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Community celebrates home debut for Wichita Wind Surge

Published: May. 10, 2021 at 8:35 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Update Tuesday night, May 11, 2021: Despite coming up short in a 3-2 decision, Tuesday night’s home opener was an overall success for the Wichita Wind Surge, celebrating its chance to finally take the field at its new home ballpark, Riverfront Stadium. A crowd of about 7,900 turned out on a chilly evening that felt more like March than May.

The Wind Surge overall stand strong at 5-2 and get plenty of opportunities to avenge the home-opening loss. After winning five of six games at Springfield to start the 2021 season, Tuesday night kicked off a six-game series against the Amarillo Sod Poodles. The teams are set to play the next four evenings with the series finale wrapping up Sunday afternoon, May 16.

The Wind Surge play almost daily through September 19. You can see the team’s full schedule and catch game recaps on the Wind Surge’s website.

Minor League Baseball is back in Wichita. Tonight, (Tuesday, May 11), the Wichita Wind Surge make their home debut at the new Riverfront Stadium downtown. It’s an opening that’s more than a year in the making, derailed last year by the pandemic.

There are three entrances where people will line up and go through security before they can go inside the new stadium. The staff at the stadium encourages fans to use the entrance at Sycamore Street and the one at McLean (next to the ticket office). You can find information and parking and transportation options to the game on the City of Wichita’s website. There is free parking across the river, but it’s paid parking for anything that surrounds the stadium.

There are more than 9,000 parking parking spaces near the stadium and a shuttle will be running. It’s a god idea to plan ahead. There is a lot of free parking east of the Arkansas River and most of the spots close to the stadium, west of the river, cost $5 for parking.

At the stadium, the grass is mowed, the lights are ready, the seats are cleared and the bars are stocked as staff works on final preparations ahead of crowds coming to Riverfront Stadium. Fifteen full-time and about 400 part-time staff will work throughout the stadium this week.

Looking at the forecast ahead of Tuesday night’s home opener, Storm Team 12 said although it feels more like March, clouds should break. There’s not a serious threat of rain spoiling the Wind Surge’s debut at Riverfront Stadium.

Monday, Wind Surge General Manager Jared Forma took care of last-minute details to make sure everyone is ready to serve Tuesday’s crowd of baseball fans.

“That’s where I take the most pride and joy is when they all enjoy the fruits of their labor,” Forma said. “That starts (Tuesday) night. We get to start seeing the smiles on hopefully 9,000 people’s faces (Tuesday) night. That’s what makes us the happiest.”

The staff learned from the stadium’s soft opening last month when Wichita State’s baseball team took the field. For the Shockers’ game at Riverfront Stadium against Houston, about 7,500 fans attended.

“The first game with WSU, we had an awesome time,” bar manager Lori Schmitt said. “And we really showed Wichita, all the fans that showed up had a great time. We all had a great time.”

With a clear bag policy and cashless payment system throughout the stadium, there’s one more reminder for fans, a mask policy in place to safeguard against COVID-19.

“Small price to pay to ask everyone to wear a mask to allow us to open with allowing as many fans as we’re allowed,” Forma said. “We’re one of the few stadiums that get to host probably 8,000 fans, which is 80-90 percent out of the gates.”

With the clear bag policy there are exceptions for diaper bags, medical bags or small bags.

“We’re going to double the amount of lines to access the gate,” Forma said. “There’s going to be express lanes which we didn’t have (at Wichita State’s April 10 game at Riverfront Stadium), so if you don’t have a bag that needs checking, you’re essentially able to almost fly through security.”

With the cashless policy, the stadium only accepts debit cards, credit cards and gift cards. The stadium does have an option for fans to exchange cash for a prepaid debit card at a kiosk in the giftshop.

When it comes to the safeguards against COVID-19, Forma said he doesn’t anticipate Major League Baseball coming up with any sort of vaccine passport requirement for its Minor League teams. The mask requirement stretches across the league.

Leading up to opening day, the Wind Surge paid homage to the late owner Lou Schwechheimer, creating patches for the team to wear opening night and unveiling a portrait in his honor. On Tuesday, the team also tweeted out an audio clip of Lou talking about the “beauty of opening day” over a photo of the Riverfront Stadium.

Schwechheimer died last July from COVID-19 complications. Due to the pandemic, he wasn’t able to see his team take the field in Wichita, but he is credited for making the move possible and generating excitement about Wichita’s first MLB-affiliated club in more than a decade. Also on Monday, representatives of the Wind Surge and Emprise Bank gathered for the unveiling of a portrait of Schweccheimer.

“We’ll certainly take a few minutes tonight to pay our respects to Lou,” Forma said Tuesday afternoon. “We know he’s here with us every minute, and as Lou would want, it’s all about fun and enjoyment tonight and that’s what we’re really going to focus on.”

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