As the last structural steel beam on Wichita’s new $75 million stadium was hoisted and wrestled into place, the owner and president of the team that will occupy the stadium had a message for fans.
“We are 250 days, six hours, 17 minutes and 49 seconds to opening day,” said Lou Schwechheimer of the New Orleans Baby Cakes, the Miami Marlins Triple-A Minor League team that is to be renamed and relocated to Wichita next season.
Schwechheimer said that the team, which will control scheduling at the stadium, has set an ambitious goal of 200 events there each year.
Up to 77 of those will be baseball games — 70 regular season and a potential seven playoff games, he said.
“We’re going to provide family entertainment at family prices,” Schwechheimer said. “Our top (baseball) ticket is $15.”
In addition, he said the team has already lined up a slate of football games and is planning a wintertime outdoor skating rink on site.
The team is in talks with the owners of the Wichita Thunder to play an outdoor hockey game each year— a scaled-down version of the National Hockey League’s phenomenally popular Winter Classic, Heritage Classic and Stadium Series games, he said.
The team is also talking with music promoters about scheduling concerts at the ball park, along with various festivals, chili cookoffs, etc., Schwechheimer said.
Although the team won’t start league play until April, Schwechheimer said the staff already considers Wichita its home.
“It wasn’t our fault we weren’t born here,” he said. “We’re here because we want to be here.”
Wednesday’s ceremonial “topping out” more or less completes the high-steel structure of the stadium, which will eventually have seating for 10,000 and 14 private luxury suites.
Mike Grier, president of Eby Construction, likened the effort to putting together a winning sports team, but with a lot more players.
Wednesday, there were about 100 workers on site, which will ramp up to about 250 as the project continues toward completion, he said.
“We stood here on Feb. 13th for the groundbreaking,” Grier said. “That was about four innings ago and we’ve got five innings left.”
Mayor Jeff Longwell, the city’s chief negotiator to bring the team to Wichita, said he was impressed by the amount of work that’s gotten done despite “having absolutely the worst spring weather that we could have ever imagined having.”
“It’s pretty challenging when you’re trying to build a stadium in a really short window when it rains every day,” he said.