Friday, March 10, 2006

San Antonio Marlins

Since I've been busy doing the new father thing, I haven't had a chance to comment on San Antonio's latest flirtation with a pro sports team that wants a new stadium. This time, it's the Florida Marlins of Major League Baseball that are making goo-goo eyes, and the Alamo City is making them right back:
County Judge Nelson Wolff said Thursday that two potential baseball stadium sites in Northeast Bexar County have been mentioned to the Florida Marlins, and a third in that area will be passed on to the team.

"We showed them land near (Retama Park in Selma) and also the Longhorn Quarry," Wolff said.

The third site is in Live Oak near Loop 1604 and Interstate 35.

All three sites for the proposed open-air, baseball-specific stadium are privately owned.

"We'll show them any site that has potential," Wolff said at a luncheon for the Northeast Partnership for Economic Development, a coalition of Randolph AFB-area suburban cities.

Wolff's comments came one day after he informed the Marlins that the county would put up to $200 million toward an estimated $300 million ballpark if voters were to extend taxes on hotel occupancy and rental cars.

First things first, they're not going to build a Major League stadium for $300 million. Actually, they could, but that's if land was already in hand. It's not, although there are prime locations available. And that doesn't include a retractable roof to the stadium, either, which isn't necessarily necessary in San Antonio, but is pretty much the standard with new stadiums these days. Even with construction costs in Texas being cheaper, as Wolff rightly points out, you're still looking at a price tag of $350 million, minimum, after land acquisition, and possibly up to $450 million despending on the roof issue and other whistles and bells. If you anticipate the Marlins kicking in $100 million, that still leaves a $50-100 million gap in total public investment. That reveals Wolff's offer as what it truly is--a serious offer of earnest money, designed to get the Marlins' attention and scare off other potential suitors, such as Charlotte and Portland. I'm actually quite pleased with the locations they're considering:

I live right up I-35, just off the north end of this map. Retama Park's just about a 10 minute drive from my house. The site at the old Longhorn Quarry is just over 15 minutes, depending on traffic. I actually looked at some houses near the quarry about four years back when I was working in San Antonio. So any of these three locations are okay by me.

But what of the bigger issue? Can San Antonio support Major League Baseball? A decade or so back, the answer for me was easy: Hell yes! I'd never seen a city better suited for baseball. With generally low-priced tickets and a broad appeal to Hispanics, I was baffled as to why San Antonio had only a AA Texas League franchise in the Missions. Hadn't recently-completed Wolff Stadium set a new standard for first-class minor league ballparks, allowing the Missions to move out of venerable V.J. Keefe? Hadn't the Missions set Texas League attendance records? In the early 90s, the Missions also set national merchendising records with their redesigned uniforms and logos.

Ah, how wisdom comes with age. That beautiful Wolff Stadium hasn't seen a dime invested in it over the past 15 years, and is looking pretty shabby at the seams. The Missions have been begging for years to take over the stadium's management from the city, just so they can make much-needed improvements, but nobody in city hall can be bothered. Attendance has lagged while glorious new state-of-the-art parks have opened in Austin and Corpus Christi. San Antonio's being lapped by other communities. But minor league baseball has flourished in San Antonio for more than a century. The tradition is here.

Unfortunately, the biggest sticking point in SA's ability to support the Marlins may be baseball's fundamental economics. They're messed up. When scrub utility players make on average $2.5 million per year, there's something wrong. There's no salary cap. There's no revenue sharing. There are strikes every few years, with millionaires fighting billionaires. There's Barry Bonds and steroids and gambling scandals... I don't know if San Antonio can support that. Not 40,000 seats' worth of support for a full Major League season schedule. And that's not San Antonio's fault--it's baseball's. When you have only a handful of teams--New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta--that are capable of turning a profit on a regular basis, while everyone else is left grasping for table scraps... sheesh.

The corporate base is here. AT&T is now the world's largest telecomm. Toyota is ramping up production while GM and Ford shed tens of thousands of jobs. A second pro franchise can co-exist with the Spurs in this city without the two cannibalizing each other. The NFL, with the existing fan base and 8 home dates to sell out in the Alamodome would be an easy sell. You couldn't not make money with that one. One would think the same holds true with baseball--and with the strong Latino makeup of most Major League rosters, marketing shouldn't be a problem. But would a San Antonio franchise survive the next round of self-destruction that grips baseball every few years? I'm dubious. Baseball is simply too messed up.

But hey, I'm all for throwing caution to the wind and giving it a shot. I've always like Major League Baseball more than any other pro sport, and am too far away to really suffer the trials and tribulations of the Astros' fans this year (and every other year besides). Having a team, literally, right down the street would be a blast. I just hope they change the name, because really, San Antonio Marlins? Personally, I'd got with Vaqueros, but your mileage may vary.

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1 comment:

  1. Mom/Namo9:04 PM

    Calista & Keela keep taunting Dad. He did the same to his Mom when he was a kid. PAY BACK time, Daddy Jayme. Remember those terrible cable cars. Love,