August 21 column, with links

Field in my dreams
By Brad Warthen
Editorial Page Editor
    HERE’S MY TAKE on several recent items in the paper. You may spot a common thread:

  • Columbia City Council told the University of South Carolina that if it wants to put its own personal baseball “stadium” (people keep using that word, although baseball is played in parks) in the worst possible location in town — where it will have to compete with the Colonial Center, the Koger Center, the Coliseum, the new convention center and a booming, revitalized Vista — it will have to come up with a plan for where the cars are going to park, a plan that is more than just wishful thinking. Good for City Council. And good luck on that, USC.
  • The city approved Bill Shanahan’s proposal to use Capital City Stadium — that word again — foræ.æ.æ. well, I’m not sure exactly what. Apparently, there’s this league of college players who get together and play ball over summer vacation. And Columbia’s going to have such a team. It can, we’re told, have players from both USC and Clemson on it. Who is going to root for whom at these games eludes me, but if anyone can make a go of it, Mr. Shanahan can. So good luck to him. Something about this seems ironic, because USC has been so successful in quashing any competition to its sports programs, and now we’re going to have another college game in town — although not during the actual season, so I suppose the Gamecocks are still getting their way on this one. Two City Council members voted against this — Hamilton Osborne, who votes against everything, and Anne Sinclair, who thinks the city can find better ways to spend its funds than putting 30 grand into this each year. I think I’m with the majority on this one, although Ms. Sinclair and I seldom part company on baseball matters. More on that later.
  • As part of its effort to make the unworkable workable, USC wants to take the pedestrian footbridge that led visitors into the old Central Correctional Institution and move it to its proposed new “stadium” location in the Vista. This is precisely the opposite of what should have happened. A joint-use ballpark — for the Gamecocks and a minor-league professional team — should have been located on the old CCI property, which always has been the perfect location. But that’s not going to happen now, is it — not after the city gave up on years of feckless attempts to do something else with the property, and sold it to a developer to build condos — like we need more of those — and, oh yeah, some houses. Well, I’ve got a house. What I don’t have is a ballpark down by the river where I can watch both first-class college and minor-league baseball.
  • And if you don’t think dual-use ballparks down by the river are a big asset to a community, go back and read George Will’s — yeah, the top nationally syndicated columnist, not a yokel hack like me — rhapsodic description of Joe Riley’s park on Thursday’s op-ed page. How come Charleston gets to have both Joe Riley and a beautiful dual-use (RiverDogs and the Citadel) ballpark, and we get neither? Yeah, I know Mayor Bob does the best he can within the limitations of our lousy weak-mayor system, and that he truly loves baseball, and I know he’s never going to forget that we opposed his proposal for a new park sort of near the river several years back. But that deal called for too much city commitment, and too little private. What I find hard to forget is the way the mayor went along with USC in deep-sixing a joint-use deal that had solid private involvement (can you say “Cal Ripken?”). You remember. That was the last act in the drama before USC announced its big plans for going it “alone” in the overcrowded Vista.
  • Local developer Alan Kahn has a chance to bring a Class AA farm team to the Midlands — from my wife’s hometown of Jackson, Tenn. (where I spent the first 10 years of my career). Trouble is, he wants to build his park not in Columbia, but in a part of Richland County that from where I live is more or less halfway to Florence. Listen up: Baseball is for downtown. It’s for a whole community, not a booming suburb. It’s something that’s supposed to bring all the disparate parts of a community together, not set them apart (“We got a ballpark and you don’t.”) And no, I can’t prove any of this; I just know it all to be true.

    I said I would get back to Anne Sinclair, which I do gladly, because she’s about the only player around here who comes anywhere close to seeing this stuff the way I do. About USC’s Vista dreams she says: “I don’t want to leave anyone with any illusions. I am not happy with this location. And don’t even try to lobby me; it will only make me angry.” You go, Anne. She sums up talk about all those jammed-together venues being able to coordinate their schedules thusly: “What kind of piece of you-know-what is that?” Well said.
    She still thinks joint-use, privately driven, down-by-the-river was the way to go, and that it never got a fair hearing.
    But Ms. Sinclair, being a sensible lady, has moved on. If USC can come up with a credible plan, fine. And she thinks Mr. Kahn’s proposal is now our best hope for the return of professional ball.
    I am not a sensible lady. I’m a feverish man with a dream.
    My colleagues on the editorial board keep counseling me, in the kind of soothing tones you use to calm the delusional and overexcited, to accept reality and move on. They say minor-league ball way out in the Northeast is as good as it’s gonna get. They say the only thing wrong with the USC deal is the parking. They say my riverside dreams were never in the cards, and can never, ever happen in the future. One said, “As long as you’re dreaming, are you going to throw in your rapid-transit system, too?” To which I said, “You betcha. I’m gonna ride the train from my house to the ballpark.” They say climb down off the ledge and put down the baseball bat, please.
    What I say is that circumstances change. A few years ago, we had a booming minor league franchise and a relatively ho-hum program at Sarge Frye. That state of affairs changed dramatically. Why can’t this one?
    Mr. Will began his column with this thought: “Realism is overrated. Putting it aside makes possible some sweet things, such as the idea of Santa Claus. And the fact of minor-league baseball.”
I’ll take up realism when it’s as sweet as my dreams.

14 thoughts on “August 21 column, with links

  1. David

    The proposal to place a ballpark in an accessible, low crime, close to families type location is on the right track. I’ve been to Dell’s stadium (Astros AAA in Austin suburb), Charlotte’s Knights, Myrtle Beach, and a few others. Give people a clean, fun, easy in and out place to go and they will go. Put it in a place where you have to worry about getting you car broken into and sit in traffic and it wont work.

  2. Joe

    Yeah David because the Vista is crime ridden. Instead of living in Irmo or Forest Acres, maybe you should get outside of your shell and enjoy the city life that is Columbia.

  3. Jack Evans

    The old corrections property is the place for the stadium for USC, The City, or both.
    Place the grandstand exactly where the prison grandstand was located. When communters drive by and see ball players or the green field it will remind them that they haven’t been out in awhile and not seen a live game in several months, perhaps years. Selling is seeing and feeling the product and you never see it at the old Bomber stadium and you’ll never drive by it if it’s in the vista crowded by everthing else. The Beach Company can design their project to include the stadium with views of the field from condo’s and second floor balconies. That is the only place in Columbia to locate this stadium. Build it, and maybe another AA or even a AAA team will come callin’ on Columbia.

  4. Kevin Reichard

    No chance at all for the West Tenn Jaxx to be part of the Midlands develoment, Brad. You should be out doing some reporting instead of blogging and passing along false rumors.

  5. mike gannon

    Brad, I like your thinking in regards to baseball in Columbia. A dual-use ballpark down by the river sounds like a wonderful idea. Can you imagine driving into downtown in I-126 and seeing a beautiful ballpark over to your right that is used by both USC and a Minor League team. It couldn’t get any better than that…Especially if you’ve been around long enough to remember that visceral eyesore known as CCI!

  6. David

    Joe, you noted: Instead of living in Irmo or Forest Acres, maybe you should get outside of your shell and enjoy the city life that is Columbia.

    I may try that, but will my car be there when I get back? I really like downtown Columbia but the baseball field would be much better received “out” of town.

  7. Doug

    There’s already a place where you can ride
    a train to the ballpark. It’s called “The
    Bronx”. Hope that’s not the model you are
    looking for.
    Baseball is about what goes on inside the
    park, not outside. It’s also a business.
    If an owner believes he can get 3,000 fans
    to a park in the Sandhills, he’s not going
    to trade that for 2,000 down by the river.
    USC owns downtown and the people who run it. Let them have it. Let us baseball fans in Northeast Columbia have a place
    where we can bring our families to watch
    a good game at a good price.

  8. Brad Warthen

    A couple or three brief replies…
    To David: The only place in this metropolitan area where any vehicle of mine has ever been broken into is out where I live, in the suburbs. Maybe Quail Hollow is a “rough” suburb, but I’m not aware of it. Anyway, I’ve never had any trouble in town.
    To Doug: Yes, that would be nice if Mr. Kahn could get 3,000 per game out there in the middle of nowhere. But Joe Riley’s dual-use ballpark downtown by the river gets 3,800 a game. I believe (and so does Joe Riley, based on discussions he and I have had) a properly-run operation of that sort in Columbia could do at least that well. One thing I know for sure — it’s the only way I’d ever be going to games. I would pass a ballpark at the old CCI property several times a week, so it would always be front-of-mind for me. I would NEVER, EVER happen upon a ballpark out there in the vast reaches of the Northeast. In fact, I would need a map to find it, assuming I was really, really motivated to go hunting for it. I have wished Mr. Kahn well with his Village at Sandhill, but I have never been there, and don’t anticipate when I ever will. It simply isn’t on my way to anywhere I am ever likely to go. Yeah, I hear about people (a former colleague tells me this is true of some of her neighbors in the NE) who never come downtown, and don’t know how to find the State House. But I believe such people are in the minority, even in the NE. Far more people in the Midlands are likely to take interest in a team at the heart of a revitalized central riverfront than in something located out in ONE of the many population arms reaching out from the city. I’d feel the same about one in Irmo or Lexington, both of which are a lot closer to and more familiar to me. In short, if all other things were equal, I firmly believe that a riverfront ballpark would ultimately draw better than a suburban one.
    Finally, to Kevin Reichard:
    What are you talking about? I went to the site that your name linked to, but didn’t find any info on the Diamond Jaxx. I guess that leaves me falling back to the actual reporting by our sports staff which I cited in making my original assertion. If you have something else I need to know, share it.

  9. Doug

    I am stunned that the editor of Columbia’s
    paper hasn’t been to the Northeast side of
    town recently enough to know where the Village at Sandhills is… is your view of Columbia so myopic that you can’t imagine people who don’t want to live in a downtown area like Columbia’s which caters to business people during the day and college students at night?
    Where there’s nowhere to park when you do decide to try out a restaurant in the Vista? Where you can’t walk beyond certain blocks without running the risk of being accosted by panhandlers? Gee, I can see why you wouldn’t want to travel the 25 minutes it would take to get from The State facility out to Clemson Rd.
    My family travels from Blythewood to
    First Baptist downtown every Sunday because we think it’s worth it. I would imagine real baseball fans would travel the opposite direction for a AA baseball game
    once or twice a month.
    And regarding the 3000 fans… the theatre at Sandhills gets that many people every
    weekend night.
    It’s time to face the reality of the situation in Columbia. The majority of people in a 25 mile radius of the State House aren’t interested in living near that epicenter or spending their leisure time around there. If USC wasn’t there, downtown Columbia wouldn’t exist.
    If you want to pack a suitcase for a
    journey out to Clemson Rd. sometime, let
    me know. I’ll buy you lunch…

  10. Doug

    Did a little research… one of Charleston’s rivals in the South Atlantic League is the
    Lake County Captains in East Lake, Ohio,
    a suburb of Cleveland. The stadium is in an area which appears to look very similar to
    northeast Columbia (viewed using Google Earth). Right smack in the middle of many residential developments… (you know, Brad, like those faraway places like Wood Creek,
    The Summit, Wildewood, and Spring Valley).
    And, wow, can you believe that the Captains
    are averaging 5800 fans per game… 2000 more than the River Dogs? Even though they’re “out in the middle of nowhere”
    Mr. Kahn — if you build it, they will come.

  11. David

    Brad, your vehicle is never broken into because you actually come into town on the secret rapid transit line. Not! But Doug is right on about the location of the ballpark. If it were built downtown along the river, it would be an instant hit as a novelty. Most families would make a point to go once or so. Then, the novelty wears off, and all the negatives become noticeable. Ergo, attendance falls and then its not so well supported. Build it in the burbs with all the positives and its a win all the way. A home run for the region, not just the town.

  12. Timothy Ward

    I just thought it should be mentioned, for those of you who may have forgotten, that the University of Florida Gators won the SEC crown. That’s right. Go Gators!!!!

  13. Ironchef

    I’m with Brad on this one.
    After the “novelty” wears off (which any new team/stadium would garner, no matter who or where), who the hell would travel to NE Columbia for a game? NE offers NOTHING else as a destination for consumers: mall shoppers go to Harbison, boutique shoppers go to Devine/Forest Acres, eaters go downtown (if they’re not eating at a chain), drinkers go to Five Points, cultural-folk go downtown.
    Northeast Columbia? – shitty traffic, an ugly-ass thoroughfare (Two Notch), a decrepid mall, and McSubdivisions.

  14. Dave S

    I agree the stadium shouldn’t be in the NE and I live in the NE. I’ve never been the victim of crime in downtown, The Vista, or even Five Points, but I know for a fact the NE has a very bad gang problem and know of drive by shootings in the Summitt. I rarely frequent any of the stores at the Village at Sandhills and now my kids won’t either because of the overzealous Security Guards they have (Al Wagner and SGT Crites to be exact). They go around harrassing high school kids who are walking from the Theatre to Five Guys to spend money on some burgers, while ignoring large groups of what I would call wanna be gang bangers. Not to mention they are harrassing kids who work in Sandhills. Nope, I say build the Stadium on the River and leave the suburbs to homes.

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