slightly to better accommodate fans leaving Levi’s around 4:30-5. ACE, which doesn’t normally run on weekends, will have a special train running in each direction on Sundays.

The first 49ers preseason game is scheduled two Sundays from now. That game is expected to be a sellout plus standing room. Santa Clara and the Niners have a lot of work to do to reduce the frustration and confusion experienced with this first event. I’m pulling for them, but it’s gonna be tough.

P.S. – Quick restaurant recommendation fairly close to the stadium: Gobi Mongolian BBQ at Lawrence Expwy & Tasman Drive about 1.5 miles west of the stadium. Huge weekday lunchtime crowds, fairly small weekend crowds.

Wolff gave $1000 to one-time Kaplan campaign fund

BANG is reporting that in May A’s owner Lew Wolff gave $1,000 to Oakland City Council member and mayoral candidate Rebecca Kaplan. You may recall that after lease extension talks died earlier in the spring, Kaplan, who is also a JPA Board Commissioner, spearheaded the effort to revive the talks. Kaplan later caught a lot of heat from some of her colleagues on the Council, Mayor Quan, and numerous Raiders fans, all for different reasons. That caused Kaplan to actually vote against the extension she helped craft during a JPA session, though it passed anyway. When the lease got to the City Council, Kaplan became a Yes vote. The lease prevailed 5-2, then went to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, where it passed unanimously.

The campaign fund Kaplan ran was called “Safe Streets Local Jobs.” It was set up to support a 1/2-cent sales tax increase that would fund up to $8 billion in infrastructure improvements all over Alameda County. A similar measure in 2012, also sponsored by Kaplan, fell to defeat by the narrowest of margins. Because Kaplan entered the mayoral race, there was concern that money from the initiative campaign would go to her mayoral campaign, so the funds were distributed and SSLJ was shut down. Was it a quid pro quo moment, or something Kaplan saw as a way to differentiate herself from the rest of her rivals?

Undoubtedly, Kaplan will use the lease extension as a feather in her campaign cap. The deal keeps the A’s in Oakland through at least 2018 and commits them to talk to Oakland about a new ballpark at the Coliseum complex. Kaplan still believes that the A’s and Raiders can be accommodated via the Coliseum City project, though Wolff wants nothing to do with it. The worst-kept secret of all this is that there have been discussions about a scenario in which the Raiders leave and the A’s are the only team remaining in Oakland (once the Warriors leave for their SF arena). The November election will arrive too early for Raiders owner Mark Davis to declare that he’s leaving Oakland, but if the Raiders are to have their own Coliseum extension he and the NFL can drive their own hard bargain the same way Wolff and MLB did.

It’s unknown what if any blowback Kaplan will face from Raiders fans threatened by the new agreement. Fans highly opposed to the lease showed up en masse at early public meetings over the extension, but receded somewhat over time. The hubbub over whether the lease was fiscally responsible and a giveaway to the A’s largely collapsed as JPA negotiator Jon Streeter explained the net positive impact for the City and County when the lease is compared to previous A’s and Raiders leases. The next big question has to be whether the ongoing stadium operating subsidy for the Raiders of $7 million will be an issue for the JPA/City/County. If they’re going to be consistent, the subsidy should be an important point of debate.

A Puncher’s Chance At Best

Marine Layer:

In light of the blockbuster trade, I wrote this last year after the A’s were eliminated from the postseason.

Originally posted on newballpark.org:

Sisyphus, by Titian (mid-16th century)

Two weeks from today will mark the 10th anniversary of the last team to win a World Series with a payroll under $70 million. The winner in 2003 was the Florida Marlins, a team chock full of prodigious young talent (Miguel Cabrera, Josh Beckett, Dontrelle Willis) and wily veterans (Pudge Rodriguez, Jeff Conine, Mike Lowell) who shocked the world when they beat the Yankees in six games. In 2003 the Yankees’ payroll was nearly $153 million. The Marlins’ payroll was a shade over $45 million. This year the team the wins it all will have a payroll anywhere from double to more than triple that of the teams that were just eliminated.

Atlanta was the first to go, seemingly powerless against the Dodgers’ Puig-powered juggernaut. Next was Tampa Bay, who fought bravely before succumbing to a superior Red Sox squad. Wednesday night it was the…

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