New seats, other amenities planned for Wilmington ballpark (video)

 New seats ready to be installed are seen in boxes along rows at Frawley Stadium in Wilmington. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

New seats ready to be installed are seen in boxes along rows at Frawley Stadium in Wilmington. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Delaware baseball fans will see a new look at Frawley Stadium this season. Even bigger additions are on the horizon.

Despite the frigid temperatures this weekend, spring really is just around the corner. Need evidence? Minor league baseball returns to Wilmington in about 50 days. As Blue Rocks fans countdown to opening day, workers at Frawley Stadium are hard at work to make sure the 24 year old facility is ready for fans.

Through snow and rain, workers have torn out every seat at the stadium. “We’re replacing every one of the seats in the seating bowl,” said Blue Rocks co-owner Dave Heller. “There’s going to be an entirely new seating bowl when people get here in April.”

While the addition of new individual seats instead of bleacher seats is an upgrade, Heller has even bigger changes in mind in the coming years. “We want to turn this into a 360 degree concourse. We want it to be a ballpark that people can move around and go from one end of the park to the other,” Heller said. In his vision, seats and group areas would be added behind the outfield fence, along with some bars too. “Some places where young people can drink and relax and enjoy a cool refreshing adult beverage on a nice warm summer day, that’s as good as it gets.”

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Quad Cities’ example

To get a better idea of what Heller has in mind, just look at another minor league team he owns, Davenport, Iowa’s Quad Cities River Bandits. The Midwest stadium where the River Bandits play, Modern Woodmen Park, was voted the top minor league ballpark in the nation in a USA Today and reader poll in 2013.

The ballpark recently added attractions including a 110-ft. tall Ferris wheel just behind the left field fence. River Bandits fans can also drive bumper cars or ride a zip-line while at the stadium.

Heller plans to add some of those types of attractions to Wilmington’s Frawley Stadium. “I put in the only Ferris wheel in all of minor league baseball in Quad Cities, I want to do something along those lines, not a Ferris wheel per se, but something fun here in Wilmington,” Heller said. “We want to do more games, we want to have more bounce houses, we want to bring in some rides like I’ve done in my other parks.”

Those addition will come in future phases of the stadium improvement project. For now, after new seats are installed, new lights are next on the stadium upgrade agenda. There’s also focus on changes on the field. Heller recently introduced long-time major league player and coach Jamie Quirk as the Rocks’ new manager. “I’m looking forward to the cool ball park, the tradition Wilmington has, I’m excited,” Quirk said. “The Royals are a tremendous organization, obviously reigning world champs, they do things the right way, and that’s why they are here is because Wilmington does things the right way.”

Obviously being affiliated with the reigning World Series Champs has its perks too. “You are seeing [former Blue Rocks’ players] in the World Series and it’s not several years it’s only in a few years,” Heller said. “That’s really kind of neat that people know that for $5 or $8 they can come here and they can meet the World Series champions of tomorrow, right here in Wilmington today.”

When it was first built 24 years ago, Frawley Stadium was the only attraction along the Wilmington Riverfront. Now, the ballpark is surrounded by restaurants, museums, residential properties and other attractions that have transformed the Riverfront into a tourist destination. “We were what was used by the state to bring in all this other development that they hoped would happen. Well, it’s happening,” Heller said. “There really is a cool synergy that’s coming down, where the Riverfront is the fun place to go in Wilmington and really throughout the region, and we’re excited to be a part of that and we want to just keep growing it.”

Blue Rocks baseball has consistently drawn fans to Frawley Stadium. In 2015, more than 280,000 fans, an average of 4,100 per day.

The 2016 season starts April 7.

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