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Parasiliti: The patient still has a slight pulse

September 08, 2013|By BOB PARASILITI
  • Bob Parasiliti
Joe Crocetta

Everyone in the room … Stand back. 

Give me the paddles. Charge it to 240.

Clear.

Fwah-ump. 

I'm getting a heartbeat.

Wow, I always wanted to write that, and today, it's sort of fitting.

It sort of summarizes last Friday night in the little ER we know as Hagerstown.

There was this foreign feeling in the city that's usually missing.

There was a pulse. It almost bordered on excitement.

Friday was one of the biggest sporting days of the year for Washington County.

The fall high school sports season began, mainly with the kickoff of football and soccer heading its way into the picture with the annual county tournament.

It got a little bigger because of an added layer of activity. The Hagerstown Suns were at Municipal Stadium playing Game 2 of the best-of-3 South Atlantic League Northern Division playoff series against West Virginia.

It was rather a momentous moment, if you think about it.

No matter how much it's denied, sports has a major impact on the way of life.

There were quite a few people out attending games, many with personal interests and stakes in the high school events that dotted the area. Let’s face it, there was a time those games were community gathering spots to show civic pride, but those days have long past.

Instead, it would be safe to say, the majority of the fans in those stands are either a relative or dating one of the players on the field.

And then, there were the Suns.

There was a surprisingly large crowd for this game. Not the biggest ever seen, but larger than those that showed up for the majority of the regular season.

They were loud. They were interested. They were pulling for a team they have no real invested interest in, other than they wear HAGERSTOWN across their chest. 

And they were challenged. Their opponents, the West Virginia Power, had some people in the house, traveling from Charleston, W.Va. to cheer on the team they have grown to love.

What a novel idea … but let’s take this one step at a time. After all, remember Hagerstown has just been shocked back to life. 

The site of this crowd was rather amazing. Minor league playoff games notoriously fail to draw fans.

With the start of school and prep sports seasons opening, many playoff teams end up losing their backing. 

West Virginia remedied that by finding a few businesses to buy out their stadium for the playoff opener last Wednesday, allowing the team to give their tickets away for free.

Free usually generates a crowd.

But that kind of sponsorship would rarely happen in Hagerstown. The price for a unified city seems to be too expensive.

The Suns themselves threw the gates open on Saturday, but barely got a blip. There were reasons for that, though.

What made Friday evening even more interesting was — unbeknownst to the fans — that day of a closed-door meeting that marked the probable beginning of the end of full-season affiliated baseball here.

Members of the Suns ownership deemed these Hagerstown Suns will soon set in the South. They will be moving to the bright lights and big city of Fredericksburg, Va., as soon as the start of the 2015 season. The consolation prize is a possible a half-season rookie league team that will play an 11-week season starting in mid-June.

And that’s provided that a new stadium is still built.

That, according to these owners, is a better fit for this town. A lack of crowds, good early-season weather and high interest make it impossible for these Suns to survive. (Oh, April weather is so much warmer in Lakewood, N.J., right?)

OK. Let’s go with that.

Lakewood is further north, yet they draw more than 6,000 fans a game, no matter the weather. That’s because they have a nice facility, but they market the heck out of the product. 

Sometimes you need to do the latter to get the former. 

Friday’s game was semi-marketed with a number of new sponsors and a radio station — that talked about the game on the air — broadcasting from the beer garden. Saturday’s game offered free attendance, but it wasn’t promoted and there was a smaller crowd. 

Promotion and cheap beer does wonders for the attendance figures.

Hagerstown was once a vibrant city. It may not have been the “bright lights, big city” caliber of the Suns’ projected next home, but it had redeeming factors.

Now it’s a town with an identity crisis. It’s not sure if it wants to be Metropolis or Mayberry.   

It seems apathy is an appetizer for a main course of pessimism. And now, it is facing its just desserts. 

Nothing will probably change after Friday night. In reality, that night was part of an annual cycle of life in this area.

The same things are done over and over. Heading out for the first night of prep competition is a big night out on the town.

But for one day, for a couple of events — including a playoff series for a version of a baseball team that could soon be a thing of the past — Hagerstown had a pulse again.

It might take another jolt or two to assure that there is life, though. 

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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