A new era of Fresno Grizzlies baseball toed the rubber Tuesday afternoon with the introduction of a new ownership group that pledged more community involvement, lower concession prices and a better fan experience at Chukchansi Park.
Addressing a turnout of several hundred fans, season-ticket holders and local politicians, new Managing General Partner Michael Baker pledged the Triple-A club would remain in downtown Fresno through at least 2036 – a key provision in the team’s reworked lease agreement with the city of Fresno. Baker then announced that Derek Franks, formerly the general manager, had been promoted to president.
“This team is not moving,” Baker said from the podium. “We are proud to call Fresno home.”
Franks, part of a lineup of speakers that included Fresno Mayor Lee Brand, Fresno County Supervisor Sal Quintero and Chukchansi tribe chairperson Jennifer Ruiz, then announced a series of changes that will go into effect this season.
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Tickets and concession prices will be lowered, including 20-ounce draft beers for $5 every day during the season (a $3 reduction) that Franks said would be the lowest in Triple-A baseball. Three sections of seating in the left-field corner of the stadium will be remodeled into a new hospitality/gathering area that includes a bar. Netting will be installed from the home plate area to both dugouts to protect fans from line-drive foul balls.
In addition, Chukchansi Park will be made available for high school baseball games at zero cost while local companies and charities will be able to hold events on the concourse free of charge.
“Fan experience is of the utmost important to us,” Baker said. “Beyond making a typical evening at Chukchansi Park more affordable, we need to make sure the Fresno Grizzlies are still leaders and trend-setters in Minor League Baseball with everything we do; promotions, hospitality, and helping develop future championship talent for the Major League level.”
Ray Baker and son Michael, both of Colorado, along with Jim Coufos of Newport Beach, are the principal owners of Fresno Sports and Events LLC, which purchased the team from Fresno Baseball Club LLC headed by Chris Cummings, who had been trying to sell since 2014.
The sales price was between $17 and $18 million, according to a source with knowledge of the deal.
Fresno Sports and Events LLC will pay $500,000 in annual rent under terms of a new lease agreement that received unanimous approval from the City Council last June. A $5 million stadium improvement fund has also been established to cover remodeling and maintenance.
“They are the right partner at the right time,” Brand said of the new ownership group, which has previous experience in minor-league baseball at the Class-A and Rookie league levels.