MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) — The Rocket City Trash Pandas are getting ready for their third season at Toyota Field. However, before the first pitch of the 2023 season, the team needs to make some upgrades to the stadium.
With a nearly brand-new facility, the question a lot of people are asking is “why?”
In February 2021, MLB finished a re-organization of the 120 minor league teams. Part of the agreement between the major and minor leagues is a new set of standards for all MiLB ballparks across the country. This has led to many teams having to make major adjustments to their stadiums.
Unfortunately for Toyota Field, those standards came out just after construction was finished.
According to a resolution shared by the City of Madison, Toyota Field was assigned 78 points in an audit of the facility. The standards require all minor league teams to have “no more than 9 points by the start of the 2025 season.”
The city and the Trash Pandas have created a two-phase plan to get the ballpark up to the new MiLB standards. The first phase must be completed by the start of the 2023 season.
Since the city owns Toyota Field and leases it to the Trash Pandas, this leaves the city to foot the bill for many of the facility improvements.
Monday night, the Madison City Council approved a resolution to fund phase one improvements that must not “exceed $300,000.”
Several council members expressed concern over spending more money to keep the stadium up to standard and questioned if it would happen again in the future.
“My question in my mind, is how many times do we get new standards?” said Teddy Powell, District 3 council member and finance committee member.
In the end, the resolution passed; however, the details of the bidding process of the phase one project have not yet been released.
The council explained that it sets aside $300,000 each year in the maintenance fund for Toyota Field upkeep projects, so that is why the funding was easily available.
The phase one improvement projects include:
- Lockers – add two to Home Clubhouse, add two to Visiting
- Clubhouse – add two to Visiting staff locker room
- Home Clubhouse Commissary – add freezer and dishwasher
- Create Visitor Clubhouse Commissary – include refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, sink, microwave, table with eight chairs, storage cabinets
- Visitor Training Room – add desk and second whirlpool
- Batting Cage Netting – raise height and repair
- Dugouts – add anti-skid material to steps
- Female facilities – rent temporary trailer for two years
News 19 reached out to the Rocket City Trash Pandas to learn more about the first phase improvements and changes in standards.
“There are some great things that are going to come out of it [the new standards], but it’s just one of those things that it was unfortunate that it was right after we built the ballpark,” said General Manager Garrett Fahrmann. “You know as construction was going on, we didn’t think we were going to have to make theses changes this quickly.”
He explained that the addition of two lockers to both the home and away clubhouses isn’t too big of a lift, since there is already space for them.
In addition to the new lockers, the team needs to add an “anti-slip tread to one of the steps in each dugout.”
The “biggest lift” of the phase one improvement will be adding women’s facilities.
Fahrmann said as a temporary fix they will use a trailer, parked near the center field gate.
“We’re going to have to rent a trailer or something like that for the first couple years until we find a permanent space for some of the female umpires that are going to be coming through the ranks, and female staffers,” he said.
He said of course the stadium has women’s bathrooms, but not a designated clubhouse space with showers and changing areas.
“You know, if we have a concert we have plenty of women’s facilities” he stated. “But when we have two baseball teams here, we don’t have the specific women’s facilities.”
Fahrmann said he agrees with the council about keeping up with general upkeep and maintaining MiLB standards are important for the longevity of the Trash Pandas franchise in Madison.
“We definitely don’t want things here to happen like they did you know like they did at Joe Davis Stadium quite a few years ago,” Fahrmann said.
“There’s going to be a time that we have to replace the seats in the ballpark, there’s going to be a time that we’re going to have to replace the lighting in the ballpark, so that’s what that [maintenance] fund is probably put in there for every year, and hopefully we don’t have to use it every year,” he added.
The phase two projects are a little more in-depth and need to completed by the 2025 season.
It will include coming up with permanent women’s facilities and constricting an all-new visitor’s clubhouse. Fahrmann says they plan to convert the current visitors’ clubhouse into those women’s facilities.
Fahrmann said they will have to build an all-new visitors’ clubhouse, which will most likely be added to the stadium, near one of the foul ball markers in the outfield. He said the new visiting club house will be “very similar to the home clubhouse”.
Fahrmann indicated that will be the most costly part of the needed upgrades.
“That’s going to be the biggest portion of that phase two,” he said.
According to Fahrmann, the new MiLB standards for visiting clubhouses are that they can’t leave the visiting team at a disadvantage.
“Back in 2019 and before, the visiting club house was always going to be smaller, by design, and less attractive than the home side,” he said.
That is a true statement, as there is a clear size difference between the two existing clubhouses, and the lockers are made with different materials.
“With Major League Baseball’s new requirements, they’re going to have to be pretty close to equal,” he said.
In the meantime, the Trash Pandas staff are excited to welcome back the players ahead of the upcoming season.
“The team shows up around April 3rd or 4th, so it’s not too far away,” Fahrmann said.
News 19 previously covered the change in Minor League housing requirements. You can click here to read that story.