A May 26 Metro article incorrectly said that Maryland has four minor-league baseball teams. It has five; the article omitted the Hagerstown Suns. (Published 5/28/04)
Efforts to bring minor league baseball to Charles County accelerated yesterday as county commissioners signed an agreement with private investors to share in the costs of building a 4,500-seat ballpark.
Though the county has no commitment from a league or team to play there, officials said they envision a ballpark in Hughesville -- often described as Southern Maryland's geographic center -- as early as spring 2006. "I'd like to see us fast-track this. . . . I'm ready to say 'play ball,' " said Commissioner Al Smith (R-Waldorf).
The plans call for the stadium costs, estimated at $15.7 million, to be divided equally among the county, the state and Maryland Baseball LLC, a company that owns and operates minor league baseball franchises. Commissioners unanimously agreed yesterday to proceed with the ballpark's design, and committed an initial $300,000 for the work.
The state has yet to agree to its proposed share: $5.25 million. Charles officials said they hoped to secure all or portions of the state money during next year's General Assembly session.
Peter Kirk, chairman of Maryland Baseball, said he has discussed the Southern Maryland location with five minor leagues, whose teams typically are affiliated with Major League Baseball franchises and develop players for them. One variable, Kirk said, is whether the major league Montreal Expos relocate to either Northern Virginia or the District and, as a result, desire a nearby minor league affiliate.
Major League Baseball officials have said a decision about the Expos will be made this summer.
Already, Maryland is home to four minor league teams -- Bowie, Frederick, Aberdeen and Salisbury. Maryland Baseball owned the franchises in Bowie, Frederick and Salisbury before selling them to Comcast-Spectator, a subsidiary of the cable television giant, in June 2000.
Kirk said Maryland Baseball sold the franchises to concentrate on the team it owns in Aberdeen, which began play in 2002. The team sold out the 6,000-seat Ripken Stadium for each of its 38 home games that season.
Mike Munter, general manager of the Bowie Baysox, who play 42 miles north of Hughesville, said his team draws 13 percent to 15 percent of its fans from Southern Maryland. If a team is placed in Hughesville, it would be the shortest distance between cities with minor league franchises in the state, he said. There also is a team in the Virginia community of Woodbridge, about 50 miles from Hughesville.
"Whether this market can support both teams remains to be seen," said Munter, who has worked for the Baysox in various capacities since Maryland Baseball relocated the team from Hagerstown in 1993. "Southern Maryland is a good area for baseball. More baseball is definitely a good thing, but I don't know what type of impact [a team in Hughesville] would have."
This is not the first time that Charles County has flirted with minor league baseball. In the mid-1980s, a ballpark was to have been built in Charles, but the county commissioners backed out of the agreement when they determined that it was not financially feasible, officials said. Instead, the stadium was built in Bowie, in Prince George's County.
At that time, the county had pledged to pay for the entire stadium, and the owner of a minor league team had committed to play there for only one season. "This is a much better deal for the county," said Murray D. Levy (D-At Large), president of the county commissioners.
Under current plans, the Hughesville ballpark would be built on an 8-acre parcel along Route 5 just north of Route 231. In February, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) announced funding for the Hughesville bypass, which officials say will alleviate traffic backups in the area.
Several Hughesville residents and businesspeople said they were concerned that a ballpark would generate too much traffic during the baseball season. "It could be a real nightmare. I'm still waiting for the bypass," said Veronica Smith, an antiques dealer in Hughesville. "If it didn't bother the traffic, then I wouldn't have a problem with it."