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Fifth Third Ballpark repaired with Grand Rapids made seats

PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, MI —- The section of Fifth Third Ballpark damaged in a devastating January fire has nearly been completely rebuilt.

Part of that recovery has been replacing the seating made by two longtime West Michigan local companies, American Seating and Irwin Seating. The stadium reopened in April for the beginning of baseball season, although renovations are still being completed.

American Seating recently finished replacing about 120 seats damaged in the luxury suites damaged by the winter blaze that caused more than $500,000 in damage.

“I’ve been in this business 24 years and people always ask me about American Seating when they talk about chairs,” said Jim Jarecki, vice president of the Class-A West Michigan Whitecaps baseball franchise. “We’re proud to have them here in the ballpark. People rave about them, especially with the wide chairs and backs. The quality is top-notched.”

He noted that American Seating chairs located in the suites where the fire started melted away but the cast iron ends survived.

The cast iron ends are why the Grand Rapids company’s stadium seating comes with a 25 year warranty, said American Seating spokeswoman Deb McDermott.

“They are really built to last,” McDermott said.

The nearly 125-year-old American Seating has been around almost as long as America’s pastime — and has been making seats for baseball teams since the early 1900s. The original seating in Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, was American Seating.

Chances are most baseball fans have spent time in an American Seating-made chair. They are in the stadiums of teams including the Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland A’s, Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals.

The company lives up to its name. The chairs are made in its factory on Grand Rapids’ Northwest Side. Sports seating accounts for about 20 percent of the company’s overall sales.

Previously replaced were five sections of seats made by the Walker-based Irwin Seating that suffered heat damage in the fire.

Jarecki says he appreciates having two of the top stadium seating makers in the White Caps’ backyard.

The difference between seating of the two companies are more cosmetic and approach to manufacturing, than anything else, said Fritz Owen, American Seating’s national sales manager for stadium seating.

“They have been a great competitor of ours for years,” Owen said. Between the two Grand Rapids companies, most of the seating in stadiums across the country were “Made in Michigan.”

Shandra Martinez covers business for MLive/The Grand Rapids Press.

Originally posted in Mlive on May 25, 2014