The Suns haven’t set yet
The “Boys of Summer” are back at Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown for at least this summer.
In a messy political squabble that hasn’t been completely played out, the professional South Atlantic League baseball team might have just this summer left in town before it moves to Fredericksburg, Va.
The Suns are a minor league affiliate of the parent Washington Nationals. The team owners have often petitioned the city fathers, asking for a new stadium to be built on land that would be closer to downtown.
The current stadium is over 80 years old and shows its age in many ways. Its lights are outdated as are its many backless seats. According to Suns’ officials, even the playing surface needed upgrading.
City council members and the mayor appeared to be searching for land that would be suitable for a new stadium.
After a lengthy series of negotiations between the team’s owners and the city’s elected officials brought no satisfaction to either side, the Suns explored the possibility of moving to Winchester or some other town.
Nothing of substance was finished with Winchester and the Suns’ ownership went to Fredericksburg to see if that city might purchase land or offer a place where a suitable stadium could be built. It seems that Fredericksburg was receptive enough and looked at land sites for a stadium that would bring it a transplanted Suns team.
The Suns were to play in Hagerstown in 2014 regardless of the progress made in Fredericksburg. As of April 1, no work has begun on building a new stadium in the Virginia city.
Hagerstown still has the Suns and their mascot Woolie B. Municipal Stadium is still home to Thirsty Thursdays and the various fireworks nights the team shows the neighborhoods around Memorial Boulevard.
Nationals’ farmhands were steady enough last season to win the Sally League’s Northern Division title. But the attendance was no better in the playoffs than it had been during the April-to-early September regular season.
Constantly strained relations between the team and the city seem to have taken a toll on the area’s populace. Those wanting only to come to Municipal Stadium on a sultry July night to see baseball are a dwindling minority.
Opening night came on April 3 and wasn’t filled with snow flurries or frigid temperatures. Yet only an announced attendance of between 700 and 800 joined in welcoming the 2014 version of the team. The second night of the season saw a little more than 350 people find their way to Municipal Stadium.
Many believe this is the final season for the team that returned to Hagerstown in 1980 after many years where only an amateur adult team called the Hagerstown Braves and several of the area high school teams played games at the stadium.
From a team that began with “independent” status to ones later staffed with farmhands sent by Baltimore, Toronto, San Francisco and now Washington, the Suns have been back for more than 30 years.
This year’s version has about a dozen players returning from the 2013 Northern Division champions.
The summer will be surrounded by speculation. Will Fredericksburg build a stadium in time to accept the Suns next year? If not, can the city fathers and Suns’ management agree on enough to keep the team in Hagerstown for the 2015 season?
The Suns Fan Club will continue to congregate behind the first base dugout. The other scattered hundreds will hear their cheering echo off the thousands of empty seats.
And professional baseball in Hagerstown will live until at least the first week in September.