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Reports have Suns Fan Club clinging to hope

February 10, 2012|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — To them, its just like being down a run in the bottom of the ninth. There is still time to rally.

“There is a general concern for the way things stand,” said fan club president Judy Baker. “You want to stay positive with people. We tell them not to give up hope.”

The fan club, along with many local minor league baseball fans, put on their rally caps Friday after news broke that the Suns had signed a letter of intent on Jan. 19 to move to Virginia.

Hagerstown officials admit knowing about the team’s intentions to move, but haven’t surrendered. The city has countered with reports of a possible lease package on the horizon, geared to keeping the Suns and building a new stadium complex or refurbishing Municipal Stadium.

That is enough hope to keep the 109 families and 200-plus fan club members crossing their fingers.

Others wonder why it ever came to this.

“We have had this threat hanging over us for a long, long time,” said Todd Bolton, who has been a Suns follower since the team moved here in 1981. “It’s just been by dumb luck that we have been able to keep baseball here. This is like anything else. Anyone who wants to have a great future has to invest in it.”

The symbol of investment is 80-year-old Municipal Stadium. It is considered quaint but antiquated by most every standard. It barely has the needed requirements to house an affiliated team and it has hardly any amenities to pamper fans.

Winchester has unveiled plans to build a $15 million, state of the art stadium, which would have multiple uses.

“What I have read about Winchester, they are saying everything right,” Bolton said. “They are saying they are a vibrant community with a progressive approach to business, growth and quality of life. I thought, ‘By God, I have never heard those words by our officials.’”

For more than two decades, a number of Suns owners have pushed for renovations or a new Municipal Stadium. Hagerstown made some improvements, like plumbing work and new clubhouses last winter, but little has been done to improve the overall structure.

“I have been living here since 1979 and have a love-hate relationship with this area,” Bolton said. “There are a lot of things I find very endearing, but there are a lot of things that bother the heck out of me. This is all sitting here for us to take it, but no one is seeing it. It’s enough to make you half crazy.”

While fan club members and other loyal fans continue to attend games, their numbers are minimal. The Suns’ fan base has shrunk over the years.

“I’m going to games no matter what,” said Chick Meehan, a longtime Suns fan who joined the fan club four years ago. “The surroundings don’t mean much to me. I go to have fun and watch the game. But they matter to other people. If there is 1,000 people there, they seem to have trouble with getting concessions.

“To me, I think its a quaint place. I enjoy my friendships I have made there, but a new stadium could possibly help draw more fans.”

For Baker, attending Suns games is a way of life. She saw some when the team first arrived in 1981, but started going religiously in ‘86. The team also became a major factor in the life of Baker’s daughter Heidi, who was the team’s batgirl in the early 1990s.

“I have been coming to games and Heidi loved them,” Baker said. “Now she likes coming out and bringing the grandkids with her. Personally, I can see what having baseball here does for the community. I wouldn’t trade any of these experiences for anything.”

The team’s most ardent fans speak of meeting the new players and watching them as they mature, go on to play elsewhere and then come back as coaches and fans. It’s a different kind of family and fellowship.

Friday’s news means the upcoming season could be the last for the Suns in Hagerstown. It is tough for Baker, Bolton and Meehan to fathom, but they plan to remain loyal.

“Yes, I’ll be there, even if this is the last year, and I’ll support the team,” Baker said. “We will be there to support the players. They don’t have anything to do with what’s going on. We are there for baseball in Hagerstown and we have to show that by being there.”

Still, if it is the final season, fan club members are prepared for some odd feelings.

“I’ll be there,” Bolton said. “I’m not mad at the kids who will be going out there to play. I’m a baseball fan and if the team moves, it’s not going to affect my love for the game, for the minor leagues or for the (Washington) Nationals. It might add to my disdain for local officials though.”

The fan club is holding on to faith.

“The last few years, I’ve seen more kids coming out to games,” Meehan said. “They come once and that means they could be coming back again. It’s a fun experience for summer. That’s the way things go. We need some progress ... you never know though. Maybe something will happen in the next couple of weeks.”

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