Munsey on Ballparks
by Paul Munsey (archive)
April 2, 2005
Can you believe that Opening Day is tomorrow? I don't know about you, but winter sure went by fast for me. Not that I'm complaining. I welcome the arrival of spring and the renewal it brings.
Having been born and raised in Massachusetts, the Red Sox are a part of my life. It's something that I can't shake, no matter how hard I try, even though I haven't lived anywhere near Boston in over twenty-five years. And, believe me, I have tried. The past year, however, as I'm sure everybody in the world now knows, has been a good year to be a Red Sox fan.
I'm a bit apprehensive about the prospect of my Red Sox starting the season at Yankee Stadium. I had hoped to enjoy watching Opening Day ceremonies at Fenway Park on April 11th, when they will raise the championship banner. However, I'm feeling a certain dread about the time between now and that day. The Yankees have only gotten stronger, while the Red Sox have lost two of the pitchers who helped them win the World Series.
My nightmare scenario has the Red Sox getting pounded by the Yankees in New York. Then, having been demoralized, they get swept by the Blue Jays in Toronto. What if they show up in Boston with a 0-6 record? I know that's unnecessarily pessimistic, but I'm a Red Sox fan. And you can be sure that there are millions of others just like me feeling the same dread right about now.
Am I imagining things, or did the baseball season used to start in Cincinnati every year? As a kid, I was told that since the Reds were baseball's oldest team, they had the honor of starting the season. When did that tradition end?
I understand that the Council of the District of Columbia voted last week to un-invite President Bush to throw out the ceremonial first pitch when the Nationals play their first regular season game at RFK Stadium. Members of the Council apparently thought this was a good opportunity to express their displeasure over the fact that the District of Columbia doesn't get to vote for President of the United States. Fortunately, Mayor Anthony Williams gets the final say, and the President will be at RFK Stadium to reestablish the tradition started by his predecessor, William Taft, almost one hundred years ago.
I keep reading news out of Las Vegas that they think they have a chance to land a Major League Baseball team. It doesn't seem likely right now, but this is the kind of thing that takes years to accomplish, and time is on their side.
Many have voiced concern that Las Vegas isn't wholesome enough to host a Major League Baseball team. Apparently, however, they're wholesome enough for a Pacific Coast League baseball team. The Las Vegas 51's have been playing in that city for many years. Also, bear in mind that the city has changed dramatically from its old Rat Pack image as an adult playground. Increasingly, Las Vegas is becoming a destination resort for families.
Another concern is that Las Vegas is a tourist town, and doesn't have a large enough population to provide a stable fan base. To a certain degree, that is true. However, tourism can be good for a sports franchise, as I will explain later, and rapid growth is taking care of any population concerns.
Did you know that Las Vegas is the fastest growing metropolitan area in the country? Their population has been doubling every twelve years. If that rate continues, then in another decade a Las Vegas team would have a fan base of about three-and-a-half million people, the seventeenth largest in the country.
Several years ago, when the Giants were about to move into SBC Park, then called Pacific Bell Park, I had a conversation with a ticket broker from San Francisco. I expressed doubt about whether the team's new ballpark would translate into improved attendance. For decades, the Giants had always had a loyal, but small, fan base in San Francisco. I just couldn't see how there were enough fans living in the area to fill up a 41,000 seat ballpark every night.
She expressed confidence that the Giants attendance would be excellent for many years to come. When I asked her why she felt so strongly about it, she told me about how almost all of her business came from tourists. The new ballpark was built near downtown San Francisco, close to the hotels where tourists stay. If there is one thing that is always plentiful in San Francisco, it's tourists. Five years later, attendance is going strong and tourism is keeping it that way.
I don't have statistics handy, but I'm pretty sure that Las Vegas gets at least as many tourists as San Francisco. As their population continues to grow, I think it is safe to say that it is just a matter of time until we see Las Vegas listed in the MLB standings.
Paul Munsey is the editor of Ballparks.com.
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