Historic Wahconah Park will come alive Friday night for yet another season of baseball.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Entering their third year, the Pittsfield Suns say they have figured out what the fans want.
General Manager Kevin McGuire says about half the team's home games this year will have some type of promotional event — including six fireworks shows.
The team's first of 28 home games kicks off Friday night against the Torrington Titans, ending the night with a fireworks show to start the season off with a bang. The team's season already began with two games on the road earlier this week.
"We've found what fans really want," McGuire said on Thursday - and that is food, giveaways, fireworks and, of course, the best on-field entertainment they can get.
McGuire said the Suns have honed in on providing the best fan experience possible. The organization spent the winter revamping the food and drink offerings, scheduled an increased number of giveaways and changed the on-field presentations.
Nearly half the home games will have either a giveaway, a fireworks show or both.
"In year one, we didn't know what to expect. The city had five teams in 10 years and we had to prove that we'd provide a good product," McGuire said.
In that first year, attendance exceeded expectations with an average of 1,300 people per game. In year two, they developed more trust with the public. However, the average attendance stayed about the same with the total number going through those gates decreasing slightly.
"We lost two firework night games and opening night," McGuire said of the team's second year, which featured five rained-out games. "Had we not lost both of the firework games, the average would have been up."
This year, McGuire says with more promotional nights, a menu of food and beverages (with new items like Blue Moon Creamsicle beer shakes, jumbo turkey legs and cheese steaks) and their biggest home game, the Fourth of July, he expects attendance to trend upward. The fireworks nights are so popular, the club created a ticket pack for those specific nights — $25 to all six nights.
But maybe even more importantly, McGuire said the sponsors have been "coming up in a bigger way."
"We promised we'd be different and to do things the right way," McGuire said. Sponsors are doing more, so he believes the team has proven themselves.
The organization is keeping prices stable while featuring more nights like replica jersey or Bobbleheads. They are continuing to provide quirky entertainment such as "toy hall of fame" night but balancing that out with more serious dedications such as one for the armed forces and next Thursday's night for linemen.
"We've also revamped a lot of our on-field entertainment," McGuire said. "We need to make sure that it is fresh and new."
McGuire said he even "fired myself" as the team's official announcer and is handing the reins over the local radio disc jockey Bryan Slater, a host of the Live 95.9 morning show.
Historic Wahconah Park received some minor painting and repairs during the off-season. The city put in a new sound system last year and lighting structures are eyed to be repaired in the future.
"It was mostly cosmetic this year," McGuire said.
The 4-year-old Futures Collegiate Baseball League and the schedule have both grown this year, too. The league added the Worcester Bravehearts as the 10th team. And each team will play two more games this season, bringing the total regular schedule up to 56 games before the playoffs.
McGuire didn't provide specifics on the financials but said he likes the way both the league and the club are doing right now. This is the final year in the lease between the team and the city for use of Wahconah Park.
"We do plan on sitting down with the city to sign a long-term agreement," McGuire said.
As for this year's team, McGuire said they focused on finding pitchers with good command rather than just velocity. The team was below .500 last year but did sneak into the playoffs before being eliminated in the first round.
"Our pitching looks much better than it did last year," McGuire said. "I would say that was our biggest weakness."
McGuire said last year the team got hit with "the injury bug" so another focus on this year's roster was finding quality backups just in case. He said team is really well rounded with players with the best power at the plate he's seen in the last few years and speed on the base paths.
The schedule of games can be found on the team's website. Tickets are $5 for general admission and $8 for box seats if ordered in advance. Or, $6 for general admission or $9 if bought at the door. The team also offers multipack ticket options.