We’ll have a full look at the Joker Marchant Stadium renovations this weekend on Spring Training Online, but here’s a first look at what the Detroit Tigers and Lakeland unveiled yesterday.
Though Joker Marchant Stadium is the second-oldest ballpark still in use in spring training (LECOM Park dates back to 1923; Joker Marchant Stadium opened in 1966), it doesn’t feel old after the latest round of renovations. The Tigers and Lakeland have embarked on a few rounds of renovations in recent years; you can still see the original concrete risers in the grandstand, but otherwise everything else about the ballpark has been upgraded.
The changes implemented for 2017 were among the most extensive ever. On the player/front-office side, the old administration building was torn down, with a new administration building (complete with new clubhouses and training facilities) going up in right field. That’s a big change, but the other changes are focused on the fan side.
New in right field: a space the Tigers call the Runway, featuring a long drink rail, new concessions and additional four-top seating. The Runway is a reference to the site’s history as a aerial training center during World War II. When Joker Marchant first opened, the old training runway was still present past right field, as well as Quonset huts used to house pilots and trainers. (The Quonset huts are still there. You cannot see them from the ballpark, but they can be seen from the parking lot.) This is a huge area, and it also has one additional function: it makes Joker Marchant Stadium a more accessible ballpark with a 360-degree concourse.
The old administration building was replaced by multi-tiered group areas, all featuring Adirondack chairs and tables. The outfield berm was overhauled, with a new scoreboard soaring above a new bar, new picnic seating and a reserved drink rail (again, complete with Adirondack chairs). We expect this to be quite the popular area once spring training launches into full gear.
One other notable change: that horrible seating section down the left-field line is now gone. With the upgrades, the grandstand was extended and new field-level seating added, angled toward the action. They are not perfect — you’ll still need to crane your neck to see home plate — but they are still a much better option than the old bleachers.
With that new section came a new canopy over the grandstand, providing much more shade to Tigers fans. It still doesn’t cover the entire grandstand, but many fans down the first-base line will be shaded once the game begins.
Alas, some things were lost in the renovations. The concessions were altered, and some popular offerings, like a Michigan beer offering, were not present yesterday. (The only Michigan beer for sale: Founders, at one stand.) Autograph Alley doesn’t seem to have been replaced in the new layout. That was a section where player would sign autographs after leaving the game, and it was quite popular. And a lot of the Lakeland Flying Tigers (High A; Florida State League) branding that appeared in the last round of renovations is now gone.
Still, the changes to Joker Marchant Stadium are welcome and overdue. It was already one of the most loved ballparks in spring training — those Tigers fans are something else — and the upgrades propel the venerable old ballpark to a must-visit for any spring-training fan.