No shovels have yet been put into dirt, but all of the plans, hopes and dreams of the future of professional baseball in Bakersfield are in place.
Construction on a new 3,500-seat privately financed stadium is expected to begin this fall, with completion and opening ahead of opening day, 2015.
There’s always the feeling with any project of this type that nothing is certain until the first concrete is poured, but the signs seem to be positive that the days of the Blaze in decrepit, 72-year-old Sam Lynn Ballpark are numbered.
“It’s going to be built with the expectation of being a year-round facility,” said Blaze spokesman and play-by-play announcer Dan Besbris ahead of Friday’s opener of Bakersfield’s three-game series in Modesto.
“Concerts will be easily accommodated with stages and cables and power. They’re looking at 3,500 fixed seats and 1,000 to 1,500 standing room and berm seating.”
That answer puts to rest one of the rumors swirling around the project - that the ballpark would be built with the hope of luring a Triple-A franchise, much in the way Reno (a long-time California League city) brought a Pacific Coast League team to town with their new downtown ballpark.
The certainty around the project was that the Blaze were only a few years from going under if they had to keep playing at Sam Lynn. Bakersfield is drawing 797 fans per game this season, which will be its seventh straight year trailing the rest of the league in support.
And the problem is the ballpark. It’s old, outdated, uncomfortable and located in a part of town best suited for burying incriminating evidence.
The consensus around the league, however, is that Bakersfield, with more than 352,000 residents living within its city limits, would be the gem of the league once a new ballpark is in place.
“There’s no question about that,” Besbris said. “Bakersfield is built for something like this. It’s the second-biggest city in the Cal League behind San Jose, and it’s the only city in the Cal League with a dedicated TV market - we don’t take our channels from another city.
“The west side of town (where the new stadium will be located) is more affluent, with a family-of-four dynamic that is exactly what baseball looks for in a market. There’s a college on that side of town, restaurants, big streets and a new freeway on that side. Everything is ready. As soon as that ballpark is done it should be pretty easy to fill that ballpark on a regular basis.”