A little more than a year ago, I took Macon-Bibb County’s elected officials, namely mayor Robert Reichert, to task for dropping the ball on the GHSA basketball finals.
For all the successes Reichert and his administration have had with redeveloping downtown and the neighborhoods near Mercer, and the wins have been many, perhaps the biggest negative of his time in office was the inability to address lingering issues with the Macon Coliseum, capped by an embarrassing issue with the alignment of the baskets, that led to the departure of one of the state’s signature high school championship events.
That said, Reichert and his staff have done a good job of trying to re-establish the minor-league sports scene that existed prior to the departure of the Macon Braves some 15 years ago.
Getting behind hockey’s return to the city two years ago paid dividends recently when the Macon Mayhem won the SPHL President’s Cup. The team got off to a slow start at the gate at the Coliseum, but by the time the postseason rolled around, attendance figures became quite impressive.
The mayor also backed a study looking at the potential return of minor league baseball to Macon. It was an interesting report, one that pointed out some potential good sites for a new ballpark downtown to replace historic but insufficient and inconveniently located Luther Williams Field. Part of that report might have been simply a process of putting dreams to paper, but putting together that road map was a healthy exercise.
As that report wrapped up and the list of things and number of dollars that needed to come together to bring minor league baseball back to Macon emerged, it became apparent that the project wouldn’t be an easy lift. But a less costly, reasonable alternative emerged, a proposal to have a Coastal Plain League team play at Luther Williams Field.
The Coastal Plain League isn’t minor league baseball, affiliated or otherwise. It’s a summer collegiate league, a circuit for college players to extend their seasons in a league that mirrors minor league rules, namely the use of wooden bats.
First thought for some: Isn’t this going to go down like the Macon Music and the Macon Pinetoppers, teams that came and went quickly as part of fly-by-night leagues?
Nope. This effort’s footing is on much more solid ground. It’s not the return of the South Atlantic League by any means, but these folks know what they are doing. Look to the success the Savannah Bananas enjoyed last year in their first year of operation at Grayson Stadium, another park deemed too old for organized ball.
If anything, Macon (and Savannah, if it so chose) can use the Coastal Plain League as a first step to bringing back organized ball. Prove that baseball is viable through the Coastal Plain League, then find an investor with minor league ties to help build that new ballpark and bring an organized minor league farm team to town.
Columbia, South Carolina, parlayed its Coastal Plain experience into a South Atlantic League franchise, drawing the former Savannah Sand Gnats into a new stadium. Pensacola, Florida, took a similar approach, with support for an independent league team leading to a new ballpark and a Southern League franchise.
If the new Coastal Plain team borrows from the Savannah Bananas playbook, then expect inexpensive tickets and inexpensive concessions (including brews) with plenty of promotions. The team will bend over backwards to create fun, entertaining evenings. The names of the ballplayers might not be immediately recognizable, but the night out at the park should be enjoyable.
The city is putting more than $2 million into Luther Williams to make it playable. It’s a good down payment on something that could become a nice positive for this city and potential building block for something bigger.
Sure, this Coastal Plain League team doesn’t get Macon back to the days of having the Braves or Peaches in town. But it’s a good, healthy first step. By not spending tens of millions now to build a new baseball stadium, this opens up resources to improve the Coliseum and to start to do something about the woeful state of the county-owned high school football facilities, Henderson Stadium and the Ed DeFore Sports Complex.
And if this all works out, it will be another victory in a long string of wins Reichert has enjoyed as mayor.