The angry people in the audience like things just fine the way they are. They do not want big-time sports coming into their place. They do not need the congestion or the noise, the lights or the beer.
Hawking peanuts on a hot, sticky night is not their idea of economic development.
They do not like the smell of the arrangement -- the big corporation striking a deal with politicians while taxpayers get stuck with the tab.
They do not want a baseball stadium. They do not want the national pastime, not in their back yard.
The people in the audience are not in the District, but 40 miles away, in Hughesville in Charles County, where the government and the company that turned suburban Maryland into one of minor league baseball's biggest success stories now propose a 4,500-seat stadium for a new ballclub.
Just as in Washington, people in Hughesville -- a blink-and-you'll-miss-it crossroads less than 10 minutes from the Prince George's, Calvert and St. Mary's county lines -- argue that their community has no business building a stadium when it needs better schools, more police and real jobs.
"People are saying we can't do anything about this because it's a done deal," says Donna Cave, who runs PreserveHughesville.org, a group of about 200 residents that is fighting the ballpark. "But this is a rural community. I've got horses right across the street from me, and cows. We've kept it that way through the lack of sewer and water [systems]. We don't need all that here."
As in the District, some elected officials beg to differ. Charles County is growing fast, as people from Prince George's, Fairfax and Montgomery snap up new houses on former farmland. But Charles lacks the businesses and cultural amenities to round out its economy.
Hughesville, a timeworn collection of antique shops and boarded-up tobacco warehouses at Routes 5 and 231, will likely become a hub of Southern Maryland's three counties. To the county, the ballpark seemed the perfect way to jump-start development. With the state and Maryland Baseball, the team owner, each picking up a third of the costs, the county would get an $18 million stadium for $6 million.
Here's where the Hughesville and Washington anti-baseball crowds diverge. In the District, opponents close their eyes and make believe MCI Center never existed so they can argue that sports facilities do not promote other development. (And then the D.C. opponents add that if the stadium does spark development, we're against that, too.)
In Hughesville, opponents know what a stadium will do. "Additional development will follow, make no mistake," Preserve Hughesville's ads say. Then they argue against development, too.
In both places, the real issue is change.
Those who have not felt the benefits of the city's boom see the stadium as the ultimate symbol of their exclusion from the District's makeover. The mayor decided to hang out in China rather than sell the idea of baseball as a development tool. Council Chairman Linda Cropp, who well knows that the city needs a bigger tax base, decided instead to demagogue the issue.
In Hughesville, the opposition views the ballpark as its little piece of heaven's final descent into the faceless sprawl of suburban development.
"We have members who just moved here from Waldorf because of the congestion there," Cave says. "Now they find out about the stadium. We didn't move here for what's here; we moved here for what's not here."
In both places, the stadium would serve two purposes: It would improve the texture of daily life and spark investors to spend money and expand the tax base.
"For many years, Bowie and Frederick had the worst records in professional baseball," says Peter Kirk, chairman of Maryland Baseball, which formerly owned those minor league teams. "Yet they are among the most successful financially in the minor leagues." And the areas around those stadiums have seen brisk development in recent years.
Hughesville is still surrounded by red barns and broad fields. But that's changing quickly, without baseball. A stadium neither ruins a community nor saves it. But it can give a place some tools it needs to make life a bit better.
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