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Suns' fans feel for ex-owner

January 09, 2001

Suns' fans feel for ex-owner



By BOB PARASILITI / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

Blenckstone sellsCall them the silent minority.

In a sea of pens, tape recorders and cameras, they sat front and center, nervously awaiting Monday's announcement about the future of the Hagerstown Suns with the feeling of nothing to gain and everything lose.

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They were a small group of Suns' fans who attended the press conference at the Sheraton Four Points with hopes that the Single-A minor league affiliate would remain in town. Even when Winston Blenckstone announced he had sold the team to Andrew Rayburn of Cleveland, Ohio, the nervousness was only tempered with some guarded relief.

"It was a scary thing," said Goldie McAbee of Hagerstown. "It could be the end of baseball in Hagerstown and it will never come back. But I think positively always. (Rayburn) seems sincere and I look for good things to happen."

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The smattering of fans were all members of the Hagerstown Suns Fan Club, the die-hard band of backers of the team and its players. They were only hoping - in the midst of the ongoing battle over new stadium issues - they had a team to back.

"I look at it as a positive change," fan club president Gary Deweerd said. "It will be new blood with new ideas and new approaches. He seems more committed to stay here."

Rayburn, who bought the Daytona Cubs of the Single-A Florida State League last year, was enthusiastic in his remarks about his new purchase and Hagerstown in general.

He admitted he has done business here before with Flexalloy, his recently sold industrial business based in Cleveland, and admired the family atmosphere of the town. The stadium continues to be an issue and will have a bearing on how long the team would stay.

"I hope they have some kind of continuity in the transition," said Bill Knight, who stood in the back of the room during the conference. "I hope it reaches his expectations. At the minimum, improving (Municipal Stadium) with the city park plan would be money well spent. I believe they will be here three or four years at the minimum, but there are still a lot of things that have to be taken into consideration."

Still, the fans were ready for the worst.

"This is a good surprise," Bob McAfee said. "I've been following Hagerstown baseball since 1941. Until I went into the Navy, I only missed a few games. I've seen many a major leaguer come to play here. The first time we lost the team, I was lost without them."

The fans were grateful to Blenckstone for keeping baseball here in 1992 when the Baltimore Orioles affiliate chose to move to Bowie, Md. Blenckstone moved his team and the Toronto Blue Jays affiliation in from Myrtle Beach, S.C., to keep baseball at Municipal Stadium.

Each said Blenckstone deserved a better fate for his efforts to get a new stadium for the team.

"Winston got a bad rap," Bob McAfee said. "I'm really disappointed with our elected officials from the senator on down the line."

The sale was the second major change for Suns fans in the last three months. The Suns ended their eight-year affiliation with Toronto in October and replaced it with the San Francisco Giants.

The fans still hold out hope that that will be the only changes for the Suns.

"(Rayburn) is a family man and is interested in keeping the fan club going because there are a lot of families and kids involved with it," Deweerd said. "I really think this will put a jolt in the stadium talks and could jump start it. It's a good start."

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