Weekly Obsession: Bigger than the minors, too small for the MLB

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 10:05pm

Late last week, Nashville Sounds owner Frank Ward sat down with Metro officials in an effort to hammer out an extension for the triple-A baseball team’s lease at 34-year-old Greer Stadium.

All indications are the team is no longer asking for a new stadium — whether in Sulphur Dell or The Gulch or on the riverfront or the top of the Music City Center. And that’s well enough, because nobody from the mayor’s office seems interested in moving forward with that project. Indeed, the only recent talk of a new downtown stadium has come via delightfully on-point mentions by Powers Boothe’s Lamar Wyatt on ABC’s Nashville, and in another case of art imitating life, that particular McGuffin seems to have been all but abandoned by the show’s writers.

If Ward is happy with his team playing at Greer — at this point, held together with duct tape, spit and memories of Bye Bye Balboni — then more power to him. If he gets to go-ahead from the parent club Milwaukee Brewers to keep their top affiliate at an aging husk, then he’s certainly welcome to do so.

But it seems the Sounds are struggling on Chestnut Street. The team drew an average of 4,792 last season — third from the bottom in the Pacific Coast League.

But the stadium isn’t all that’s to blame for the Sounds’ attendance issues. Of the 16 PCL cities, six have major-league sports. Weirdly, other than Nashville, the other five — Sacramento, Memphis, Oklahoma City, New Orleans and Salt Lake City — all have NBA franchises, and only Nashville and New Orleans have two big-league teams.

Nashville is nowhere near being able to support Major League Baseball, though. Indeed, studies show the Music City is stretched cellophane-thin with its disposable income to support the Titans and Predators.

In baseball, there’s a term for a player who is just a bit too good for triple-A but not good enough for the majors.

Nashville is a quadruple-A city.

This isn’t to knock the Sounds, who served the city well in the ’80s and ’90s and were covered by beat writers day-in and day-out before the NFL and NHL came calling.

Minor league baseball is far more affordable than the sports entertainment at Fifth and Broadway, or on the East Bank. And there are few better ways to spend a languid summer night than out at the ballpark.

But civic support for a stadium isn’t coming. It seems at least Ward understands that. Certainly, if he wants to take the bold stance of paying for his own stadium, far be it from any of us to tell him no. In this day and age when pro sports teams hold cities hostage for new stadia and arenas, proposing to build his own playground would be a revolutionary act.

But, frankly, Ward is in a pickle. He doesn’t want to play at Greer — a press release shooting down rumors of the team’s relocation (rumors no one had heard) all but sneered the phrase “the PCL’s oldest stadium” — and the city doesn’t seem interested in building him a new stadium. He can stay at the old place or throw good money after bad and build himself a new joint.

None of those options seems feasible.

The Sounds and the city need to honestly evaluate themselves and decide if playing triple-A ball in a big-league city is a winning play.

If not — like the dilemma of the quadruple-A ballplayer — it may just be time to hang it up.

15 Comments on this post:

By: eamus-catuli on 12/12/12 at 1:56

Nashville is not big enough to support Major League Baseball - that involves selling out a stadium of 40,000 70 times or so a season. Ain't gonna happen until this city doubles in size. We can, however support NFL, NBA and NHL franchises. The NHL is contingent on an octegenarian owner wanting to put a competetive team on the field - the NBA would require an owner with some zeal to bring a team here and the NHL assumes that they will replace the clown they now have as commissioner

-"Make something idiot-proof and the world will build a better idiot"

By: bfra on 12/12/12 at 3:40

Frank Ward appears to have more common sense than King Karl!!

By: Kosh III on 12/12/12 at 9:18

"Greer — at this point, held together with duct tape, spit and memories"

Didn't they just spend several million to repair and refurbish it?
This propaganda about how bad Greer is seems to be nothing more than a propaganda campaign to get a welfare check for a new playpen.
What's wrong with it? Not enough sybaritic suites?

By: TimSkow on 12/12/12 at 9:50

Tim Skow
Knoxville, Chattanooga, Jackson & Memphis all have relatively new minor league baseball ball parks [and experiences] FAR superior to poor broken-down Greer Stadium. Nashville offers NO other sports/family entertainment destination like the Sounds... and the Sounds ownership would like to stay in Nashville. But the pure economics of this UGLY situation must be forcing Sounds ownership to look around [ at Knoxville, Chattanooga or Jackson for starters]. Don't think that AAA teams will not leave.. Spokane, WA was the Dodgers & Mariners AAA home for decades. But when the stadium went in the dumpster.. the teams left. For the last decade Spokane, has been a single-A team city with teams [and teen-age players] from Yakima & Billings, Montana visiting. Nashville is about to be demoted to a league with Huntsville - if we are lucky enough to stay at that level.

By: bfra on 12/12/12 at 9:56

TimSkow - Did you not read the article? The Sounds are not looking for a new stadium, they are interested in a lease extension.

By: PKVol on 12/12/12 at 10:14

Knoxville moved their team up I-40 to exit 407 at Kodak and became the Tennessee Smokies. While they draw from Knoxville, they decided being 20 miles from downtown was a better move for them.

I don't know if the Sounds are willing to make a similar move towards Hendersonville, Franklin, Murfreesboro or Lebanon, but the idea has been floated in the past.

By: Jughead on 12/12/12 at 11:29

Greer IS a pit compared to other league parks. There's a reason why attendance is nosediving....who wants to go to that dump? Dirty, restrooms are permanently urine-stained, crappy food, sucky traffic.

By: bfra on 12/12/12 at 11:35

Jughead - Then why don't you build them a new stadium?

By: Jughead on 12/12/12 at 4:01

@bfra: Sure! Anyone seen my sakrete and duct tape?

By: bfra on 12/12/12 at 4:21

You will need some nails & a hammer also. LOL

By: joe41 on 12/13/12 at 8:22

"Knoxville, Chattanooga, Jackson & Memphis all have relatively new minor league baseball ball parks"

Knoxville didn't want to build a new stadium so the owners move it to Sevierville where they (Sevier County) built the stadium

Joe

By: joe41 on 12/13/12 at 8:23

We are about to lose an opportunity.

Joe

By: BigPapa on 12/13/12 at 8:46

It's time to put The Sounds out of our misery.

By: TimSkow on 12/13/12 at 9:36

Tim Skow
A visit or 2 to "the Dumpster known as Greer" must tell anyone that this situation is coming to a head sooner rather than later. Any team playing there may agree to a very short-term contract - WHILE THEY"RE LOOKING FOR A PLACE TO MOVE TO

Remember: If YOU don't apprecaite & respect who you have, KNOW that someone else will. Look guys - Nashville is forcing The Sounds to begin looking for "the bigger & better deal" ... and WHEN they find it, they will be gone. And we deserved it !

Happens all the time, just ask fans of the Baltimore Colt & Los Angeles Rams.

By: BigPapa on 12/13/12 at 9:42

I hope they find some where to go. We are beyond minor league baseball and sh!tty racing at the FG. Two things that just need to die, while we're killing those things we should tear down the Municipal Auditorium too.