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Suns' ownership gets first chance to shine tonight

April 08, 2002|BY DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

dank@herald-mail.com

The Hagerstown Suns' first home season under new ownership debuts in Municipal Stadium tonight.

"It's our first chance to shine," Suns General Manager Kurt Landes said. "In our minds (this) is the first game to see our version of family entertainment."

The slogan on the Suns' 2002 pocket schedule claims "It's not just baseball anymore!" And plans for this season include dozens of new or expanded special events, promotions and giveaways.

For example, postgame fireworks are scheduled for the home opener plus four other nights this season, compared to three nights in 2001. One new giveaway gives fans a coupon for a free Burger King cheeseburger if a designated opposing batter strikes out during a game, Landes said. Last season, the promotion had fans at Daytona (Fla.) Cubs games chanting "cheeseburger, cheeseburger," as soon as strike one was called on the designated batter, he said.

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This is the first full season the Suns will be under the ownership of Andrew Rayburn, who also owns the Daytona team. Although Rayburn was introduced as the Suns' new owner in January 2001, Winston Blenckstone's sale of the team to Rayburn still had to be approved by major and minor league baseball, Landes said.

Rayburn formally took ownership of the team in late May or early June, too far into the 2001 season to make many changes, said Landes, who last year was general manager for the Daytona Cubs.

Blenckstone sold the Suns after years of waiting and unsuccessful lobbying for government funding for a new ballpark.

Rayburn too is looking into a new stadium for Hagerstown's minor league baseball team, and some elected officials say only a new stadium will ensure that the Suns keep playing in Hagerstown for years to come.

Rayburn has hired a consultant, Rick Horrow of Horrow Sports Ventures of Palm Beach, Fla., to develop a funding plan and identify possible sites for a new ballpark.

Rayburn could not be reached for comment on this story, but in February, he said he hoped to have a proposed funding plan and site selected this spring.

"Our intentions are to stay in the City of Hagerstown for a long, long time," Landes said. "We are optimistic a new ballpark can be built in the City of Hagerstown."

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said that during a March 22 meeting of the Greater Hagerstown Committee at Hagerstown Community College, Horrow discussed how other cities recently built minor league ballparks.

"My vision on this is that it might not require a new stadium next year. But it's the path we take and we are supportive," Breichner said.

"It will take a new stadium to keep baseball here," Washington County Commissioner Paul L. Swartz said.

"I think (Rayburn's) willing to wait. ... But we need to make some decision in a three-year period. A lot of cities are clamoring for minor league sports," Swartz said.

City Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said, "I think we're really blessed with an owner who wants to keep the team in Hagerstown ... but the main focus right now is to promote baseball in Hagerstown and increase attendance."

Increased attendance is something the Washington County Board of Commissioners would like to see as a sign the community supports the local team, Swartz said.

It is also good for business.

"We're a business and increased attendance is a goal for us," Landes said.

Last year, the Suns' average paid attendance at home games was about 1,500 per game, Landes said.

With the help of the numerous special events and promotions, Landes said hopes are to boost attendance to 2,000 per game this year.

The home opener for the Suns, a Class A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, is scheduled to begin at 6:35 p.m. The Suns will play the Charleston (W.Va.) Alley Cats.

The Suns are currently 1-3, opening the season with a four-game series in North Carolina against the Hickory Crawdads.

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