Saturday, February 3, 2018

Can Shreveport Attract Independent Baseball?

Postcard photo by Neil Johnson of Fair Grounds Field
I've got baseball fever.  Spring is coming; I can almost see it from here, and spring means baseball.

Shreveport does not have a professional baseball team; no minor league team, no independent team.

We had the Shreveport Captains, the Shreveport Sports, and  the Swamp Dragons, among others.  Now we have nothing. Our taxpayer-funded, once beautiful baseball stadium sits as an example of urban decay at the Shreveport fairgrounds serving primarily as a home for the city's bats (and I don't mean baseball bats.)  The stadium opened in 1986 and the last baseball game there was in 2011.

It is a crying shame.

In 2015, KTBS reported that the City of Shreveport still spends $200,000 per year to maintain the facility:
It costs $200,000 to maintain it but this isn't money the city is actually spending on the park. They're using staff and supplies from neighboring Independence Stadium to walk over and do things like maintain the exterior and power wash to keep down the smell of the poisonous bat droppings.
Now the field is covered in weeds and trash. SkyPixel has several drone photos of the park from 2015 which show an overgrown field, broken seats, broken windows in the press box, and with home plate and the pitcher's mound still covered as if someone is actually coming back to play.

In recent years there has been talk of demolishing the stadium which would cost about $450,000On the other hand, there are people in this community who would like to save Fair Grounds field and offer, if not professional baseball, something else there for people to enjoy.  There is a Facebook page, Rescue Fair Grounds Field, with over 500 followers, but nothing has happened.

In Shreveport we can still see baseball at the college level.  Both LSUS and Centenary have excellent teams and our community colleges also have baseball.  The Centenary field is within walking distance from our house and I can hear batting practice from my front yard. There is no sweeter sound.  We regularly attend those games and it is great fun!  Wouldn't it be fabulous if the baseball community came out to watch, too?  We sit among parents of the student players mostly.  There is little community support, although there is some.

There is no charge to get into a Centenary baseball game: it is free.

There is something about the game of baseball that is just magic to me.  I don't understand all of it and I'm not a lifelong student of baseball although I have always enjoyed watching it.

When we go to the Centenary games, I love sitting in the warm spring sun, getting that first blush of tan on my winter skin, listening to the songs on the PA system, the walk-up songs, the chatter and laughter of the parents around us.  Most of the time there are parents in the parking lot boiling crawfish or getting some BBQ feast ready for after the game and the scent infuses the air around us. I'll get some hot roasted peanuts and a coke, prop my feet up on the rail in front of me and get lost in the game before me.  The antics of the boys in the dugout are always hysterical; I love their camaraderie and love for each other and the game.  It's all-American.  There is nothing better.

I recently watched The Battered Bastards of Baseball on Netflix.  It's a 2014 documentary about the independent Portland Mavericks who played for five seasons under owner Bing Russell.  Narrated by his son (and former player himself) Kurt Russell, the film is a hilarious and nostalgic romp through the life of this team.:
Built around speed and reckless play, the Mavericks were initially looked upon as a joke - until Mavericks pitcher Gene Lanthorn threw a no-hitter in the team’s first game, and it was off to the races. The Mavericks proceeded to clobber their competition and set attendance records, becoming overnight media sensations covered by NBC, Sports Illustrated - even The New Yorker.  
 With a roster of ragamuffin players culled from open, public tryouts, the Mavericks shocked the baseball world in 1977 by achieving the highest winning percentage of any team at any level of the game (.667). The Mavericks became the team nobody wanted to play - a cocky, hard-partying Wild Bunch that regularly whipped squads boasting future major leaguers like Ozzie Smith, Dave Henderson, Dave Stewart or Mike Scioscia.
All that's missing is Annie Savoy.

But the documentary also makes one painfully nostalgic for local baseball.  One point the film makes is that the fans knew the players and the players were part of the community.  There is archival footage of the players in uniform sitting among the fans during the game. The locals supported the team in record breaking numbers. When corporate baseball came and forced the team out, attendance dropped like a rock.

So baseball comes and goes within a community.  It's a business -- a big business these days with million dollar contracts and personalities.  The price of a professional baseball ticket can set you back some serious change, but whenever we go to Des Moines we always go see an Iowa Cubs baseball game which is excellent baseball and costs a fraction of what you'd pay to see the Chicago Cubs, for example.

Is Shreveport a sports town?  Is it a "baseball town"?  We have hockey, rugby, soccer, even roller derby.  Will this town support minor league baseball? 

In 2016 a new independent league was announced: the Southwest League, which will include Louisiana.  They will reportedly begin playing in 2019 with six teams in Texas with growth expected in coming years. 

Could we tempt them to come to Shreveport?  Do we have anyone with the cash backing to lure them here?

Baseball started in Shreveport in 1872 and existed under various teams and leagues until 2011.  Isn't it time to bring it back?

What is stopping us?

Roy Lang:  Fair Grounds Field turns 30 Today (April, 2016)
What's to Become of Fair Grounds Field?  (KTBS, 2015)
Cal Ripkin, Sr.  Foundation
LSUS Baseball Schedule - 2018
Centenary Baseball Schedule - 2018
For the Love of the Game: Talking with Kurt Russell about The Battered Bastards of Baseball
The Southwest Baseball League


Anonymous said...

A great article and it hit the nail on the head.We need a baseball team and the people need to support it.Thank you for writing this

Kenneth J Krefft said...

Shreveport voters approved Fair Grounds Field in the 11/19/1983 general obligation bond issue under then Mayor John B Hussey, a day on which 6 of 7 bond propositions passed w/ only a new zoo failing. I attended the 1st ever game w/ our 3 sons in 4/86. Don't tell their mom that was a school night. Our pitcher was Charlie Corbell who tossed a shutout against the Jackson Mets. All thus is from my memory so free to correct any errors. We need baseball bats out there & not flying bats.

Anonymous said...

A good read on a successful team in Montgomery, Alabama.