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SeaWolves Hope to Avoid Contraction with UPMC Park Upgrades

UPMC Park renovation rendering

The Erie SeaWolves (Class AA; Eastern League) are hoping that renovations to UPMC Park, including improved player facilities, will help the team avoid contraction by way of Major League Baseball‘s proposal to eliminate 42 MiLB teams.

MLB and MiLB officials have been negotiating the next Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) to replace the current PBA, which expires at the end of the 2020 season. MLB initially proposed the contraction of 42 teams, along with league realignments that include new Triple-A and Single-A circuits (in the name of lessened travel), new facilities standards (covering player facilities, including clubhouses, weight rooms and support spaces like kitchens and lounges), and a player-development arrangement that calls for rookies to spend time at MLB camps and not in entry-level leagues, with an additional year of service under team control.

When an proposal of teams to be contracted surfaced in November, it included the SeaWolves, despite renovations to UPMC Park being underway for the 2020 season. Those improvements are coming on the heels of upgrades that were in made in 2019, including an overhauled playing surface. While the current round of construction includes fan amenities such as a new entrance plaza, the SeaWolves will also improve the conditions for players through improvements that include a new batting cage and wall padding. Work on that renovation continues, and the SeaWolves are hoping that the facility upgrades–along with the backing of local, state, and federal officials–will ultimately help the team avoid contraction. More from Erie News Now:

One of the major factors the teams have in common is “unsatisfactory facilities.” The list was generated before construction on UPMC Park began and Assistant GM Greg Gania told Erie News Now the ball park’s renovations could be the team’s saving grace.

“I think really when fans walk in here it’s going to be a whole new experience. it’s basically a whole new ball park.” Gania said, “this ball park has undergone minor changes over the years, but nothing this extensive and fans aren’t going to recognize this place when they come during the season.”

For the players, there will be a new climate controlled batting cage, cement barriers around the seating area with padding and additional padding lining the walls of the park. Fans can look forward to remodeled bathrooms, new concession stands including an ice cream shop and a new team shop. The new team shop will be housed with the office spaces in a building next to Erie Insurance Arena, right next to the new main entrance.

“We’ve been fighting hard. We have a lot of our local politicians and the local, state and federal level that have been fighting hard to let major league know what’s going on in Erie.” Gania said, “there’s a lot of exciting things going on not only for the fan experience but also player safety.”

A major piece of funding for the ongoing improvements is a previously approved $12 million grant from the state. MLB officials have said recently that a previous list of contracted teams is now outdated, and that teams once slated to be contracted are still alive. One confirmed example is the Lowell Spinners, who were initially on the contraction list but now would survive as a Low-A team. Whether the SeaWolves can ultimately avoid contraction–if contraction does eventually move forward in some form–remains to be seen, but the team is hoping that the work done to UPMC Park will make MLB negotiators reconsider their initial plans for the team’s future.

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