Macon needs some baseball

sports@macon.comJuly 1, 2014 

Good bye 2 Oza

Macon Braves players bid farewell to fans following the 2002 season finale at Luther Williams Field.

On Friday, I did something I unfortunately haven’t done in a while. I went to a minor league baseball game.

While it was a lot of fun, there was also a part of me that was pretty angry.

I have lived in Macon since 1996, and to be reminded that we have no minor league baseball in this area was a little much. I kept shaking my head thinking that what I was watching was something that we, as Middle Georgians, once had.

We, and I do mean “we,” lost a team to another Georgia city, Rome. How embarrassing was that? It’s not like we lost a team to Columbus or even Albany. I know Rome has a ton of people within a 60-mile radius, but the 2012 population of Floyd County, Rome’s county, was around 96,000. Bibb County’s population in 2012 was a little more than 156,000 people.

And to think that we had an Atlanta Braves affiliate should make all of us sick. We didn’t have an affiliate of the Minnesota Twins or Seattle Mariners or Arizona Diamondbacks, teams that aren’t even close. We lost a team that is our state team, one that is a little more than an hour up the interstate.

We should be ashamed.

Of course, when I blame all of us for losing the team, I should be more specific. C. Jack Ellis was the mayor when the Braves left town. When the Braves asked the city to make improvements to the ancient Luther Williams Field, Ellis balked. In fact, sources say when the Braves tried to have a meeting about the issue, Ellis didn’t even show up.

There was talk that Ellis believed certain people in Macon didn’t even like baseball, and therefore an investment shouldn’t be made into bringing the old park into the 21st century.

So the Braves left. For Rome. And truthfully, why should we blame them? Rome offered them a stadium, a long-term deal, and they went for it. The Braves never wanted to leave Macon. It was actually more convenient for them to be here, but when the city didn’t really seem to care, they left.

How can we get a team back here? It will never be the same, since it will not be a Braves affiliate. But the only way the city of Macon, or Warner Robins for that matter, will get a team will be to build a multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art stadium. That’s what baseball organizations go for these days. They don’t want stadiums that are breaking down, and Luther Williams broke down a long time ago. They want new shiny stadiums that will help their prospects be in a good environment to prepare for the major leagues.

Should this area be able to support a minor league baseball team? Yes, I believe it can. It will, however, need to be a team that is pushed toward Macon and Warner Robins. That’s why you will occasionally hear talk of a stadium going somewhere in between the two cities, to make it convenient for everyone.

Why didn’t more people go see the Macon Braves? Well, the stadium was in awful shape. A rain shower on Sunday sometimes caused a rainout on Monday. Right field could turn into the Ocmulgee River with a bad drainage system that was never modernized. And the amenities that are needed in the minors were just not there.

You have to give people a nice environment to go to when they visit a minor league ballpark, and if you ever went to the restroom at Luther Williams Field, you probably swore you would never go back.

I’m glad hockey is coming back to Macon. Hopefully, the new franchise will be successful, since we do need something around here like that. But minor league baseball is different. It’s special. Those of us who loved the Macon Braves here will testify to that, and it’s why this area would be so improved if a new stadium was built to attract a major league team to move an affiliate here.

I know that’s easier said than done. I know there are huge needs in this community, and this might not need to be a priority. But minor league baseball does a lot for a city. It’s just a shame the previous mayor did not think so.

If you love minor league baseball, I suggest you go to Gwinnett to see the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate or go to Rome to see our former team play there. Isn’t it pathetic that we have to travel an hour or more to go see minor league baseball instead of simply having a team in our own back yard?

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at www.twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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