Play snowball! Despite tough winter, Indians plans for ballpark renovations on schedule



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CLEVELAND — The only objects being thrown inside Progressive Field right now are snowballs.

But although most of the ballpark's infield remains buried from an unrelenting winter, the Indians are confident renovations at Progressive Field will be completed in time for the April 10 home opener.

"We'll be in good shape if the weather holds like this over the next couple weeks," Jeff Wilen, the club's director of strategy and business analytics said as he looked up at a cloudless sky on a 45-degree afternoon.

Fingers crossed.

The Indians' home ballpark, built in 1994, has been remodeled this offseason with new tiered bullpens, open terraces, an expanded kids clubhouse and a two-story bar in the right-field corner that will likely be packed with frozen fans during chilly April and May home games.

On Thursday, welders worked on drink railings outside the new bar, dubbed "The Corner," while large excavation equipment moved dirt in the plaza area beyond the stacked bullpens in center field.

Following the coldest recorded February in Cleveland history, there's plenty of work still to be done.

Wilen said 60 inches of underground frost in the plaza area has delayed work, preventing utility lines from being laid and concrete from being poured. As long as the temperature stays near normal — never a certainty in Cleveland — Wilen said the remodeling should be done when the Indians host the Detroit Tigers.

Among the most interesting features of the makeover are the bullpens, which will be stacked beyond the center-field wall. A small number of seats are located in front of the bullpens, giving fans a never-seen-before view of the game. It's just one of several enhancements the Indians, who ranked 29th in attendance last season, are making to entice younger fans.

"This is about the fan experience," Wilen said. "We've looked at other ballparks and other stadiums around the country and fans are consuming sports and consuming media different than they were 20 years ago. We've developed a set of themes around connection to the city, connection to the game on the field and around more targeted experiences and specific demographics."

While many of the changes are targeted at a new generation of fans, Wilen said the Indians haven't forgotten those baseball purists.

"If you want to grab a scorecard and a No. 2 pencil and sit in your seat, we have plenty available for that," he said. "But we're also trying to provide something for fans that want a different social experience, that want more than just the game on the field."

As part of the renovation, the Indians removed nearly 7,000 seats, dropping the capacity to around 37,000 in the ballpark, which was sold out for 455 consecutive home games from 1995-2001.

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