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Detroit retains Erie as affiliate: here’s why

UPMC Park upgrades

We’ve been tracking the improvements to UPMC Field, home of the Erie SeaWolves (Class AA; Eastern League), for several years now. Though not the original intent, they ended up saving professional baseball in Erie. Here’s how.

We had Erie pegged as returning despite the team’s original inclusion in MLB’s 42-team contraction list, so the decision was not a surprise. But for Erie baseball fans, the team’s inclusion on the original MLB contraction list was a shock, to be sure. The factors that caused the Tigers to request Erie’s return were in place well before MLB’s decision to take over MiLB, and in the end they saved the team.

Owner Fernando Aguirre had worked with state and local officials on a plan for UPMC Park upgrades beginning several years ago, in consultation with the Tigers. UPMC Park’s playing surface was completely overhauled prior to the 2019 campaign and a new videoboard was installed during the season. Offseason renovations were originally scheduled to be completed for the 2020 MiLB season, but when COVID-19 concerns shut down professional baseball in March, it also shut down work in the Erie ballpark. A new entrance plaza was added down the left-field line, while a new a multi-level structure includes a team store and offices on the first floor, with an upper-level club area connecting to the adjacent Erie Insurance Arena. Other changes will debut in 2021, including improved concession and restroom facilities, lighting and concourse upgrades, an expanded kid’s zone, suite renovations, and more.

UPMC Park upgrades

These pictures are from September; since then much more work has been completed, and the team has move into several of the finished ballpark spaces.

For the Tigers, the upgrades were enough to maintain the team’s relationship with Erie as an affiliate, per the Detroit Free Press:

“It was very important,” Tigers vice president of player development Dave Littlefield said Wednesday. “The way this is being restructured, it’s driven by wanting to have better facilities, better working environments for the players. … The improvements were essential.”…

“The agreement that we came up with was a lot of different things that are there to help the players,” Littlefield said. “Better conditions overall, whether it’s time in the clubhouse, training room, video room, batting tunnels, variety of things on the field. Obviously, a few years back, Erie did a great job with the improvement of the field. It’s one of the best fields in all of organized baseball. There’s a lot of factors that came in.”

Photos courtesy Erie SeaWolves.

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