Roger Dean Stadium installs canopies

Tired of leaving Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium looking like a lobster after sitting in the sun for nine innings?

After hearing those complaints for years, stadium officials are spending about $2 million to build canopies that will bring shade for about 1,400 of the about 7,000 seats.

The project is to be done by the time the umpire shouts “Play ball!” for spring training opening day Feb. 25.

That’s great news for Carolyn and Phil Callahan, avid St. Louis Cardinals fans who have had spring training season tickets on the first base side for about eight years.

More shade at Roger Dean will help the stadium compete with the new Ballpark of the Palm Beaches off Haverhill Road. The Mets stadium in Port St. Lucie also has more shade, Phil Callahan said.

“More shade is absolutely needed. I’ve seen some people get up and leave early because the sun is too much,” said Carolyn Callahan.

Currently, the only shaded seats at Roger Dean are the 300 in about 10 rows in front of the press box behind home plate. The new cloth hunter green shade canopies will be along the first- and third-base lines.

“The lack of shade has been our biggest complaint from fans. This will help us sell more tickets,” said General Manager Mike Bauer, stepping between the green seats in the empty stadium on a recent afternoon.

Ticket prices will increase about $2 a game. This year spring training tickets varied from $27-$40. Next year’s spring training tickets will be $29-$42.

“This will give more people a choice. Some people, especially those coming down from 30-degree weather, don’t mind sitting in the sun,” Bauer said.

And many from Palm Beach County such as Jupiter resident Tom Jaeger, say the canopies are not needed.

“I’m from Florida. I like sitting in the sun,” Jaeger said.

What triggered the decision to add the shade canopies was the construction of the $148.5 million Ballpark of the Palm Beaches off Haverhill Road.

The new West Palm Beach stadium, which also will have about 7,000 seats, will be the spring training home of the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals.

Roger Dean Stadium, in Jupiter’s Abacoa, is owned by Palm Beach County. It opened in 1998 after being built for about for $28 million. The Cardinals — known for their vociferous fans with the bright red shirts — and the Marlins signed a lease that expires in 2027.

When some Major League Baseball teams left for Arizona, the Cardinals and Marlins balked at signing a long-term lease at Roger Dean Stadium.

“With the new (West Palm Beach) stadium, we are looking at a new 30-year lease here at Roger Dean. The more teams here, the better,” Bauer said.

The goal is to keep spring-training baseball — and their fans who buy tickets, stay in hotels and spend money — in north county and Florida. In Palm Beach County, the impact is estimated at $50 million a year, according to the county’s Tourist Development Council.

The next expected upgrades to Roger Dean Stadium include expanding the team store that sells souvenirs. Upgrades to the private skyboxes are also being considered.

The new shade canopies are paid out of a $5 million fund that is made up of $4 million from Palm Beach County Tourist Development bed taxes and $1 million from the Cardinals and Marlins.

The Bullpen Club was added this past year for about $300,000 to replace a grass berm in right field.

Two rows of seats and about 20 half-moon-shaped tables replaced the grass where fans set up blankets to watch the game. Fans in the 135-seat capacity area get a wrist band, which entitles them to unlimited food and beverages — except alcohol — from a concession stand reserved for Bullpen Club patrons.

A $600,000 storage building was also added.

The seats were replaced and the sound system upgraded for about $730,000 in 2014.

Also in 2014, free parking ended in the nearby parking garage. Motorists now pay $10 in the 1,000-space garage next to the Marriott Hotel during the spring training season.

Roger Dean Stadium suffered about $3.2 million in hurricane damage in 2004. The stadium’s seven light poles were knocked down and replaced by hurricane-proof poles that are 110-130 feet tall. The roofs over the Cardinals’ clubhouse and the press box had to be repaired. Turf was replaced.- by Bill DiPaolo, Palm Beach Post (Florida)