AKRON Lights aren’t the first thing most fans notice walking into a baseball stadium, but they’ve become a much bigger part of the show this season at Canal Park.
Thanks to 153 new LED fixtures built by Musco Lighting and installed by Lake Erie Electric the RubberDucks have new lighting for the first time since Canal Park opened more than two decades ago. The new lights come with a variety of benefits, but according to general manage Jim Pfander, it was simply time for an update.
“The ballpark was built in 1997 and we take a look at things we want to improve each and every year and with a 22-year-old ballpark, things are going through their life cycles,” Pfander said. "We’ve replaced the field - the playing surface - before the 2016 season, the wall pads before the 2017 season, the lights and now the seats are probably the next thing. When the lights were installed 23 years ago, they were probably a 20-year lifespan system.”
He noted that, as far as he knows, Canal Park is the only minor league stadium with just five light standards positioned around the facility. Due to its location in downtown Akron, as opposed to the outside-city-limits location the franchise had before moving to Akron - then the Canton-Akron Indians and playing at Thurman Munson Stadium - and not having an ideal spot for a sixth light standard, Pfander said, Canal Park was grandfathered in under minor league rules with one less light standard than most of its fellow ballparks.
Since then, the team and city have had testing done every couple years on the lighting at the stadium and whether it’s providing sufficient illumination. During the last test, results indicated that new lights would be needed and from there, the team and city searched and chose Musco Lighting for the new LED lights.
The installation included the removal of the existing metal halide lighting fixtures with new LED sports lighting ones while using the existing poles and structures. New control panels, wiring harnesses, and power switches were also included.
On the surface, new lights may not seem to offer many reason for fan excitement, but the new lights come with a bit of an extra benefit. Because LED lights turn off and back on very quickly, the team is able to create fun effects by flashing and flickering certain lights to celebrate home runs or at the end of wins. Along with some safety and financial benefits, the team views the lights as a true bright spot at the park.
“I think that’s (the effects to celebrate big moments) just icing on the cake … what they’ve done over the years is everything’s improved and to make the switch to LED lighting helped us on a couple of fronts. One, we shoot fireworks and with 26 fireworks nights this year, it takes forever (for the lights to come back on),” Pfander said. “From a safety standpoint, you want the lights to be able to come back on quick and the other thing is with LED lights, it saves on energy and that’s going to save the city of Akron, it’s going to save the RubberDucks on lighting bills.”
The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, the Florida-based Double-A team owned by Akron RubberDucks owner Ken Babby, installed similar LED lights two years ago and that knowledge gave the RubberDucks guidance in picking out their own new lighting system.
Having just completed their first month with the new lights, it’s too soon to measure how much the LED lights will save per month on electricity bills, Pfander estimated that there would be “a substantial savings.”
Because of how they function and illuminate the playing surface, Pfander believes that at times, it’s difficult to tell the lights are the source of field illumination unless you’re sitting in the first few rows of the stands. According to the team, the newly-installed LED sports lights exceed Major League Baseball standards by 125 percent and with ball-tracking, up-light technology, they help illuminate the underside of the ball so players don’t lose sight of the ball on high pop-ups. The new LED lights’ movement and brightness can be individually controlled and programmed, providing further opportunity for customization.
Of course, the most noticeable aspect of the lighting for fans is seeing them flicker on and off in a patterned display when a RubberDucks player blasts a home run or after the final out when the home team wins a game.
“I think it’s fun … it’s another element for the fan experience that people have come to know and love when they come to RubberDucks games,” Pfander said.
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