Publicly-Funded Stadiums, Part Two

by Alan J. Claffie

Mar. 15, 2006 - Last time out we went off on a little rant about Major League Baseball and its strong-arming the council of the District of Columbia into forking over taxpayer money to build a ballpark that will benefit MLB itself and the as-yet-undetermined owners of the Washington Nationals. MLB will turn a tidy profit on the deal, the future owner of the Natties will no doubt make a buck or two, but the taxpayers - ?

The subject of this evening's ramblings is on a much lower scale, but no less offensive. Someone decided that southern Maryland needs to get into the baseball game. And that someone decided that whatever private enterprises are going to benefit from operating a baseball team in southern Maryland should be allowed to do so on the public dime.

We're not talking hundreds of millions here, thankfully. But the stadium's tab is expected to be $21 million, some of which is coming from the state and some of which is coming from the county.

Who stands to benefit most from this deal? Nobody. It's going to feature no-name independent baseball (Atlantic League of Professional Baseball), which claims at this link that scouts consider its level of play between double-A and triple-A minor league level. But players capable of playing at that level aren't playing in independent leagues, they're in the farm systems of Major League Baseball franchises.

And the biggest problem is that there is a double-A MLB farm team just twenty minutes up the road in Bowie that can rightly brag that it'll have future Baltimore Orioles on its field and they can be seen for relatively cheap money (the Bowie Baysox don't have individual game tickets on sale yet, but you can order six undated tickets for $44; any relatively professional baseball that can be seen for under ten bucks is an OK deal in my book). The Charles County team will only have proximity in its favor compared to the Baysox. Will that be enough to make the project worthwhile?

The independent league can pack up and split if things don't look good, it happens all the time in the unpredictable world of minor league ball having seen four or five teams set up shop and then leave Pittsfield, Mass. over the last twenty years. But the county and the state will still have to pay for the stadium regardless of the tenant's sticking around or bailing.

Call me risk-averse but there's already a fine place to watch MLB-affiliated minor league ball not far from southern Maryland. The county and state could take a chance that baseball fans in Charles County will pass up that to stay closer to home and watch baseball that's allegedly on the same level or lower, but they could also take that money and put it to much better use: infrastructure, roads, schools, police and fire squads, etc. And as someone who lives and works in Charles County I know where I want my civic leaders putting the most resources towards, and it ain't a ballfield for independent league no-namers.

But I digress.

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