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Hagerstown Suns season opens under cloud of uncertainty

Fans couldn't help but worry about the possibility of losing the minor league baseball team

April 05, 2012|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com
  • Julia Koterwas, 11, left, of Clear Spring got an autograph from Hagerstown Suns pitcher Aaron Barrett, right, Thursday night prior to the Suns game against West Virginia Power at Hagerstown's Municipal Stadium.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

It was a festive time Thursday night as the home opener for the Hagerstown Suns got under way, but fans couldn’t help but worry about the minor league baseball team possibly packing its bags and moving to Winchester, Va.

It was an especially poignant moment for Paul Barr of Williamsport.

Barr, who was walking through the gates of Municipal Stadium before the Suns 7 p.m. game against the West Virginia Power, said his dad played at Municipal Stadium in the 1940s and 1950s.

Barr said his father — Ed Barr, nicknamed “Whiskey” — pitched for the Washington Senators and struck out Willie Mays at the local field.

Hagerstown and Municipal Stadium have long been known as the place where the legendary Willie Mays made his professional debut in the early 1950s.

“I’d hate to lose it,” Barr said of Municipal Stadium.

Barr said he hopes local officials are able to come up with some type of plan to keep the Suns in Hagerstown.

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“I don’t care what they do, rebuild it, revamp it....,” Barr said.

Regardless, baseball was back in full swing at the stadium as hot-pizza slices slid out of serving windows at concession stands, and the cold beer flowed. The Suns ended up winning the game 11-9.

A man selling T-shirts bellowed out his special price. Fans started stomp their feet as the Queen song’s famous refrain “We Will Rock You” was piped over the public-address system.

Suns officials said they did not have any final attendance numbers for  Thursday night’s game. But it appeared to be a light crowd scattered throughout the grandstand and bleacher areas.

Nonetheless, Terry Schafer of Martinsburg, W.Va., was hoping it’s an atmosphere that will still be around for a while.

Schafer said he moved to the area last July, and he is still getting familiar with the region.

But Schafer said the local field “is a neat stadium,” also citing its  connection to Mays.

“It would be a shame to lose some of that history if they do move,” Schafer said.

Municipal Stadium, which opened in 1930, has been a major concern for the Washington Nationals. The team sent Bruce Quinn, majority owner of the Suns, a Nationals Single-A affiliate, a letter informing him of needed renovations to bring the aging park up to Major League Baseball standards.

Faced with the need for large-scale renovations to the stadium's playing surface and clubhouse facilities, Quinn explored other options for the team.

That included Winchester, Va., which appeared to be the front-runner to lure the Suns away from Hagerstown before the Winchester City Council on March 13 unanimously rejected a proposal to transfer land for a new stadium to house the team in a community park.

Suns owners have again been talking with Winchester officials about building a stadium in another part of town there, while Hagerstown officials have also been meeting with Quinn in an attempt to keep the team here.

Gary Cooper understands what Hagerstown is going through.

Cooper, of Nashville, Tenn., drove to Hagerstown to see his son, who  is a pitcher for West Virginia Power.

In Nashville, the city felt pressure from Major League Baseball to upgrade the stadium for the Nashville Sound, and improvements were made to the field, Cooper said.

“They really needed to do more,” Cooper said.

Gregg Pavlik of State College, Pa., said he was meeting with a friend in Hagerstown to see Thursday’s game. Pavlik said he came to a game at Municipal Stadium last year and liked the experience, so he decided to see another game here.

Pavlik said he likes the stadium because of its “old-time feel.”

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