Did you hear about the new ballpark being built in Madison that will be home to our Mobile BayBears once they are transplanted to the Huntsville area in 2020?
I read all about it. And it made me sick.
I’ve got nothing against the fine folks in the fourth-largest city in Alabama. I’m excited that they’re going to have such an awesome new facility — and it is going to be some kind of awesome.
There’s going to be a pool in the outfield. There’s going to be a lazy river that connects the park to the Margaritaville hotel property that’s being integrated into Town Madison, as the gorgeous retail and entertainment district is being dubbed.
Margaritaville? Yes, they’re even poaching Gulf Coast legend Jimmy Buffett away from us.
Ralph Nelson is the general partner of BallCorps Inc., the group that bought the BayBears with plans to move them to Huntsville. He knows minor league baseball was a failure in Huntsville in 2014. But he also believes he knows the reason.
“There was a ballpark that had deteriorated,” he told al.com. “There was no money put by the team into the facility. The owner was absentee. There was not a lot of capital. Those guys were working their tail off and didn’t have capital to do it with or the staff to do it with. We’re going to have 23 to 24 full-time employees plus hundreds on game day.”
Good for Huntsville. The city will now have a state-of-the-art outdoor facility to go along with the Von Braun Center downtown.
The same can be said for the state’s largest city. Birmingham has an awesome coliseum, a spectacular new baseball park that’s the centerpiece of a bustling entertainment district and a new football stadium on the way that just attracted a professional team in the Alliance of American Football.
Montgomery? Same thing. Cramton Bowl has been renovated into a gorgeous football facility. The Montgomery Civic Center is old but still functional. And the Montgomery Biscuits and their new baseball park downtown are the centerpiece of a vibrant entertainment district.
On the Gulf Coast, the same is true for Pensacola and Biloxi, both of which have recently added awesome new minor league baseball facilities.
The sports facility landscape could not be any more different in Mobile.
Yes, I’m in the large majority of people who couldn’t be more thrilled with the recent announcement that the University of South Alabama is about ready to break ground on an on-campus football facility that will seat around 25,000 fans and is expected to be on par with the other first-class venues already on campus for basketball, baseball and softball.
It’s truly a red-letter day for the university and the city.
To make it happen, the university solicited help from the city and county of Mobile. There’s nothing wrong with that. Certainly the stadium will have benefits beyond those the university will enjoy.
But where does that leave the city when it comes to other sports venues?
Historic Hank Aaron Stadium has a year and half more of hosting the BayBears before we can possibly expect the weeds to start overtaking the facility.
Ladd-Peebles Stadium is likely about to lose the Dollar General Bowl and the Reese’s Senior Bowl to the modern facility at USA. Those moves will make the upkeep of Ladd-Peebles way too expensive to justify for a building that is home to only four high school football teams (Murphy, Williamson, Davidson and LeFlore).
There could even be the possibility of demolishing Ladd-Peebles Stadium or replacing it with a much smaller stadium more suitable for hosting just high school football. That possibility sounds eerily similar to the talk last year of what might come of the aging civic center downtown. Never mind that such events as the annual Gulf Coast Classic will become a thing of the past or major one-off events like a Donald Trump campaign rally won’t have Ladd-Peebles Stadium to consider again.
I know money is tight. I know situations in every city differ.
But that doesn’t change these facts:
• There are four major cities in Alabama. Three are maintaining and in many cases upgrading their public sports facilities. The other is Mobile.
• There are four major cities on the Gulf Coast. Three are maintaining and in many cases upgrading their public sports facilities. The other is Mobile.
I don’t claim to have the answers when it comes to financial solutions to help Mobile keep up with its neighbors.
But I do know that I don’t want to have to go to Pensacola or Biloxi or New Orleans, or Montgomery or Birmingham, or now even Huntsville to find a great city venue for a game or a concert.
Unfortunately, as we try to figure out a way to put Ladd-Peebles Stadium and Hank Aaron Stadium out of their misery, that’s exactly the disheartening reality citizens of Alabama’s third-largest city face.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.