Baseball insiders all agree — Sounds need new stadium badly

Monday, December 10, 2012 at 1:16am

Buck Showalter thought he’d hit the jackpot when the New York Yankees switched Double-A affiliates and relocated to Nashville in 1980.

A 23-year-old, left-handed hitting designated hitter, Showalter was awestruck by Greer Stadium, which had just been built in 1978.

“It was the Taj Mahal when I was there,” said Showalter, now the manager of the Baltimore Orioles. “It was probably the best facility in Double-A at that time. The attendance, I think we drew close to 500,000 that one year. They were roping off the warning track. It was a great time for baseball in Nashville at that time.”

It didn’t take long for views to change.

As the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers — the current parent club of the now Triple-A Nashville Sounds — Ron Roenicke doesn’t want to bite the hand that feeds him. But when he spent a year playing for the Sounds, he couldn’t ignore the obvious.

“They could have used a new stadium then,” the 56-year-old recalls about his stint in Nashville in 1988.

Last week, when Major League Baseball migrated to Nashville and Opryland Hotel for its annual Winter Meetings, a bevy of current big-league managers turned nostalgic. Along with Showalter and Roenicke, Don Mattingly (Los Angeles Dodgers), Bob Melvin (Oakland A’s), Dale Sveum (Chicago Cubs) and Robin Ventura (Chicago White Sox) all played at Greer Stadium for the Sounds.

Each echoed the same sentiment of many Nashville residents and baseball enthusiasts — the city needs a new baseball stadium. They also would hate to see Nashville lose baseball.

After studying the issue a year ago, Mayor Karl Dean’s administration has been silent on the issue of a new park.

Co-owner Frank Ward recently squashed an industry-wide rumor that the Sounds were up for sale. He also said the ownership group of MFP Baseball is pursuing adding minority shareholders.

“We believe in Nashville’s rich and colorful baseball history and believe the hard work of our staff over the past four seasons proves our commitment is long-term,” Ward said in a statement. “Despite the challenges of playing in the oldest ballpark in Triple-A baseball, we have elevated baseball’s relevance within the Nashville sporting scene.”

Ward was scheduled to meet with city officials last week to discuss extending Greer Stadium’s lease, which expires at the end of 2013. This meeting comes more than a year after the city identified three locations near downtown for a new stadium. Ward was not made available for further comment.

Back in September, the Brewers extended their affiliate agreement with the Sounds through the end of the 2014 season. In doing so, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin hinted that a future relationship might hinge on a new stadium.

“While the current facility and conditions are not totally satisfactory, we remain loyal and are very supportive of the ownership and Frank Ward in his continued efforts to get a much-needed new park,” Melvin said then. “As general manager of a major league franchise, I totally believe in this ownership, and if we can get the same support from the city, Nashville will be one of the most desirable franchises in minor league baseball.”

Several current skippers remember the days when Nashville was a destination city for aspiring big-league baseball players.

For Sveum, those days weren’t too long ago. At the end of a 13-year career that featured stops with seven big-league teams, he spent three months with the Sounds in 1999. 

“It was nice coming to 8,000 to 10,000 people a night playing here,” he said. “It was a fun experience. We had a great team. So it was a lot of fun. It’s a great city. Obviously, we all know what kind of city it is, but definitely they need a new ballpark to keep up with the rest of the country.”

An aging venue without lavish amenities, Greer has struggled to draw fans. This past season the Sounds drew 321,042 for 72 home games (an average of 4,792 per game). It was the third lowest attendance total in the Pacific Coast League. Along with a hot June, the Sounds were hindered by five rainouts, forcing doubleheaders that saw smaller crowds.

It was the lowest attendance mark since only 305,434 came out in 2009 — the first year of the current ownership group. The Sounds last eclipsed the 400,000 mark in 2007.

Meanwhile, just down the road in Memphis, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cardinals has flourished. The Redbirds play downtown at sparkling AutoZone Park. The Redbirds drew 493,706 fans last year and have been among the league leaders in attendance since the park opened in 2000.

Showalter, who met his wife in Nashville and whose in-laws still live here, recently visited Memphis and marveled at the new Taj Mahal of Triple-A.

“There’s no reason why Nashville shouldn’t have that. It has been a constant. It is a great baseball city,” Showalter said. “I actually think they could support somebody at any level they wanted to. Football has done well. I think the hockey’s done well. I’m a little surprised there hasn’t been more talk about them during the expansion time.”    

14 Comments on this post:

By: bobyounts@comca... on 12/10/12 at 8:29

If the Sounds are required to build a new stadium with the income from their ticket sales, they won't complete the parking lot. The Nashville Sounds may have released numbers that show almost 400,000 tickets sold in 2012, but those figures are bogus, created by a front office that wouldn't dare release the actual numbers. Here's my proposal: If the Sounds can sell enough tickets to pay for half of a new stadium, the city will match the funds and pay for the other half. Trust me property owners of Davidson County, you won't be paying for a new baseball park.

By: joe41 on 12/10/12 at 8:53

Build a new stadium that could be upgraded to a major league facility. Nashville has a region stepped in baseball (The last two Cy Young recipients grew up in Nashville Mtero) and people here deserve a facility worthy of that fact. Sure, there are people opposed, however, look at what you can do to help bring people down town. Build it please!

By: JeffF on 12/10/12 at 9:34

I thought we had finally gotten the press to accept the fact that Memphis is not a baseball success stories. Attendance is higher, but so are their operating cost. They defaulted on bonds a long time ago even with higher attendance. The bondholders took over stadium management and put their own people in charge and the Redbird ownership has been trying to sell for 3 1/2 years.

What good is higher attendance if it cannot generate revenues to sustain the operation? The Redbirds are located too far away from their customers in East Shelby County and Est Memphis. But for a while it sure looked like a success with all that new development that has since been shuttered up.

Quit with this fascination with downtown minor league baseball and build a stadium for minor league baseball fans, not fanboys and baseball hags who wish they had their own little version of Wrigley or Camden Yards. Look at the rest of entire list of baseball attendance and you will see an actual dearth of downtown locations actually succeeding. Unless you consider Round Rock and Lehigh Valley major metropolitan areas. Memphis is behind five franchises in the PCL not located in downtown areas.

By: JeffF on 12/10/12 at 9:36

By: Jughead on 12/10/12 at 10:52

Build a stadium downtown and use it for outdoor concerts in the summer. It will pay for itself.

By: NewYorker1 on 12/10/12 at 3:38

If the Sounds need a new stadium, then they should purchase some land, hire an architect, get all the permits, and build it. Why do they keep running this story in the paper?

By: gm0168 on 12/10/12 at 4:22

JeffF, considering what the Redbirds USED to play in, very comparable to what the Sounds play in now, this is a very successful baseball story. I, along with several friends go to Memphis every baseball season for several Redbird games. Thank god Memphis is a Cardinal city, and always has been. I get so tired of the Braves around here! As for the development that has "shuddered" around the stadium, you need to make a trip. There are no shuddered buildings, and brand new apartments/restaurants/bars being built in the vicinity of the stadium now, in addition to what is already there. Of course the newness does wear off, the stadium is 12 years old, but given that I wouldn't take my dog for a walk (day or night) where the Sounds stadium is now, I'll take Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga and Jackson stadiums any day on a hot summer night.

By: courier37027 on 12/10/12 at 5:37

There is land in Lebanon at Nashville Super Speedway. That gilded t..urd was built with the glint of hope that if we build a large facility NASCAR will give this area back a Winston/Sprint Cup race. It should not be too long before someone goes all Richard Fulton Summer Olympics pipe dream comment and suggest Nashville should be an MLB city.

Based on Joe's hypothesis that two local Cy Young Award winners grew up here, new stadium name of Price-Dickey should honor these legends.

By: 4gold on 12/10/12 at 7:06

I distinctly remember the present stadium being built by Schmitou and saying it could be upgraded to a major league ballpark. I went to a lot of games early on. Remember them asking for volunteers to come help lay sod in the rain so the first game could be played. The last thing I want in this town now is another major league team of any kind. We have enough over paid low lives in town already. And dont even think of raising my property tax again. I am going to have to leave Davidson Co. Go live in Wiliamson so I get all of Nashvilles perks for free.

Go Dores, Preds, Titans! Go Nashville a great place to live!

By: Ask01 on 12/10/12 at 9:08

I will echo the sentiment of the majority: if the Sounds want a new stadium, they need to build it themselves.

Perhaps some of the rich sports fans or business people who keep telling us how much professional sports boosts the economy can contribute money.

I'm surprised Mayor Dean and the Metro Council haven't been falling all over themselves to give away tax payer money, especially since Mayor Dean doesn't have to worry about re-election.

By: JeffF on 12/11/12 at 9:29

There is nothing new being built anywhere near the stadium in Memphis because there is the big empty husk of Peabody Place that was often cited as a Redbirds success story. Not having lumber attached to the windows does not make the place a boomtown. The Redbirds management (the first ones, not the ones the bond owners put in place after the financial collapse) admitted they only had three years to make hay before the reality of minor league baseball came back.

The Redbirds are indeed playing in a prettier place, but the organization itself is in ruins because of the White Elephant constructed on their behalf. Only a baseball zealot with no conception of how the real world works financially and economically would ever dream to say they are in a better situation than they were before. Yes, they jumped to number one in attendance for three seasons (without making a profit), but that was a long way from the 6th place (PCL, 11th for AAA) and being run by Spectrum on behalf of the institutional bond owners.

I am sure if given a choice (and without a Memphis govt official in earshot), they would prefer to be in the suburbs with the successful and profitable minor league teams.

By: joe41 on 12/12/12 at 8:56

Columbus, Ohio seems to have a very successful downtown ball park. I attended a game there and was really impressed. Same with Winnipeg, Manitoba.


By: courier37027 on 12/12/12 at 8:30

Missing headline "Baseball insiders all agree — Sounds need new stadium badly, but will not put money where their mouth is. It is east to spend other people's money".

By: badfinger20 on 5/27/13 at 9:16

I'm really late on this one but its funny how Nashville bent over backwards to accommodate the titans but will not help the Sounds who have been here since the 70s. I just got back from watching the double A Lookouts and their stadium is awesome...makes Greer look like a little league park.

This would help traffic to the downtown businesses more than 8 times a year.