It looks like there is a very good chance we may be losing the Mobile BayBears to Madison County, Alabama. Damn space-rocket-loving Yankees!
Though I can’t say I am all that surprised. Every time I have attended a game recently, the crowds were pretty light. I would venture to guess there are probably more people in the stands at local Little League games than watching our professional minor league baseball team.
Support dwindled over the years. The reasons for that varied.
Some of those reasons had nothing to do with the BayBears. I would hear things from other parents like, “I’ve been meaning to take the kids to a game but we are just so busy with dance/soccer/gymnastics/track/softball/band/football/volleyball/youth group/etc.” You get the idea. Kids are so overscheduled these days. It’s hard to find time to take the family out to the ol’ ballgame, so to speak.
The summer heat killed part of the season. “I’m not going to sit out in that heat.” Although, even in summer there seemed to always be a nice breeze. But perception is reality.
Some did have valid complaints about the organization and/or ballpark. The concession service was poorly organized and slow, the food mediocre and people hated having to pay $5 to park. People weren’t always exactly sure when they were in town.
I’m sure it was a combination of all of these things.
My husband and I took the kids to two or three games this year — it was the most we have ever been in one season, so we are just as guilty as most of neglecting our BayBears over the years. But we all had a terrific time. If they do bid us adieu, I will hate to see them go. They are like that old friend who you really like and keep meaning to get together with for lunch or something, but somehow you just can’t make it happen. Next thing you know, they are moving away and the opportunity is gone.
But when a friend moves away a small metaphorical hole is left in your heart. When a baseball team leaves, a giant brick-and-mortar stadium is left looming. One is much easier to deal with than the other. (I’m talking about the stadium — you can just keep up with your friend on Facebook.)
So what will we do with this stadium if the BayBears do leave us and become the Huntsville Rockets (I am just making up that name, but I must admit Rockets are cooler than BayBears — my apologies to mascot Bay B. Bear)?
Here are some ideas. Mostly my own little field of dreams. Some are way more plausible than others.
The Jake Peavy Amphitheatre?
What does hometown hero and one of Mobile’s most generous benefactors love? Baseball and music, of course. Tell The Wharf to move on over. We can have our own awesome music amphitheater. The dugouts can be converted to VIP areas and the boxes can remain as additional VIP space. The stands can stay as-is for general admission seating — although the stadium could sell band-themed seat cushions for added comfort (and revenue).
BayBear Mountain can offer a more affordable ticket for those who want to spread out a blanket and listen to the tunes from a distance. Parking is already taken care of. The concession areas and bathrooms are already in place and just need a little upgrading. Just throw up a stage and a really good sound system and voila, done! Well, I mean, I am sure it is a little more complicated than that and you know, Mr. Peavy would have to sign up to do this, and I am sure he is probably tiring of people spending his money for him. But wouldn’t it be really cool?
Mobile Baseball Museum?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know we are a bit gun-shy about museums around here after the whole GulfQuest debacle. And yes, I know there is already a baseball museum in Cooperstown, New York. But we have enough baseball greats from the Port City to fill up an entire museum all by ourselves. The stadium grounds are already home to Hank Aaron’s childhood home. There could be exhibits for the Bolling Brothers, Satchel Paige, the aforementioned Peavy and others who have hailed from or had a Mobile connection. I would guess there are a lot more baseball nerds/tourism in this world than maritime nerds/tourism. So it would be a much safer bet than GulfQuest.
The most probable scenario is it will get sold to a developer and torn down to make room for more retail in McGowin Park. But hopefully the city won’t make any sweetheart deals this time that fill the pockets of retiring senators from neighboring states (among others). Cough, cough, retail incentives, cough, cough, Bob Corker.
But how viable is that these days? As more and more big-box stores close across the country, is it really ideal to start breaking ground on them? If it is going to go that way, perhaps it could be converted into a space with upscale boutiques, cool local shops, eateries, wine bars and singer-songwriters playing as you shop. Hey, I think it’s a trend. Just don’t spill the wine on the clothes as you shop.
Perhaps this is all premature. The BayBear has not been pronounced dead just yet. Bay B. Bear is still alive and kicking. And no matter what, we still have another season to enjoy America’s pastime in a city with a storied baseball history.
And maybe they will find a way to keep the team here, though I am sure that would require the city either making even more improvements to the stadium or forking over money in some way. And should the city really do that when the team ownership hasn’t put much money into making the fan experience better? Especially if Mobilians just aren’t going to support a baseball team for whatever reason.
The one thing I do know is I just don’t want to have to drive by yet another failed project that has had hundreds of thousands or even millions of taxpayer dollars pumped into it. It is so depressing to drive by the beautiful GulfQuest building on prime riverfront real estate and know how empty it is inside.
We have learned our lesson. If we build it, they may not necessarily come. But I think we may soon find out, too, that if we neglect it they will most certainly go away.