CLEVELAND — Like an excited little kid, Indians president Mark Shapiro couldn't wait to show off the new seats next to the relocated bullpens inside Progressive Field.
"Check those out," Shapiro said, smiling and pointing toward three rows of seats in front of the Indians' bullpen and behind the outfield wall. "There's nothing like it in baseball."
The Indians proudly unveiled their reconfigured ballpark on Monday, showing off a project that was threatened but not stopped by an unforgiving winter and will be completed in time for Friday's home opener against Detroit.
Accepting the need to upgrade the 21-year-old ballpark to make it more appealing to younger fans and families, the Indians transformed the right and center field areas by adding a two-story, indoor-outdoor bar called "The Corner," expanding their popular kids' clubhouse and moving both bullpens and stacking them in center field, where fans will be closer to the players than ever before.
The project — estimated to cost nearly $25 million — was privately funded, and Shapiro sees the downtown ballpark as "a re-imagined, transformed place that connects to our fans and Cleveland."
The Indians gave media members a tour of the renovations, which include a new set of concessions in right field featuring local restaurants, and an open gate area in center field where fans will walk past statues of Indians legends Bob Feller and Jim Thome — a statue for Larry Doby will be added this summer — before entering the ballpark.
Indians fans familiar with Progressive Field, known as Jacobs Field when it opened in 1994, will experience the ballpark in new ways. The club knew it needed to adjust to the changing appetite and habits of sports fans, especially millennials, so seats in the right-field upper deck were removed and replaced with standing-room-only social terraces.
Those areas also pay homage to the team's history as each is adorned with the retired jersey numbers and names of Indians players as well as the years honoring AL pennant winners.
"We wanted to do was maintain and honor what makes up the bones that make this ballpark so special and enhance that," Shapiro said as he gazed out the floor-to-ceiling windows inside "The Corner" toward home plate. "I would defy you to find a bar in Cleveland with a better view."
There isn't one, and the Indians are expecting the space, which includes outdoor drink rails, a fire pit and 40 beers on tap, to be a smashing success and perhaps lure some young professionals now living downtown.
"We wanted to make the best possible experience for our fans," he said.