New Blaze owners promise improved fan experience

New Blaze owners promise improved fan experience

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Bakersfield's minor league baseball team will soon have new owners. Will the deal include a replacement for the 70-year-old Sam Lynn Ballpark?

"We have a business plan that will address immediate and long-term needs," said new co-owner Gene Voiland in a news release. "It's no secret that the current ballpark is not up to standard, and while we plan to make immediate enhancements, we also plan to evaluate opportunities for a new stadium in the near future."

Local businessmen Voiland and Chad Hathaway announced Wednesday that they've reached an agreement to buy the Blaze, pending approval by Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball. The California League has already blessed the sale, which is expected to be complete before this season begins April 5, they said.

Voiland and Hathaway said they want to make the Blaze, the current Class Advanced-A Minor League affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, "a real civic asset and a center of excitement for the community."

They said they plan to keep major league veteran Ken Griffey Sr. as skipper. General Manager Elizabeth Martin, who is in her second season with the team, will also stay aboard.

Voiland is a longtime Bakersfield resident who is chairman of Valley Republic Bank and past president and CEO of Aera Energy LLC. Hathaway was born and raised in Bakersfield and owns two locally based companies: Hathaway LLC, an oil and gas production company, and Payzone Directional Services, which provides directional drilling for oil and gas companies.

The pair emphasized their desire to improve the fan experience, and they said they're excited for the future, given Bakersfield's expected population growth and strong baseball culture.

"There's no question we need to upgrade the fan experience, and that's what we plan to do immediately," Hathaway said. "We are excited to put into action many of the best practices we've found throughout the country."