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Parasiliti: Reality is last thing considered in stadium issue

January 13, 2013|By BOB PARASILITI
  • Bob Parasiliti
Joe Crocetta

Reality is all the rage these days.

It seems that most everyone wants to “keep it real,” … maybe that’s how we arrived at the concept of reality TV.

Be it a creation of society’s lack of creativity or a “you can’t make this stuff up” attitude, just plopping a camera in a room full of people is all the entertainment most people seem to need these days.

Outside of television, we have one other place where you can find drama, comedy, challenge, anxiety, trepidation, amazing real-life characters and the “man vs. whatever” situations.

It’s called government.

Lately, that front was both maddening and intriguing as we tiptoed along the edge of a fiscal cliff only to have our elected officials swoop in like superheroes at the 11th hour with a solution.

In little old Hagerstown, our officials have their own reality saga in progress. It would surpass Gunsmoke and Law and Order for longest running show honors.

It’s called the stadium issue.

That’s a political baseball has been smacked around the yard for the better part of a quarter of a century. These episodes could be titled “Pass the Buck,” “Cry Wolf,” “Wait and See if Anyone Notices,” and — a personal favorite — “If You Leave It, They Will Still Come.”

It has outlasted a handful of mayors and numbers of city, county and state representatives, none of whom have come up with a decisive answer — one way or another — on whether Hagerstown needs a facility to replace Municipal Stadium.

It’s treated like a New Year’s Day Polar Bear swim: Stick a toe in to see if the water is warm enough.

The latest twist came Tuesday when it was suggested that Hagerstown City Council members should stop acting like “there is only one baseball team in the world,” and that the city “should immediately put out an RFP (request for proposals)” to anyone who would like to foot the majority of the bill for building a stadium and/or bring a team in to play here.

The Hagerstown Suns, who have been here since 1981 — which happens to be nearly half of Municipal Stadium’s shelf life — have become a champagne expense in a beer economy.

In the 32 years since the Suns took residence here, they too have gone through a handful of owners and numbers of front office, managing and player personnel. They, too, have been looking for a decisive answer — one way or another — to decide if they should stay or leave.

And after a year’s worth of drama, which began with a proposed move to Winchester, Va., a heated battle over a downtown stadium project and another elected changing of the guard, everything is sitting at Square One on the game board.

So, here’s a little more reality to consider.

* Looking for a new affiliate isn’t going to happen. In minor league baseball, teams can only reshape their farm system yearly and a town can’t be shopped until the current team leaves.

* The Washington Nationals are the best affiliation Hagerstown can hope for. Like the Baltimore Orioles of the 1980s — who pulled out of town in the ’90s because of the stadium — players who play here could eventually play just 80 miles down the road where local fans can still see them every day. Remember Bryce Harper?

* If the Suns leave town, Hagerstown will never, ever have an affiliated team play here again. There are little things called blackout areas — or eminent domain — which prevent an affiliated team to move in close proximity to another.

When the South Atlantic League came to Hagerstown in 1993, Frederick and the Carolina League waived the stipulation, mostly because the Frederick Keys were owned by the same group that had owned the Suns. That isn’t the case anymore.

* If the Suns leave, the next viable option would be an independent league team, let’s say the Atlantic League. The players wouldn’t be supplied by a major league team.

Even the Atlantic League would require a new stadium. Right now, the eight teams have parks built between 1998 and 2012. Those parks average 6,100 seats and are used for other functions besides just baseball. Hagerstown is oh-for-3 there. The last time anyone wanted to play at a facility like Municipal Stadium, they walked out of a cornfield in Iowa.

* The Atlantic League is based in the Northeast “megalopolis” area. Swing and a miss, Hagerstown. You are one of the smallest markets in all of baseball.

* The price for building Atlantic League stadiums have ranged from $23-37 million - an amount that increases with every passing moment.

* The Atlantic League requires their stadiums be maintained to Triple-A standards. Municipal Stadium is barely above Single-A requirements.

* The only factor possibly working in Hagerstown’s favor is the Atlantic League may be in the market for another franchise since Sterling, Va., will be the league’s ninth team in the near future.

The stadium is a pro-con issue. It’s expense vs. risk. It's standing pat vs. innovation. It’s need vs. luxury.

It’s just time to make a decision.

The reality is this. You have the Suns, and the Nationals, who want to be here. There have been reported offers, alternatives and options — some given by the Suns — to build a new facility or at least a framework to do it.

There are objects of technology — namely the Internet and telephones — which could help in researching options. Hagerstown isn’t the only city to face this situation and there are other cities out there looking for teams to call their own.

According to the Maryland Office of Tourism website, the Suns are “Hagerstown’s top gated attraction.” There aren’t enough music festivals and Civil War re-enactments around to fill that void.

They may not be the golden goose, but they are one of very few businesses who want to stay in Hagerstown. Things like downtown movie theaters and markets don’t come to cities who sit still.

Pro is the start of progress. Con is, well, you figure it out.

There’s reality for you.

And that’s enough to leave even Snooky, Kim Kardashian and Honey Boo Boo shaking their heads.

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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