Renovations aiming to provide more social experience

VP of ballpark operations Folk confident construction crew will hit Opening Day target

Renovations aiming to provide more social experience

CLEVELAND -- As another winter approaches, Indians fans might already be counting down the days to Opening Day at Progressive Field. The clock is ticking for Jim Folk, the team's vice president of ballpark operations, for reasons other than just baseball.

At the moment, dirt and rubble is piled up around Gate C behind the stadium's center field. The ballpark is in the process of what Folk described Tuesday as a "very dramatic facelift," but he is confident that the construction crews will be able to hit their marks in prepping Progressive Field for the April 10 home opener against the rival Tigers.

"I don't think you'll ever hear a construction guy say he's ahead of schedule," Folk said with a laugh, "but the schedule is moving along. We've had a lot of great work and we've had good weather. We're in good shape."

The current project -- one that will overhaul the Gate C entrance, remodel the bullpens, install a variety of social spaces and upgrade the concessions and Kids Club -- is part of a multi-phase master plan that could take four or five years to complete, according to Folk. The main objective for this first privately funded phase is to provide fans with a more social experience.

Folk said the Indians did extensive studies through focus groups, surveys and interviews with season-ticket holders and other fans. Cleveland also sent groups to ballparks such as Target Field (Minneapolis), Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City) and Nationals Park (Washington) to study some of the new elements and renovations that have been added elsewhere.

The Indians found that -- unlike in the era when Progressive Field was built -- fans now are interested in more interactive and social areas. Folk cited the Home Run Porch area in left field (near Gate A) as an example of a place where fans gravitate.

"We have to remain relevant," Folk said. "The way people watch baseball today is a lot different than it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago, when we opened this great ballpark. There's much more of a social-gathering element than there was [back then], when all that really mattered was coming in, sitting down and, more or less, staying in your seat for nine innings and watching the game."

Folk said the focus now is on finding ways to connect people with the team.

"We're going to be able to connect the fans closer to the game," Folk said, "and connect the ballpark closer to the city. All of this is pulled together."

The connection to the city will come in the form of the revamped Gate C, which no longer includes the bridge to a parking structure or the small concessions building that used to block the view in and out of the stadium. The Bob Feller statue will remain in the plaza outside the gate, but the Indians are still working out the details of where the Jim Thome and upcoming Larry Doby statues will be situated.

The bullpens will be stacked behind the center-field wall, with the visitors' above and the Indians' closer to the field. Folk noted that there will be three rows of seats between the Tribe's bullpen and the center-field wall, giving fans a chance to be close to the action on the field and in the 'pen. In the right-field corner, the former visitors' bullpen bench will remain on field level behind the wall for a unique seat for fans, too.

"You'll be able to see a lot of views you've never had before," Folk said.

Also in the right-field corner will be a two-story bar, providing another social-gathering space for fans. On the same side of the stadium, the Indians will also be upgrading its Kids Clubhouse to two levels and upgrading the interactive activities for families and children.

In the upper deck, stretching from right-center field to the right-field corner, the Indians have removed large sections of seats for another social element. That area of the ballpark will feature three-tiered platform sections to accommodate pregame picnics, parties and standing-room only seating. Folk would not go into specifics on how many seats have been removed.

"We haven't really focused on that -- overall capacity," Folk said. "It'll be flexible, because we'll be able to use those new platforms and some new areas for standing room to make up for some of the seats that are coming out."

Folk also noted that a new section of seats will be added to the area that used to serve as the visitors' bullpen in the right-field corner.

Over the next several years, Folk said there could be announcements for future plans to upgrade the scoreboard, sound system, concessions, suites and more. Right now, he is more focused on making sure the first phase of the Indians' master plan stays on schedule and comes to fruition in time for the home opener in six months.

"It's a very aggressive schedule," Folk said. "Opening Day is April 10 and we are very confident that the job will be done. We'll be ready to greet the fans, and fans will see a lot of great things and have a great experience on Opening Day next year."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.