Richard Hyatt: Minor league baseball teams need newer parks to draw crowds

October 1, 2013 

While Golden Park sits dark and lonely, the mayor of Macon is talking about bringing peanuts and Cracker Jacks back to Middle Georgia.

Mayor Robert Reichert is pitching a plan that would replace an aging Luther Williams Field with one of those modern ball parks that developers claim can bring 700,000 fans to town a year.

Officials are discussing a feasibility study to examine the merits of bringing minor league baseball back to Macon for the first time since 2002. It would look at whether baseball would work in Macon, how a stadium would be financed, and where it would be located.

The Huntley Partners, a consortium of out-of-town developers, has met with local officials and talked about the success of stadium projects in other cities -- including Charlotte, N.C.

"These (ballpark) projects can bring in 700,000 people a year, and (fans) can linger before and after a game," said Huntley's Michael Woollen. "(A ballpark) creates opportunities for ancillary development … where it is part of a larger, mixed-use development."

Columbus hasn't had a minor league team since 2008 and there are whispers about resurrecting a tradition that dates back to 1884.

Our list of nicknames is colorful, including the Babies, Foxes, Red Birds, Pirates, Confederate Yankees, Astros, Mudcats and Red Stixx. Old-timers have many fond memories but baseball has changed, so Columbus would be wise to keep up with what Macon is doing before going forward.

History involves the nostalgia of hot dogs, cold beer and tape-measure home runs. But the flip side of those traditions includes empty seats and uncaring fans in a stadium dedicated in 1926.

Many of us love the smell of old stadiums with wooden bleachers, hand-painted billboards and questionable sound systems. But cities where minor league baseball is flourishing have colorful new parks with hefty price tags.

El Paso, Texas -- another town without a minor league team -- has approved a $50 million downtown stadium. Charlotte will spend $54 million with $38 million coming from the ball club and $16 million from the city and county. Other recent stadium costs include $21.5 million in Greensboro, N.C., and $48.7 million in Winston-Salem, N.C. Columbia, S.C., is talking about a $20 million facility.

In an era where we can watch baseball on cable at all hours of the day and night, we're spoiled. We expect guys that can pitch and catch and are on their way to the big leagues, not mired in low-A ball.

We expect parks blessed with comfort and technology and so do the major league teams shopping for homes for their high-priced talent.

We're ready to stand and stretch when the seventh inning rolls around but are we ready to dig deep in our pockets and pay for the ballpark where our team will play?

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906@knology.net.

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