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Renovations to Tigers' spring home on schedule

MLB.com @beckjason

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The pop of the mitt and the crack of the bat from here around this time each year echoes to Michigan, bringing warm thoughts of future afternoons to chilly baseball fans up north. From Tigertown, they're a little more difficult to hear, muffled from time to time by the high pitch of a saw and the hammering of new construction.

Those, too, are harbingers of times ahead. When the Tigers return next spring, they'll be working in a spacious new building, training in a state-of-the-art facility and playing in a renovated and expanded Joker Marchant Stadium, all pieces of a $40 million project that provides the first major update to the Tigers' Spring Training home in 14 years.

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The pop of the mitt and the crack of the bat from here around this time each year echoes to Michigan, bringing warm thoughts of future afternoons to chilly baseball fans up north. From Tigertown, they're a little more difficult to hear, muffled from time to time by the high pitch of a saw and the hammering of new construction.

Those, too, are harbingers of times ahead. When the Tigers return next spring, they'll be working in a spacious new building, training in a state-of-the-art facility and playing in a renovated and expanded Joker Marchant Stadium, all pieces of a $40 million project that provides the first major update to the Tigers' Spring Training home in 14 years.

Spring Training: Schedule | Tickets | Stadium | More info

The upgrades -- financed by the state of Florida, city of Lakeland and Polk County -- continue the partnership between the Tigers and Lakeland, the longest-running pairing of a Major League team with a Spring Training home. As part of the agreement on the project, the Tigers extended their lease through 2036, which will mark the 100th spring for the team in Lakeland. Their $530,000 annual rent will also go toward financing the work.

In an era when teams have been jumping to new facilities -- not just from Florida to Arizona, but one part of Florida to another -- the partnership continues a model of stability. While the Tigers could end up the only team in central Florida in the not-too-distant future, they'll have a home that team officials believe will rank among the best for a one-team facility.

"Having a nice facility goes a long way," longest-tenured Tiger and part-time Lakeland resident Justin Verlander said. "They've done a good job of keeping renovations decent here for a while, but I think it got to a point, especially with a lot of teams heading to Arizona or getting a new facility. Especially with this being the longest-tenured Spring Training facility, I think it's important to keep us in town. I think it's big for the city of Lakeland, which is kind of synonymous with Tigers baseball."

The Tigers are already utilizing the first of the upgrades, a new batting-cage building at the Tigertown Minor League complex, and an artificial-turf practice field that can be ready for play minutes after a mid-afternoon Florida downpour.

The next phase will be impossible to miss once Spring Training games begin next week. Looming over the right-field fence is the skeleton of a three-story, 78,000 square-foot building that will house Tigers offices, a 17,000 square-foot clubhouse to accommodate up to 60 players, a new weight room estimated at 7,000 square feet, and a right-field porch for fans to congregate.

Construction on that will pause for the Grapefruit League schedule. Shortly after the Tigers head north, the work will pick up -- not just on that building, but on the stadium itself.

The grandstand down the left-field line, remnants of a previous era, will be knocked down and replaced by seating that will resemble the sections behind home plate, including cover to allow fans to enjoy the game in the shade.

The current Tigers clubhouse and administration building down the right-field line will be torn down and replaced by additional seating, a party deck and a picnic area.

Additional plans call for wider concourses, more restrooms and more space for concession areas. Club suites will be extended up top, with a stadium club above the first-base seats. The concourse will be extended around the ballpark, including the outfield.

Official capacity is expected to be relatively unchanged, according to Tigers director of Florida operations Ron Myers. The difference will be more in the quality of seating.

At the same time, the Tigers and Lakeland have to strike a balance between a modern facility and the classic Spring Training feel that fans have enjoyed since the area was converted from an old air training base. To that end, the style of architecture will remain unchanged, and the left-field berm will stay in place.

The project is on schedule to be completed next February, just in time for Spring Training, according to Lakeland Parks and Recreation director Bob Donahay.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.

Detroit Tigers