HAGERSTOWN, Md. — The Hagerstown Suns, the Washington Nationals' low-level A affiliate, are pursuing a move to Fredericksburg, Va., possibly bringing to a close minor-league baseball here in a dog-eared and charming stadium that has operated since 1930.
About 70 miles from the nation's capital, this place's Appalachian small-city vibe makes it feel even farther from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan Washington. Municipal Stadium, one of the oldest professional ball parks in the country still in operation, personifies the comfy quirk here. The dugouts are not attached to team clubhouses and lockers, so players spend more time on the field, interacting with fans. The old-line scoreboard is operated manually, with a ballpark worker popping out from behind it to change runs, hits and errors in-between play, much like in iconic ballparks such as Wrigley Field in Chicago and Fenway Park in Boston. It's a remote enough area that dozens of Chinese sky lanterns, launched from who knows where, unexpectedly landed in scattered bunches in the outfield and around the stadium during the Aug. 23 game against the Greensboro Grasshoppers, the Miami Marlins' low-level A affiliate.
That all might be about to change. The Fredericksburg City Council and the Suns are in serious negotiations to move the team to Fredericksburg. The council voted unanimously, 7-0, on Aug. 27 to approve a multimillion-dollar incentive deal to shuttle the Suns to Virginia. According to the Hagerstown Herald-Mail, the Suns have partnered with New Jersey-based Diamond Nation to build a sports and entertainment complex with a 4,750-seat minor-league stadium, as well as several baseball and softball facilities that would be part of Fredericksburg's Celebrate Virginia South development. All told, the complex is estimated to cost about $40 million, with contributions from the city and the Suns-Diamond Nation partnership.
The city of Hagerstown has not given up on trying to retain the Suns, according to the paper, but the team's current host city doesn't have anywhere near as complete a deal for a new stadium. The team's current lease at Municipal Stadium expires at the end of 2014.
It's not hard to see why the Suns would be interested in moving to a brand-new, multipurpose facility in a growing northern Virginia city. Municipal Stadium shows it years. That's part of its appeal. Local businesses provide pop-ups to sell sandwiches and other sundries.
The metal overhang roof behind home plate is a loud, clangy structure that rattles with every foul ball that strikes it. The 1,000 or so people who attended the Aug. 23 game represented every stage of the life cycle and most of its socio-economic ones as well. Babies scarcely one month old were passed back and forth among parents and grandparents. Little kids raced for foul balls and were excited to take photos with players, mascots and friends. Elderly people settled comfortably with their Baseball Bingo cards.
But that likely won't be enough to keep the Suns from setting in Hagerstown.