"If we rebuild it, they will come once again." That comment, said by West Michigan Whitecaps CFO Danny Baxter, is the hope after a fire started in the club level of Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park, Michigan destroyed much of the stadium.

 

Firefighers put out a fire at Fifth Third Ballpark. (Photo by Cory Morse, MLive.com)Fifth Third Ballpark is the home of the Detroit Tigers' class A affiliate, the West Michigan Whitecaps. Opened in 1994, the 10,700 seat stadium is known for its Fifth Third burger, featured on Man vs. Food, almost as much as it is known for producing future MLB players. But Friday, much of the stadium's club level was reduced to nothing more than ashes as flames ripped through it for more than two hours.

According to the Michigan news website, MLive.com, the upper right field section of the stadium, including the concourse, and the Whitecaps' clubhouse were consumed by flames. More from MLive:

Fire officials believe that a space heater used by a work crew started a small fire in a luxury suite behind home plate. The workers thought they extinguished the fire and left the area, returning hours later to find a fire alarm sounding and the box in flames about 11 a.m.

Plainfield Township Fire Chief Dave Peterson said reports indicate there had been an earlier false alarm from the facility's fire suppression system, and that the unit may have been turned off. That allowed the flames to spread faster than if had it been functional, the chief said.

Peterson also said a lack of nearby fire hydrants - there were only two - hampered the ability of firefighters to knock down the blaze. Water hoses were run nearly 1,500 feet from hydrants, but that sapped water pressure and crews were forced from the onset to take a defensive position as the fire extended down the first baseline and the roof eventually collapsed.

Team officials say they will begin construction to fix the stadium and hope to have it ready to go by opening day. According to Baxter, the fire caused about $500,000 in damage. The stadium cost $6.5 million to build in 1993 and was opened the following year.

Michael Gaio is eMedia Editor of Athletic Business.