Letting the Jacks skip


Will the Skipjacks, Baltimore's minor league hockey team, leave town following this season for lack of fan support? It's highly possible, but what most sports fans in this city really want to know is: Who will be the last pitcher picked for the Orioles' rotation and what did Glenn Davis, the oft-injured first baseman, eat for breakfast today?

Yes, the Orioles is a major-league team that plays a popular sport in a great stadium and the Skipjacks is a farm team in a lesser-appreciated sport that plays in a poor excuse for a sporting arena. Even so, the dichotomy between the civic fawning over the Orioles and yawning over the Jacks is striking.

Oriole fans may grumble about owner Eli Jacobs' reign, but they would happily pay to see his team play December exhibitions at 2 a.m. Followers of the Skipjacks, on the other hand, praise Tom Ebright as a committed and enthusiastic team owner who does everything but drive the Zamboni ice cleaner; for his troubles, he has $2.5 million in red ink to show for the last six years' efforts.

He has said he can't afford to lose any more and will either sell the team, or move it out of town or to the suburbs -- a long shot -- if he can arrange for a hockey facility to be built. Surely, the city has no obligation to Mr. Ebright; every business person takes the risk that the public doesn't want his or her product.

That said, however, it does Baltimore no benefit to lose the hockey team, the 40 winter dates it fills at the Arena, the $2 million it is said to contribute to the local economy in the form of concessions, parking, team payroll and hotel stays for visiting clubs.

City Councilman Joe DiBlasi has proposed that the city put up $150,000 to save the team, if the business community will match it by buying blocks of tickets for corporate entertainment. The councilman figures the city could give its tickets to disadvantaged kids, who have even less chance of seeing an Orioles game these days. Give Mr. DiBlasi credit for at least trying to spur a city dialogue on the issue; Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the Greater Baltimore Committee have been deafeningly silentabout the whole thing.

We are certain the pending revision of major league baseball's structure will not have the Orioles playing here between October and April. Humble though Baltimore's winter sports attractions may be, doesn't it behoove the city to support them?

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