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Wants and needs differ in county

OPINION -

March 11, 2000|By MARK KELLER / Sports Editor

I've been watching this dialogue about a new Hagerstown stadium with amusement and anger, amazement and outrage over the past few months.

Through all of this stadium talk, Hagerstown Suns owner Winston Blenckstone has remained silent. That's about to change.

cont. from sports page

Blenckstone will hold a press conference early this week - likely Tuesday or Wednesday - at which he will "discuss the future of Minor League Baseball in Washington County."

To the stadium supporters in Washington County and the rest of the Tri-State area, you're probably right in thinking this isn't necessarily a positive sign.

For the rest - including the County Commissioners, the Hagerstown City Council and the local state delegation - it's a sign that you're probably getting what you wished for.

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The question is ... why? Why are so many people so dead-set against baseball in Hagerstown?

Some of the answers to that question can be found on The Herald-Mail website (www.herald-mail.com). Our weekly poll question this week was whether or not the city and county should help build a new stadium for the Hagerstown Suns.

I'm sure that doesn't mean, "Should Wally McClure pick up a hammer and put together a concession stand at a new stadium site?" No, McClure's much too busy answering our Mail Call respondents to perform physical labor.

At press time, with nearly 600 votes in, the poll showed 58 percent of voters were against a new stadium.

The comments that go along with the voting run the gamut, but the majority offer up the same tired responses that Hagerstonians have been giving since the Suns began their seemingly impossible quest for a new stadium in 1996.



Doesn't anybody realize that Blenckstone's eventual decision to keep the Suns in a town that has turned its back on him or sell off his family business is directly related to all four of those items?

The plan drafted by Del. Chris Shank, a plan he apparently no longer supports, would have offered relief for the infamous water/sewer debt AND provided additional funds toward the stadium/roundhouse museum complex.

By increasing the local hotel-motel tax by 3 percent, the money could have been raised with little, if any, impact on the local taxpayer.

And no, I'm not buying the argument that people won't stay in Hagerstown if this tax is increased. When was the last time you asked what the tax rate was when making hotel reservations?

The Suns' major league affiliation should have nothing to do with this argument whatsoever, but if it must, then answer this question:

Wasn't it the Baltimore Orioles who pulled their Class AA team out of Hagerstown at the end of the 1992 season to play in a new, taxpayer-funded stadium in Bowie?

And don't think because the stadium is in Bowie that Washington County residents didn't help pay for it.

Blenckstone brought his team here from Myrtle Beach, S.C., when it looked like baseball was gone from Hagerstown for good.

I've got news for you folks. If Hagerstown doesn't build a stadium and this team leaves, professional baseball will never come back, meaning you'll have no local team - whether its a Blue Jays or an Orioles affiliate - to root for.

That leads me right to the final two points. Are you, as taxpayers, prepared to make up for the additional tax burden that will be placed on you when the Suns leave town?

Who is going to make up for the $4 million that the Suns bring in every year if they leave town?

Hmmmmm ... wait a minute. Has anybody asked that question yet? I don't think they have.

If the Suns are sold and moved from Hagerstown, there won't be any money going to pay off the water-sewer debt because the local government will be trying to figure out how to make up for the loss of baseball.

Take $4 million out of the local budget and it's going to be missed. And who will be asked to make up for the debt?

Winston Blenckstone ... and every other taxpayer in Washington County.

It's time for the politicians and citizens of Washington County to pull their heads out of the sand and realize what having a minor league baseball team means to this community.

Blenckstone is a businessman who wants to stay in Hagerstown. But more than that, he's the man who brought the American pastime back to our area after the local favorite turned its back on us.

It's time this town started treating him with the same respect it gives to strip mall developers.

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