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Fans watch Suns play in the rain

April 08, 2005|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The misty weather may not have been ideal, and the stadium may not have been packed, but the Hagerstown Suns still drew some diehard fans of baseball - or beer.

Despite threatening skies and some light drizzle around the time of the first pitch, the Suns came out with a bang in their first game of the season. The New York Mets farm team scored four first-inning runs against the West Virginia Power and created plenty of excitement for the small crowd in a 9-1 victory.

"I like this team already," said Waynesboro, Pa., resident Judy Baker, secretary of the team's fan club.

"We've been waiting all winter for opening day," said club President Gary Deweerd of Hagerstown.

Suns General Manager Kurt Landes said opening day was not exactly what he was hoping for, with about 1,000 people in the crowd. Many of them stayed in Municipal Stadium's beer garden for much of Thursday evening.

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"When I mapped it out, I had beautiful weather for tonight, tomorrow and all the other home games," Landes joked. "We got the game started, so I'll take it."

Landes said he believes the cloudy skies with scattered rain hurt walk-up sales and kept more than half of the paid attendance, about 2,400, out of the stadium.

Landes said the slow start could be made up for if sunny weather leads to a strong first weekend. He also said many involved with the organization are excited that an eastern team is now the umbrella organization for the Suns.

Hagerstown had been an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants before switching to the Mets in the off-season.

Landes said the combination of the large amount of "transplanted New Yorkers" in Washington County and the Mets making visits to play the Washington Nationals may lead to more interest in the Suns.

Hagerstown resident Wes Mixter said he was excited by the possibility that a current Major League Baseball star could end up playing in Hagerstown if he is coming back from an injury. He said that was something extremely rare in previous years because of Hagerstown's distance from San Francisco.

"There's a chance that Mets will come here for rehab. Pedro Martinez might come," Mixter said. "You weren't going to see any pros from San Francisco."

For Hagerstown resident Sean Livingston, who formerly lived in central New Jersey, having the Mets' minor leaguers around is like having his local team near him again.

"I think it's a good step for the Suns. The Mets are a class act just like the (New York) Yankees," said Livingston, who brought his sons Sean Livingston, 8, and Michael Livingston, 19, to the game. "Now they just have to get some good players. So far, so good."

Saint James resident Charles "Chick" Meehan, attending his 10th consecutive home opener, said the early returns from the new-look lineup appear to be promising.

"We've probably seen more runs in four innings than we did in the first two weeks last year," he said.

Some said the parent organization, the weather and many other factors had no impact on their decision to come out for the Suns' first night. Among them was Hagerstown resident Todd Rosenthal, who was at the opening game for the 18th year.

Rosenthal said he likes coming to Suns games because the players seem to care about fans and the game, and they try harder on the field than their big-league counterparts.

"The players will actually talk to you and listen to you," he said. "We went boating with some players last year. Some of them still e-mail my son."

To Rosenthal's right was a direct contrast in David Grubbs, who recently moved to Washington County and had never seen a Suns home game.

"This is baseball. It's like, I'm right here," Grubbs said pointing toward third base, about 20 feet away.

Grubbs said he also enjoyed the family, community atmosphere at the game, something that was lacking in his former home of Roanoke, Va.

However, not everyone was there for family fun or baseball. Many said they attended primarily because of the reduced beer prices and stood in an area where home plate was not even visible.

Others, like Hagerstown resident Mario Martinez, were a little closer to the action even if the game was the secondary event of the evening to him.

"A lot of my friends were coming out for Thirsty Thursday, so I thought it'd be cool to go," he said.

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