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?
[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.