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Formula for Suns' success: Family fun made affordable

September 18, 2010|By BOB PARASILITI
  • Fans fill Municipal Stadium to watch the Hagerstown Suns play under threatening skies in this file photo of opening day of the team's 30th season.
By Kelly Hahn Johnson, Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN -- The new owners of the Hagerstown Suns plan to shoot for the stars when it comes to making the team a prime entertainment choice.

But the formula is far from complex.

"It isn't rocket science," said Bruce Quinn, who heads a group of Hagerstown and Florida investors who are buying the 30-year-old franchise. "We want to produce a good fan experience for families and make it affordable."

That has been the mantra of every owner of the team for the last three decades. Many have tried. Most have fallen short of finding the intended mark.

The first step for the new Suns leadership is the group itself. Quinn and his sister, Sheri Quinn, are joined in the venture by Tony Dahbura and Mitesh Kothari, two Hagerstown businessmen who joined the partnership with the strict intention of keeping the team here for many years.

"The team is part of what makes Hagerstown special," Dahbura said. "We want to improve and enhance it."

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The change gives Hagerstown its first local owners since 1993, when the Double-A Eastern League left town and took the Baltimore Orioles affiliation with it to Bowie, Md.

The sale is still pending, according to Mandalay Entertainment Group, which has owned the team since December 2002. Quinn said the finalization of the sale is "imminent."

The new group will be the fourth owners of the Single-A South Atlantic League franchise, which moved from Myrtle Beach, S.C., in 1993. The team presently is affiliated with the Washington Nationals, so the sale will reunite local ownership with a local affiliation.

The Suns deal came about because two groups interested in buying the team joined forces.

Dahbura was assembling a group to make an offer to purchase the Suns and keep the team in Hagerstown. Meanwhile, Quinn had a group that was looking to buy a minor league team.

The groups merged after friends of Quinn who work with the Nationals introduced him to Dahbura, brokering the combined effort to buy the Suns.

Ownership's vision

The new ownership group has outlined its intentions with a number of key points.

o Make sure the Suns offer amenities to help fans enjoy the games more and make it more inviting for repeat visits. Much of the goal is to provide inexpensive family entertainment on many different levels with varied vantage points.

o Assure the community that the new owners are not making demands for a new stadium. Their intent is to make improvements in venerable Municipal Stadium to modernize its appeal while keeping the historic value.

o Make sure Municipal Stadium offers other entertainment opportunities, which would put the facility to use more often. This would include hosting college and high school games more often.

o Improve the facilities to a level to keep the Washington Nationals as its Major League affiliate and give fans the opportunity to see promising young talent play locally.

"Our vision is to be the largest family entertainment site in Hagerstown," Quinn said. "If it is creating a sports bar and a family restaurant, it would be making places where families can be together while watching the game.

"We want to offer summer camps with the players for the kids. We'd like to have amusements for the kids and autograph sessions. We would like to offer concerts after games. We want to make the stadium a place to go, even when the team is out of town."

To prove the sincerity of their intentions, the new ownership and city officials are working to have the Suns sign a long-term lease for Municipal Stadium. Negotiations revolve around improvements needed to bring the facility up to minor league baseball standards, including upgrades to the field and clubhouse facilty.

"The city wants to work with us and they want us to sign a long-term lease," Quinn said. "We want to stay in Hagerstown. There are things that need to be done that the fans won't see, but they are things in the background that make the facility better for them and for the players."

Improvements in the works

One way to improve those amenities will not come from asking to build a new stadium. Quinn and the local owners say they are committed to making improvements to Municipal Stadium that will be agreeable to everyone.

"Municipal Stadium is not as bad as you think," Quinn said. "We want to stay in Hagerstown for the long term in this stadium. It has a lot of opportunity for improvement. It just needs the amenities to make it over.

"Hagerstown doesn't need suites or owner's boxes. We have families and baseball purists attending the games. We have more purists than families and we have to find a way to mix the two together. That is the tough part."

The first improvements the new owners are implementing to the stadium is a major renovation to the playing surface. The entire field -- infield and outfield -- is being torn out to put in a new drainage and watering system before replacing it with new turf. A new warning track also will be installed.

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