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.