Thursday, March 03, 2011

Here's the Pitch . . .

. . . There's a high fly ball . . . deep left field . . . back . . . back . . . and it's out of here . . .a game winning homerun for the Nashville Sounds at the Sulphur Dell.

Fact or Fiction?

Well, right now it is a wee bit of fiction . . . but soon, if some folks in Metropolitan Nashville decision making circles are making the right swings at the plate, then the Boys of Summer will once again be rounding the bags right where they ought to be . . . in the original home of Nashville baseball history.

Sulphur Dell, nee Athletic Park, long since gone from the local diamond scene, was where the Nashville Vols, the primary occupant, plied their trade for close to 60 years (officially the "Vols" mascot was adopted in 1908, the same year that legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice bestowed the Sulphur Dell name on the park). In its heyday, the grand ole gal saw the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Mickey Mantle play exhibition games in Nashville and take their whacks at the short porch in right field, a part of the Dell that was legendary on it on merit. Not only was the fence a mere 262 feet from home plate (Casey Stengel once bragged that he dragged a bunt for a round-tripper), it was also severely sloped upward to the fence, which made for many a defensive nightmare. Speaking of the fielding nine, Christy Mathewson, Warren Spahn, and other Masters of the Mound whiffed more than a few baffled batsmen in similar exhibition games.

And while the Vols were more often miss than hit on having championship squads (although they did win Southern Association or Dixie World Series titles thirteen times in their history), many future stars of what Crash Davis would call 'The Show' in Bull Durham, had a few cups of coffee in the city while making sweet sounds on the sandlot, some even years before the city became famous for the real sounds of strummed strings in the Mother Church of Country Music.

It's location, bordered on the north by Jackson Street, the south by Harrison Street, and flanked by Fourth and Fifth Avenues was easy to arrive from almost any point in the Nashville vicinity. Of course, in those days much of what Nashville knows today as a business center still had many residences within a few blocks stroll. Many of those homes were owned by folks of prominence; none of today's gargantuan manses in suburbs far away existed back then. And investing a leisurely afternoon enjoying America's Pastime was as popular as taking a ride on the calliope, or having a picnic, at nearby Shelby Park in once trendy East Nashville.

Today, where the ballfield, once likened to Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, stood so proudly is nothing more than a parking lot for state employees, a state building known only as 'the data center', and a bike/ped aggregate path meandering over to Bicentennial Mall State Park and the Farmers Market. And often you have to share the path with some of the city's derelict populace.

In the 1970's professional baseball returned to Nashville after a hiatus of a baker's dozen years, but with a stadium farther away from the downtown area. In those days, the words urban revitalization would most likely be met with contempt and sneers. Few people thought downtown Nashville, in the buckle of the Bible Belt, populated by quasi-hayseeds, would once again be a vibrantly voguish mecca. Garish maybe, but certainly not populated by many in the style-setting crowd.

As that change has occurred though, and as a few more cultured pearls have begun to call Music City home, signs of life have sprung forth like the daffodils of Spring. And with that rebirth, folks have desired more options on ways to part with their hard-earned discretionary funds.

So now Nashvillians have the chance to do as many cities have done; to build a quaint little ballpark that will spur development along the Jefferson Street corridor, accentuating the progress found across the way in Germantown and Salemtown. One city councilman has gone on record as saying that Nashville can create another Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which is located in Baltimore. And while no one can easily forecast the day when Nashville will field a major-league baseball team, the city really would not need such a level for baseball to succeed on a large-scale.

Baseball, while long ago being eclipsed as the top spectator sport in America, is by far the sport where people gather as much for the overall entertainment factor as they do for the outcome of a favorite team. And with the playing season being mostly in the warmer months of the year, folks won't mind parking a few blocks away, walking to the game, and then to a favorite eatery, perhaps to dine al fresco.

As well, with a neighborhood park, you have lots of people living nearby. Coupled with the new emphasis on multi-modal transportation, game attendees arriving to the proposed destination by car will be fewer than at the current Greer Stadium in South Nashville.

Is this a done deal? No. Should it be a done deal? Yes. Probably it will be more palatable to the fiscal curmudgeons if as few public funds as possible are invested. Many of these myopic malcontents still think former Mayor (and a recent two-term Tennessee Governor), Phil Bredesen is the devil's spawn for having orchestrated the LP Field and Bridgestone Arena deals. But there should be something for the city to gain from it's primary tenant, the Nashville Sounds, having a first class joint to call home.

Still, even better would be guarantees that the investment will be a source of pride to the burgeoning North Nashville communities whose local councilmanic leaders have laboriously toiled in frustration waiting for their moment to bask in the spotlight.

Yes, the deal should be done . . . and soon!

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