A day at the (Hagerstown) Yards?

July 18, 1997

Some of the right people began talking about a new baseball stadium in Hagerstown this week - talks that included representatives from city, county and state government.

During the meeting an interesting idea was floated. Perhaps it's impractical, unworkable or unfundable, but at this preliminary stage it at least deserves a fair hearing.

The plan was outlined by Washington County Commissioner Ron Bowers, who wants a new stadium if, and perhaps only if, it serves a greater good than just your basic sports interests.


Current thought would locate a new stadium on Interstate 81 at the end of Salem Avenue. The are strong and obvious benefits to this location.

There's lots of room. An interstate stadium is a good, sitting advertisement, with thousands of cars driving past each day. It opens up the turnstiles to more people from Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, bringing out-of-state tax dollars to Maryland and, perhaps most importantly, it would be easy in, easy out.

One of the biggest complaints about the old Municipal Stadium, current home of the Hagerstown Suns, is that it's hard to find and hard to get to.

Bowers' plan, by contrast, would build the stadium at the Hagerstown railyards near the old roundhouse at the end of Wesel Boulevard.

This old industrial side is rusty, overgrown, unsightly and blighted.

In that, Bowers sees its beauty.

Much like Camden Yards did in Baltimore, he believes a new ballpark would turn a downtrodden neighborhood into a showpiece.

Admittedly, it would be a leap of faith. And we all know what happens when Washington County makes capital improvements based on faith.

Of course this wouldn't be just a county project - it would be a county, city, state and private cooperative effort.

As part of the project Bowers would like to see a greatly expanded rail museum and renovation of the roundhouse, which could become to Hagerstown what the Warehouse is to the Baltimore yard.

The land abuts City Park, the garden spot of Hagerstown, with its stellar Washington County Museum. That entire quarter of town could become a destination, with the stadium one part of that destination.

Fans to the game and railroad history buffs would also be drawn through business segments of the town that would benefit local restaurants and stores, Bowers said.

The idea is not lacking appeal. Lots of brick, gardens, walkways to City Park, and a lasting, comprehensive tribute to the great railroad of history of the Hub City.

By involving the roundhouse, other sources of money such as transportation, or historical funding could open up. And with a historic building or two as a backdrop it would almost be guaranteed more charm than a highway site.

A rail-motif stadium might have the extra merit of getting more kids interested in baseball. (Don't little boys still like trains?)

State lawmakers might be far more amenable to funding a stadium that included neighborhood revitalization as well. The business community would likely be excited about such a proposal, since it would be such a splendid "quality of life" enhancement for Hagerstown - the kind they say attracts new enterprise.

But would it attract fans?

I imagine the Suns would still prefer a site on the interstate, being more visible, accessible and its concession stand more of a corner on the food market.

I'm not sure I completely buy all those reasons. After all, I've been on Interstate 70 past the Harry Grove stadium about a zillion times. I always admire the stadium, but I've been to only two Frederick Keys games.

Also though, as long as the Suns are not an Orioles affiliate, I think the Suns are going to have trouble drawing wherever they were to build a stadium. So they may need some other hook - perhaps the mixture of ballpark and history is it.

Of course, getting any new stadium at all in Hagerstown will be difficult enough. And there could be any number of good reasons why Bowers' plan wouldn't work - funding, timeliness, land issues, personal political agendas.

It is admittedly grandiose plan. And perhaps out of reach.

But it's sure a nice thought. And, politically, it would involve a lot of significant people in the community who currently have no real interest in baseball.

At the very least, this idea should be put before the public and discussed. What it should not do is divide the community into railways versus highway contingents that wind up killing the project.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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