Hagerstown losing baseball team, officials still want new stadium to “get back to business,” whatever business that might be

The Hagerstown Suns have lost their affiliated South Atlantic League team as part of MLB’s crusade to stop paying as many minor-league players as possible. (The Suns still technically exist, with no league to play in, but their Wikipedia page has them in the past tense, which is never a good sign.) Hagerstown officials who have been angling for a new stadium still want one, even though there’s now no team to play in one. How do they reconcile these two facts? Let’s watch!

“I think right now the possibilities are endless,” [Hagerstown Mayor Emily] Keller said. “It’s all up in the air, but that’s not a bad thing. It gives us time to decide where we want to go as a community.”

This is more or less true, though the possibilities are not so endless as to include “let’s build a new stadium and have an affiliated minor-league team play in it,” which was the plan that made the most sense. (Along with “let’s keep the old stadium and have an affiliated minor-league team play in it,” which is also now off the table.) But yes, breakups can be opportunities, and when God closes a door he opens a window, and are we able to crawl out of bed yet?

Moving on:

[Councilmember Bob] Bruchey agreed that it is sad to lose minor league baseball in the city.

He said if an updated facility existed, however, the team might have kept its affiliation with the Nationals.

“It just never came about,” Bruchey said.

It might have! Sure, tons of teams playing in newer stadiums are being snapped out of existence, and the entire South Atlantic League has disappeared (bits of it will reportedly merge with the remnants of the NY-Penn League as a new Mid-Atlantic League in 2021), but it there is a non-zero chance that the Suns could have taken the place of another surviving team if the city had built them a new stadium. So definitely let’s blame that.

Bruchey said the goal now is to find a way to bring more people into Hagerstown to live and to patronize businesses, possibly with some sort of downtown venue for sports and potentially music.

He said it would be “foolish” to scrap talks of a new facility given the amount of funds available from the state for such a venture.

The amount of funds available from the state is, Delmarva Now reports, $300,000. That’s not going to go very far in paying for any sort of downtown venue for sports and potentially music or maybe sports musicals.

“We’re going to dust ourselves off, find an independent team, build a new ballpark and get back to business,” [Visit Hagerstown President Dan] Spedden said. “We’re continuing with this effort.”

Building a new ballpark for an independent team is never a great gamble, given the number of cities that have done that and then wound up with no team and an empty ballpark because indy-league teams come and go like mayflies. In a time when there are suddenly dozens of cities scrambling for teams and the viability of minor-league sports as a whole is uncertain thanks to the pandemic and the pandemic economy, it’s an even worse gamble.

Spedden said Visit Hagerstown worked with Suns General Manager Travis Painter at the end of the 2018 season to measure the team’s economic impact.

The team contributes nine full-time jobs and a number of part-time positions to the economy, along with $235,000 in purchases of food and other necessities, Spedden said. He estimated an impact of $53,000 in sales taxes and about $40,000 in charitable donations. Fans and visiting teams also booked rooms at hotels.

On the bright side, this is one of the few sports economic impact statements that actually sounds believable and based in actual tax receipts. On the other hand, $53,000 in annual tax revenues and nine full-time jobs is terrible economic impact, especially if it requires spending $30 million or so on a stadium; you’d be better off building a small supermarket, or maybe a large dentist’s office.

If I were mayor of Hagerstown, which I am not (checks election results, confirms this), I would start out by seeing if I could find a new baseball team to play in my old stadium, which has the advantage of having already been paid for back in 1930. (The stadium’s Wikipedia page claims it was built by the federal Works Progress Administration, which would be a neat trick seeing as that the WPA didn’t come into existence until 1935.) Or maybe find another kind of sports team — lacrosse, rugby, pesäpallo — to play there. Or see if amateur players want to rent out a historic stadium with a cool manually operated scoreboard. Depending on how that all goes, maybe a new stadium would be something to consider; in the meantime, there are far better and cheaper ways to convince people to live and spend money in Hagerstown.

Finally, a fond farewell to Woolie B., the Suns’ monstrous snaggletoothed caterpillar mascot. Won’t anyone think of the hideous chimeric mascots? Maybe they can form a Mascot League — I bet that would create at least nine jobs.

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10 comments on “Hagerstown losing baseball team, officials still want new stadium to “get back to business,” whatever business that might be

  1. After watching the video for pesapallo, I’m in – I hereby announce the formation of the USPL and am selling franchises for $25,000,000. You must have proof that you’ve looted a local government’s finances to build our extremely odd-shaped stadium, along with other revenue-producing businesses, (hotels, museums, Finnish restaurants, etc.), to qualify. Also, there will be no limit on crowd sizes – if there’s one thing that the Finns have taught us, it’s that they know how to deal with a pandemic!

    1. Our firm represents the commissioner of the United States Pickleball League. As such we are required to inform you that…

  2. Part of the rules of a pesapallo seem to be your team has at least 10 jersey sponsors. Now make that a naming sponsor and you could be looking at the Meritus Health Phoenix Color Brethren Mutual Devil’s Backbone Callas Contractors Jamison Door Trivergent Hagerstown Suns Pesapallo Club powered by Thompson Gas.

  3. Have we all just given up on the dream of a national pickleball league then?

    In all seriousness, this is an opportunity. City councils across the country that have built facilities for minor league teams (or, as it turned out, multiple franchises that often last 3 seasons or so before folding) can get together, agree on a set of rules to play by, then form their own leagues – leagues for which they set the overall budgets and which, pretty much by definition, will never hold them hostage.

    And no, this doesn’t mean city councillors having to vote on whether to put the infielders at double play depth during games. Owning a team and managing it’s operation are two different things. The cities would simply hire a business manager to run the team in the same way they do if they are engaging in a building project.

    Sure, the teams might lose a little money on operations. But it will be an order of magnitude less than the amount they are extorted out of by private operators every few years.

    The facilities are there. The players are out there. The only reason these facilities aren’t being used is because of an arbitrary and capricious decisions by the owners of major league baseball.

    Who says they rule the world (baseball or otherwise)? They do not.

    1. Unfortunately, they’ll never get a TV contract, because MLB will make sure they don’t, like the NBA did with the ABL. Also, MLB can blacklist any players who sign with the alternate league from playing in their intern league, so they’ll never be able to be drafted into the majors. And blacklist cities that participate from ever getting affiliated teams. Etc.

      1. That is all true. However, we are talking about small cities and minor league baseball in the truest sense. For most of the players coming out of college every summer, MLB is as much a possibility as it is for a 50 something like me. Zero.

        What we are talking about with these teams and cities is unaffiliated minor league ball. The players know they aren’t going to MLB (and with the drastic reduction in the number of MiLB affiliated teams and leagues, they won’t be going to MiLB either in all likelihood). My closest affiliated minor league team had just one legitimate MLB prospect on it’s roster in 2019, and even at that he was only there for maybe four weeks in the second half of the season. The argument that fans are “seeing the stars of tomorrow today” in MiLB has never really been true.

        If you have a AAA franchise near you you might see a handful of soon to be major leaguers for a season. You will also see a lot of 4-A players who can’t hit major league curveballs or play proper defense.

        I’m not suggesting Hagerstown, Reno or Wichita form the basis of a new major league, just that they don’t have to accept what MLB grudgingly gives them in exchange tens of millions in minor league stadium funding.

        There are always options.

        1. Affiliated ball has a competitive advantage, is my point, thanks to the 800-pound gorilla it has on its side.

          The Atlantic League and Northern League have been (marginally) successful, mostly by going into largish markets that were otherwise ignored by the MLB-affiliated system. If MLB plans to keep on picking off the most successful teams for affiliation, like it did with St. Paul and Sugar Land and Somerset, then it’s going to be tough for that model to keep being successful.

          1. Neil, are you sure you lost in a fair election? You being cheated might be getting lost with all the larger offices

            Your from NY maybe you know a lawyer or 2

          2. Agreed, Neil. MLB will take the best markets it can. I still think there will be enough demand out there for at least a couple more independent leagues to form (or affiliated leagues to convert themselves into non-affiliated).

            It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick. If all of us who love baseball but despise the MLB system would put our money down for season tickets, it might be possible.

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