It worked for Kevin Costner in the movie, Field of Dreams, so why not South Bend?
When Andrew Berlin, a Chicago businessman bought the South Bend Silver Hawks he felt much the same as character Ray Kinsella. To paraphrase, "If you build it, they will come."
In spite of dwindling attendance, Berlin saw a lot of positives at Coveleski Stadium. So much so he has put more than two million dollars of his own money into improvements.
I sat down with Berlin again to talk about how he feels one year after making that investment and he was emphatic about how the season went saying, "It surpassed all my expectations on what it could be like."
And Berlin has high expectations. When we spoke last year he told me his plan was to make a trip to Coveleski about more than just baseball.
Wanting a great fan experience for people of all ages, Berlin spend a lot of his own money into improvements--changing the look of the field, hiring new employees, and improving the food and drink selections.
And after a few sleepless nights during a cold spring, Berlin saw activity at the Cove bustle. "By the time mid June came around the crowds really started to show up in earnest, and the weekends were being sold out. The suites were being sold. We had six or seven sold-out games where we had standing room only."
Berlin made the trip from Chicago to as many home games as possible, talking to fans and asking them what worked and what didn't.
And the father of five says he knew if parents want to enjoy a game, kids have to be entertained as well.
Berlin talked about the success of the many additions he has made, "We had a really nice cool splash pad. Adults and kids could get wet and we had changing rooms to get out of the wet clothes. The playground right behind the splash pad, we put in a brand new playground. The kids loved that and then the inflatables. You know three-stories high."
Attendance last year was 70 percent ahead of the previous season and Berlin says the goal this season is 60 percent ahead of that.
And while Flat Screen Fridays were a big hit with fans, Berlin says it also provided the Silver Hawks with great marketing information.
Fans had to register to win, so the Hawks know how far people are willing to drive for a fun, affordable game night, saying, "We had a great sense that we were drawing not just from South Bend, but Elkhart showed up, and Granger showed up, and Plymouth showed up. We had people from Gary passing the Railcats on the toll road coming here."
But one successful season doesn't have Berlin resting on his laurels. He says there are some big surprises coming for fans in 2013.
Surprises Berlin says can't be shared, but, he did share one big plan he hopes comes to fruition: Berlin says they are getting estimates on a Wrigley Field-like experience for fans. You know those famous seats atop the apartments across Waveland Avenue?
Well, Berlin isn't going to put up an apartment building, but he says fans will get a similar experience, "It will be a tower of three decks. Three giant party decks served by a central kitchen in center field that will accommodate close to 500 people."
And just as he told me last year, Berlin says the changes he's making will serve fan for years to come. I asked him, "Are you still committed to having a team here for the next couple decades?" His answer, "Absolutely, there is no moving this team."
Except in Berlin's words, forward. "You make big plans, and I think fortune favors the bold."
Another bold, and loud, addition fans will have in 2013 is a fog horn. He says they bought a fog horn that will sound when the Hawks hit a home run and the stadium will rock.
Almost time to play ball!