ROME -- My trip to Rome to see the Braves’ Low Single-A affiliate started out normal. But then I got angry when I walked into beautiful State Mutual Stadium.
“Why couldn’t Macon have built something like this?” I asked myself.
If you ever went to a Macon Braves game, and you then walked into the now 13-year-old stadium in northwest Georgia, you would ask the same thing. How in the world did Middle Georgia lose a baseball team to Rome? No offense to the people of Floyd County; the question is more of a slap toward Macon than a knock on Rome.
This team used to be in Macon. From 1991 through 2002, Atlanta’s Low-A affiliate -- the first full-season team players go to in the minor leagues -- called Luther Williams Field home. But now in a state-of-the-art facility, the answers to my questions are pretty much answered when I look around.
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Former Macon mayor C. Jack Ellis didn’t care about minor league baseball and the value it brought to his city. It was perhaps the biggest loss for Macon in decades. Ellis didn’t just lose a minor league team, he lost a Braves minor league team.
The Braves didn’t ask the city of Macon to build a new $20 million stadium, as Rome built. They simply wanted improvements to Luther Williams Field. It might have simply been a Band-Aid, but the Braves wanted to stay in Macon. Instead, when Ellis and the city leaders dragged their feet, the Braves packed up and headed to Rome.
Would Middle Georgia have supported the Braves’ minor league team if the stadium in Rome was built in Macon? There is no doubt about that. Luther Williams Field was awful. You couldn’t go to the bathroom without needing a shower. The stands were simply old and flaking away, and if there was a quick rain shower Monday, you might have had a rain delay Tuesday.
But the Braves didn’t just want a facility that would have been fan-friendly. They wanted a place that would have been a tremendous home for their prospects. Just think now of how the big-time college football programs are trying to outdo each other with the finest buildings and locker rooms. Was it wrong for the Braves to want the same thing from Macon, to at least have a stadium where the players wouldn’t dress on top of each other because of the small room in the clubhouse?
Well, Macon didn’t do it, but Rome certainly did. This isn’t Turner Field, but it’s as fine a facility as you will find in the lower levels of the minor leagues. The Rome Braves will have repeat customers during a season. If you went to a game in Macon the final few years they were there, you might have been too grossed out to go back.
It’s pathetic, really. Macon and Middle Georgia should be ashamed for losing the Braves affiliate. Think of the stars we have missed watching because Ellis and his cohorts didn’t appreciate minor league baseball. We could have seen Jeff Francoeur, Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel.
Meanwhile, how is that minor league basketball team doing in Macon these days?
Yes, I’m bitter. I’m angry. Good for the Braves that they found a home for their prospects. Good for them that they went somewhere they were wanted. To think of how great it would be to have a place like State Mutual Stadium in Middle Georgia, where baseball fans could go enjoy the game and, dare I say, have a place to go for entertainment, is almost too much to take.
Rome will host a day game Wednesday afternoon against Lexington. Sure wish it was being played in Macon instead.
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 twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.