COMSTOCK PARK—With spring training here, it won’t be too much longer until West Michigan Whitecaps customers will be taking a seventh-inning stretch during the franchise’s eighth opening day on Saturday, April 7.
Still, just a month before that home opener, one key question remains to be answered: What will the name of the ballpark be when the Caps open the gates?
For the franchise’s first seven years, the confines has been called Old Kent Park. But the hometown financial institution the park was named after was sold to Fifth Third Corp., a Cincinnati-based bank. That transaction is reportedly to become official on April 2, only five days before the Whitecaps welcome their first wave of customers.
Some of the Old Kent bank branch signs have already been changed to Fifth Third. So will opening day find new signs at the Comstock Park baseball field? Don’t know, yet.
Whitecaps co-founder and partner Lew Chamberlin said last week that a decision on the park’s name hasn’t been made.
“There certainly is an indication that they want to continue the type of partnership that we’ve had. Exactly what form that continuation is going to take is not clear at this point,” he said.
“Along with the bank, we’re going to analyze what direction the new partnership will take,” he added. “Right now, it’s a little too early to say how it is going to wash out.”
The agreement the Caps has with Old Kent is entering the eighth year of the ten-year deal. In that deal, the franchise has veto power regarding naming rights. So both sides have to agree on a name if a new one is given to the park.
After the contract runs its course, the Whitecaps can put the park’s naming rights up for bid. But Chamberlin said that he wasn’t sure the partners would do that.
Fifth Third already has a field named after it in Dayton, Ohio. That city’s franchise also plays in the same Single A league as the Whitecaps.
By the way, single-game tickets for the Whitecaps’ upcoming season go on sale Saturday at, where else, Old Kent Park.