SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The Sioux Falls Canaries played game one of 100 Tuesday night.
The franchise is fresh off its first playoff appearance since 2010 and enters the new American Association season with high hopes and new ownership.
Sioux Falls Stadium is experiencing a major facelift.
The projects coincide with the arrival of new ownership for the Canaries, including Brian Slipka. Born in Sioux Falls, Slipka is the managing partner of more than a dozen independent small businesses throughout the upper midwest.
“My whole thesis is small business, heartbeat of America. I’m a big advocate for small business,” Canaries Co-Owner Brian Slipka said.
Slipka is an advocate of servant leadership. Former NFL head coach Tony Dungy is one of his mentors.
“Don’t be quick to speak, be quick to listen,” Slipka said. “I’m a guy that’s always been take the hill and always take on more in life and that’s ok, but it’s got to harnessed in the appropriate way,” Slipka added.
He’s also a baseball fan, and is making the fan experience a priority at the Birdcage.
“We have to earn the right, guys we have to earn the right for the fan to want to come back, we’ve got to earn the right for the fan to even come to the ballpark,” Slipka said.
“It’s basically going to be a circus with a baseball game breaking out. We want everybody, whether you love baseball or think it’s the most boring sport on earth to leave the ballpark thinking man that was a good time, we’ve got to come back,” Canaries General Manager Duell Higbe said.
The centerpiece of the team’s off-season restoration is a new half-million-dollar Daktronics videoboard.
“Just having that brand new 20-foot by 50-foot scoreboard, I mean man that’s an immediate impact right there on fan experience, but that’s going to provide us with so many more options for entertainment and just excitement at the ballpark,” Higbe said.
“Who doesn’t like to make a diving play in the outfield and turn around and watch their highlights on the big video board. It’s stuff that the players like to see, you know we were taking batting practice when they lit it up and everybody just got juiced, we were excited, we want to see what it looks like with out names and numbers on the board,” Canaries Manager Mike Meyer said.
The Canaries are also adding new beer gardens, merchandise areas, and a kids zone.
“Kids Zone is basically going to be a 30-foot by 60-foot big old jungle gym, rubber mulch on the ground, going to be really safe, we’re going to have it staffed, so that way you come out and bring the kids and just drop them off,” Higbe said.
The list of new items doesn’t end inside the walls of the stadium. Ownership is establishing a new Canaries Community Fund with about $250,000 going to local charities.
“This is bigger than baseball and what we do echoes into eternity, not just the short term, and so we want to bring a little bit of that mantra and that culture to not only the Canaries but also the entire Sioux Falls community,” Slipka said.
“They’re more about creating a really good environment for their people, for their employees, for their workers and that’s how I’ve tried to build it here with our players. It’s not necessarily win at all costs, it’s try to put these guys in the best situations for them to succeed so they can get out of here, so they can go back to affiliate, get to the big leagues,” Meyer said.
Mike Meyer returns for his fifth season on the bench, and is the reigning American Association Manager of the Year.
“The reputation of coming to Sioux Falls has made a complete u-turn, players now want to come here,” Higbe said.
“People want to play for Mike. That’s something that is unique, right? That’s going to deliver a quality product just because of who he is and what he brings to the game,” Slipka said.
And he’ll look to deliver Sioux Falls its first championship since 2008.
“We expect a very competitive team, we think we’ll compete again, we think we’ll be right in the hunt,” Slipka said.
“Trying to build up on the momentum of last year’s big deep run and looking for big things here in ’21,” Higbe said.
“It’s been exciting times here and it’s a good time to be a Bird,” Meyer said.
Slipka says year one is about getting a lay of the land, but is also interested in long-term discussions, including the potential for a new or renovated stadium.