Late last week, Nashville Sounds owner Frank Ward sat down with Metro officials in an effort to hammer out an extension for the triple-A baseball team’s lease at 34-year-old Greer Stadium.
All indications are the team is no longer asking for a new stadium — whether in Sulphur Dell or The Gulch or on the riverfront or the top of the Music City Center. And that’s well enough, because nobody from the mayor’s office seems interested in moving forward with that project. Indeed, the only recent talk of a new downtown stadium has come via delightfully on-point mentions by Powers Boothe’s Lamar Wyatt on ABC’s Nashville, and in another case of art imitating life, that particular McGuffin seems to have been all but abandoned by the show’s writers.
If Ward is happy with his team playing at Greer — at this point, held together with duct tape, spit and memories of Bye Bye Balboni — then more power to him. If he gets to go-ahead from the parent club Milwaukee Brewers to keep their top affiliate at an aging husk, then he’s certainly welcome to do so.
But it seems the Sounds are struggling on Chestnut Street. The team drew an average of 4,792 last season — third from the bottom in the Pacific Coast League.
But the stadium isn’t all that’s to blame for the Sounds’ attendance issues. Of the 16 PCL cities, six have major-league sports. Weirdly, other than Nashville, the other five — Sacramento, Memphis, Oklahoma City, New Orleans and Salt Lake City — all have NBA franchises, and only Nashville and New Orleans have two big-league teams.
Nashville is nowhere near being able to support Major League Baseball, though. Indeed, studies show the Music City is stretched cellophane-thin with its disposable income to support the Titans and Predators.
In baseball, there’s a term for a player who is just a bit too good for triple-A but not good enough for the majors.
Nashville is a quadruple-A city.
This isn’t to knock the Sounds, who served the city well in the ’80s and ’90s and were covered by beat writers day-in and day-out before the NFL and NHL came calling.
Minor league baseball is far more affordable than the sports entertainment at Fifth and Broadway, or on the East Bank. And there are few better ways to spend a languid summer night than out at the ballpark.
But civic support for a stadium isn’t coming. It seems at least Ward understands that. Certainly, if he wants to take the bold stance of paying for his own stadium, far be it from any of us to tell him no. In this day and age when pro sports teams hold cities hostage for new stadia and arenas, proposing to build his own playground would be a revolutionary act.
But, frankly, Ward is in a pickle. He doesn’t want to play at Greer — a press release shooting down rumors of the team’s relocation (rumors no one had heard) all but sneered the phrase “the PCL’s oldest stadium” — and the city doesn’t seem interested in building him a new stadium. He can stay at the old place or throw good money after bad and build himself a new joint.
None of those options seems feasible.
The Sounds and the city need to honestly evaluate themselves and decide if playing triple-A ball in a big-league city is a winning play.
If not — like the dilemma of the quadruple-A ballplayer — it may just be time to hang it up.