That plucky little town wants so badly the legitimacy and esteem that comes with keeping a pro baseball team that it's willing to pay everything, give up anything and get nothing in return -- and they're okay with that.
God bless 'em.
Winchester is a great town, a historic town, a proud little oasis in the Shenandoah Valley wilderness and a heck of a pitstop along I-81. I have friends all around Winchester, have broadcast high school football from its quaint downtown, have taken in many a Winchester Royals ballgame, have scarfed often at both Waffle Houses. My grandmother's final hospital visit was to Winchester.
Winchester is a fine town, a noble town. It is small and isolated and insular, a bastion of the South in Virginia's far north.
But it is but a town.
Winchester is exactly the sort of market that a Minor League Baseball club would be leaving if it were already there. A paucity of population, purchasing power and corporate support in similar-sized and -moneyed markets has led to the very recent or impending loss of pro ball in Martinsville, Chillicothe, Pittsfield, Kinston, Yakima and other places. Baseball is a business. If teams think its greener elsewhere, towns lose teams.
God bless Winchester for gaining one, no matter what those darned demographics say. Bless them for scoffing at the notion of fiscal investment and blithely donating their hard-earned public treasure -- for the sole benefit of an evidently mercurial Low SingleA-level outfit who's only feeling their proverbial oats because Bryce Harper just so happened to fill their coffers.
I hope the good people of Olde Winchester Towne know what their politicos are getting them into. The taxpaying citizens could use our blessings most of all.
I wasn't there but a colleague was, and he reports ~30 people spoke at the hearing and all but one were "extremely/adamantly against" (his words).
Among the points raised were: 1) how can per-game attendance of 3,500 be justified when Winchester Royals collegiate wood-bat team draws 500 per-game? 2) how come the city pays for everything and the team keeps all revenues (including naming rights and non-baseball)? 3) why put a pro ballpark on a public park (Jim Barnett Park), doing away with public-use fields?
Just in case people aren't aware -- and sadly, even people in Winchester are not aware, quick and quiet as these developments have been -- the City of Winchester is offering to attract the Hagerstown Suns with a fully publicly financed $15M 5,000-seat facility off I-81 and letting the team keep virtually all revenues from the park.
It could very well be the most lopsided, anti-taxpayer stadium deal in a very long while, more so even than Gwinnett -- and Winchester is not nearly as affluent as Gwinnett.
Winchester City Counsil's next hearing on this topic is March 13. Hopefully much will have changed about this deal by then -- or Hagerstown will step up and make needed investments to keep the Suns there, as probably most people outside of Winchester would like to see.
The Winchester City Council did infact put it to a vote yesterday, and after hearing some extremely impassioned and often eloquent pleas to keep Jim Barnett Park the community gathering place it is, interspersed amid calls to maintain Bridgeforth Field and be loyal to the Royals of the Valley League the proposed transfer of public land for the purpose of a minor league baseball stadium was voted down 8-0.
The system works.
Winchester may yet get professional baseball (maybe), someday, but not now and certainly not this fast-and-loose deal. Winchester needs to get professional baseball professionally.
The problem is that the Legends would need to be playing on the western or southern side of town. Closer to Nicholasville, Harrodsburg or Versailles.
With Whitaker Bank Park located so conveniently close to I-64 (which feeds right into Winchester) it's an easy trip to see a Solid A Team in one of the best minor league parks in the USA.
Winchester can't compete with them on that.