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Parasiliti: Hagerstown stuck between rock and hard place with Suns

April 08, 2012|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown entered the point of no return on Thursday.

It can be found with some unique map coordinates.

It’s located near Parts Unknown, which sits on the corner of Rock Avenue and The Hard Place Boulevard.

That puts the intersection on the concourse of Municipal Stadium.

The Hagerstown Suns opened their 2012 season on Thursday, and it was easy to see that the stress and controversy hovering over the future of the franchise continues to build.

The whole Opening Day event had an odd feel. It wasn’t a celebration of spring and a new beginning as much as a final viewing with a bland statement of fact.

The time has come to make that final and definitive decision on the stadium issue and the future of everyone involved.

And it has to be done quickly.

This is where the disclaimer will be inserted. This is not an endorsement for a new facility.

Instead, it’s a call for an end to a debate that has been going on for about a quarter of a decade that has been like getting stuck in a revolving door.

As the debate continues going around in circles, the bottom line is this: Washington County has to stop smacking this piñata and make a decisive statement of any plans before everything reaches a state of ill repair.

This situation is nearing a point where nothing good can happen, no matter the decision.

On one side, everyone pretty much knows what will happen with a “no” vote.

The Suns will be forced to move from Hagerstown, ending a stay of more than three decades, and will likely head south to become the Winchester Rifles, the Winchester Cathedrals, the Winchester Sauce or something like that.

It’s no secret that’s a huge possibility.

But at this point, delaying a pro-stadium decision could be equally as damaging.

The time is close where building a stadium won’t be profitable for either party.

With every day of inaction and every piece of news and rumor, the Suns’ fan base erodes. First the most casual of spectators turn their backs and it creeps to the loyal patrons who give up because they feel like they are betting on the wrong horse in this race.

That is followed by businesses cancelling sponsorships because in these times, they can’t afford to be associated with a lost cause.

Need proof? Well, the Suns drew 2,078 on Opening Day, which didn’t fill half of the stadium.

With the exception of last year’s Bryce-a-palooza, that total is slightly under the average over the past few years. But that low total came on a Thirsty Thursday promotion, which usually draws more fans.

On Thursday, the “I’m only here for the beer” crowd accounted for about one-third of the attendance, which means a small percentage of the park was filled by people who were actually there to watch baseball.

And then, that theory was reinforced by a crowd of 733 on Friday.

That indifference brings us to no return. They say once most of those fans are gone, they will never come back.

If that is true, each passing moment makes a new stadium far less lucrative for the city and the team. If you build it and they don’t come, everything that was at stake is lost anyway.

That thud you just heard was all the naysayers against this venture thumping their chests in unison and yelling “Told you.” The term “outstanding debt” is like yelling “boo” to a 3-year-old.

A few years ago, when the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown was being discussed, there was a great concern about urban sprawl, the continuous spread of the city.

Now, it is a case of urban withdrawal.

Those empty store fronts that line the streets of downtown Hagerstown have spread like Tebowmania.

Emptiness has engulfed the eastern end of the area as many of the structures surrounding the old stadium are uninhabited, like the old MELP plant and the First Urban Fiber facility.

Add to it the trucking docks on South Cannon Ave. and the barren wasteland that used to be Washington County Hospital and that part of town looks like a location to shoot “Zombieland II.”

So, that is the view from the point of no return.

You can’t say it’s beautiful and you can’t say it’s bleak because there is nothing there.

The challenge now is to find a way back to civilization.

That’s tough. Because at the point of no return, there are no road signs to give directions.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by email at bobp@herald-mail.com.

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