There is something about pulling for the local team. The pride, the history, the satisfaction of beating your rivals … those rivals being similar-sized cities in the region that you know well.
Our local team, the BayBears, are rumored to be on the selling block lately. While local officials say it’s all rumors, the sports investment group in the mix for moving the team says the BayBears are “the only Double-A team that league officials will agree to move on.” And it’s not just potentially moving to the Huntsville market. Both Baton Rouge and Savannah are being listed as possible new sites.
This interest from other cities in the team makes sense. The BayBears are consistently winning games and division titles but have little fan support, combined with struggles in the front office and with the City Council. So, our local team is prime to move.
Regarding fan support, the numbers don’t lie. Mobile was last in the league in attendance with an average 1,527 per game last season. There is the occasional 3,500 or so for a game, but it’s really depressing to see 900 fans more often in a stadium that seats 6,000.
In comparison, the smaller market of Pensacola averaged 4,319 last year. And the new-ball smell of the Wahoos is gone … they have been there over five years now. With a capacity of 5,000, the Wahoos sell out on a regular basis. Not to mention our rivals in Birmingham: they averaged over 6,000 per game last year.
So what do these other teams, along with many other regional teams, have that Mobile does not? Downtown ballparks. Local restaurants, brewpubs, active business districts are all anchors for their local stadiums.
Birmingham moved from the stale suburbs of Hoover. Pensacola built their park on their bustling waterfront. Biloxi built their park in the casino district. Mobile built Hank Aaron Stadium in a marshland out west, now surrounded by Costco and generic food chains out of walking distance.
We’ve heard all of the reasons for poor support over the years: “Mobile is too hot” or “it rains too much,” yet it’s the same weather as Pensacola and Biloxi; or “Mobile is just not a baseball town” (and these other cities are?).
Minor league baseball exists for two reasons. First, it’s a farm league for the majors offering up a chance for a few special players to make it big. Secondly, it’s another activity a city can offer local citizens as part of the quality of life. Team owners don’t make huge money at this level and usually need help from the city and county. The BayBears’ ongoing drama with the city council has been well documented.
Imagine a vintage-style ballpark downtown with seating behind home plate offering a view of the Mobile skyline. Imagine concession stands selling Dew Drop-style hot dogs and pouring draft beer from one of the three local breweries opening up. Add on Hank Aaron’s childhood house and a baseball museum focused on all of the Hall of Fame greats from the area.
Is the magic bullet for keeping the BayBears to build a ballpark downtown? Probably. They would actually thrive because of it. It would even pull fans from the Eastern Shore. But since the word got out over a week ago that the team could be leaving, there has not been much public outcry. Even public officials have been silent.
Oh well, college football starts in 30 days and counting.