SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — After advancing to the American Association championship series in 2020, the Sioux Falls Canaries stumbled to a fifth place finish last season.

This spring, the Birds are looking to bounce back with the help of a new roster of players, made possible by a major renovation at Sioux Falls Stadium.

A year ago, the Sioux Falls Canaries’ new ownership surprised fans with a half-million-dollar upgrade to their video board.

“It’s a process, right, and we want to earn the right with the fans to deliver that world-class experience when you come out to the ballpark with your family or friends to have a good time,” Canaries Owner Brian Slipka said.

This season, the Canaries have added padded seats behind home plate and new concessions, including an in-house chef. The team now has eleven full-time employees, compared to two 14 months ago.

“We’re trying to bring a unique message to the community that we’re here, we’re here to stay, we’re putting our money where our mouth is, and most importantly we’re creating a better experience,” Slipka said.

The biggest improvement will benefit both fans and players.

“The field was in disrepair. I mean there’s a lot of high school fields, my son plays high school baseball, and there’s a lot of high school fields that are in better shape than the Birdcage,” Slipka said.

“When I first got here in 2017, it was like a whole bunch of holes and rabbits running around, it was a bad situation to be playing on it,” Canaries Hitting Coach Jabari Henry said.

Now, you’ll still see a duck or two, but the Canaries have spent the past six weeks installing a new turf infield and the players are impressed.

“You should have seen their faces. They were all smiling, like this can’t be the Birdcage. We were like this is it, this is the new Birdcage, get used to it because it’s going to be here for awhile,” Henry said.

“It’s been spectacular watching the process, coming out every day seeing a little more added to it, watching them sew it together. It changes the look of the stadium,” Canaries Manager Mike Meyer said.

Canaries Manager Mike Meyer says the turf has caught the eye of players across baseball.

“It’s been a huge impact for me and my recruitment,” Meyer said.

Especially when it comes to pitchers and infielders.

“Having this artificial surface that’s going to play true every day, day in and day out, it’s been much easier for me to land some of those quality arms that we’ve been lacking in the past,” Meyer said.

“Now, the pitchers are more confident to give the ground balls so our infielders can turn double plays and not just try to get strikeouts, so it’s been amazing,” Henry said.

“When you have a double play ball and you have to play on your heels because it’s like trying to field a super ball bouncing on a parking garage and you don’t know which way it’s bouncing you have to stay on your heels. We may get the out at second, we don’t turn the double play which turns the lineup over one more time and then we give up that big swing,” Meyer said.

The importance of these projects extends beyond wins and losses.

“It just shows my guys in the clubhouse that Brian and Twan care about them and they want them to have a good experience and they want to give them the resources to not only help us win now but to help them become better players and better versions of themselves so they can get out of here and hopefully get to the big leagues,” Meyer said.

The long list of upgrades doesn’t mean ownership has abandoned the idea of one day playing in a new stadium.

“We’re going to be at the Birdcage at least another few years and so all of these improvements and changes will undoubtedly help the fan experience and create that world class experience. But, certainly, we are looking at a long-term solution of having a brand new stadium for fans to really get excited about,” Slipka said.

A downtown stadium has long been discussed, but…

“There’s a lot of conversations, it could go a lot of different directions. I will say this, I think the community will have a better idea by the end of this year and that’s really, really exciting,” Slipka said.

As for this season, renovations on and off the field are breathing new life into the organization.

“Guys just want to be here, they want to work, they want to play. They want to be in the clubhouse and be around because it’s fun and it’s nice and we have new things,” Meyer said.

Now, it’s time to play ball.

“It’s going to be so much different than any other opening day. I think a lot of it is because it’s going to be the first time we’re actually on the field,” Meyer said. “There’s no better place to be in the summer than out here on a nice warm summer night at the Birdcage,” Meyer added.

After spending the first week of the regular season on the road, the Canaries open the home portion of their schedule Friday night against Milwaukee. First pitch is set for 7:05.