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Nationals give Suns, Hagerstown a new chance

November 05, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

Some pray for the day that opportunity will knock. All they want is a chance - any chance - to change things for the better.

Then, there are the fortunate ones. They don't have to answer any knocks. Opportunity just plops itself on the doorstep and waits to be taken in ... or at least tripped over.

Hagerstown is getting one of those opportunities. It might be considered a fortunate bounce, if you will.

After almost 15 years searching for an identity in minor league baseball, a new face came a-callin'. And it comes at a time when Hagerstown needs to find and define its direction.

That identity comes in the form of the Washington Nationals. They are the new face on the block as they become the fifth affiliation to play in Municipal Stadium since the Suns came to town. The two teams entered into a working agreement in September to start a relationship of exciting possibilities.

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For the Nationals, it's the chance to move into a new frontier. Washington already has affiliates in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Hagers-town gives the Nationals a presence in Maryland with a much-needed chance to expand their fan base.

The Nationals made their first official visit here on Oct. 24 for the Suns' annual World Series party for season-ticket holders. Their representatives were excited to be in Hagerstown.

Now, that isn't any different than the Toronto, San Francisco and New York Mets groups before them. They were all glad to be here when they arrived, but didn't shed any tears when they left.

The Nationals, on the other hand, want to be here for obvious reasons, and would like to stay here for a long, long time. Bob Boone, Washington's assistant general manager, called this agreement "a marriage."

For Hagerstown, this union could mean so much more, depending on how it's approached.

The Nationals present that needed entity to be the focal point for the area to rally around on so many layers.

For the last 14 years, the Suns were considered a necessary evil by many people in the area. To the impression of many, the Suns were that team using Municipal Stadium for free. The product was always the same, but the wrapper was different.

Until 1993, the Suns were affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles. Many fans pledged their allegiance to the local American League franchise and still do.

The Orioles chose to leave - mainly because of their disenchantment with the condition of Municipal Stadium - and took much of the local interest in the Suns with them. It has been the one stated main factor that has kept locals away from the ballpark.

Now, with the Nationals, that factor has been eliminated.

The Washington franchise infuses new vigor to the meaning of the Suns.

Like with the Orioles before, fans will get their desires filled - the opportunity to meet and see the young players here, follow them through the system and then enjoy watching them every night on local television or in person in D.C. when they make the majors.

That's a fan's right of entitlement for his support.

It should be Hagerstown's, too.

The Nationals present something to Hagerstown that left with the Orioles. It could be a form of civic pride to embrace a team that wants to be here as long as this town wants them.

It's not a novel concept, if you look how teams are followed in South Atlantic League areas like Lake County, Lakewood and Delmarva. All have similar situations.

It also comes at an opportune time when population is migrating to this area with growth and development in every corner.

The Nationals/Suns could be used as the centerpiece to connect to, build on and organize the whole process. In theory, they could be the pebble dropped in the water to start a ring of waves moving from the center.

This will probably be an idea that will be panned by many. Detractors will point to this as a veiled reference for a new stadium, using taxes for something other than education, economic issues and other social concerns as reasons against this idea.

The truth is every one of those factors should be considered. If tax money, education, senior issues, growth, economics and, yes, a plan to use the relationship with the Nationals can all be attached together in a framework, every factor could prosper.

And it all comes at an interesting time. The area will be looking for fresh thinking heading into Tuesday's local elections.

The Nationals aren't the answer, just an option. They are an interested faction that would like to become a fixture in this area.

They have already captured the imagination of some reluctant fans, who have vowed to see the Suns play this season because of the new affiliation. And that, in itself, is a plus.

The rest of this opportunity is just waiting to be accepted ... or tripped over.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2310, or by e-mail at bobp@herald-mail.com.

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