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Washington-Baltimore region the perfect place for a salvaged Major League Baseball season | COMMENTARY

Major League Baseball is looking for a way to salvage this year's baseball season.
Major League Baseball is looking for a way to salvage this year's baseball season. (Kevin Richardson)

Maryland and its regional neighbors have a marvelous, unexplored opportunity beckoning: hosting the start of the Major League Baseball season in an area that has the facilities, locations and the climate to bring tremendous pleasure and excitement to baseball-starved fans — once stay-at-home orders are lifted.

Even with unresolved, overriding health-related questions of how to proceed for players, staff and their families, the league and the Players Association appear willing to try almost anything to get the season started, with no fans in the stands. The idea they tried first, the “Arizona Plan,” seemed to be tied to the geography of stadium availability. It fell apart thanks to common sense from people like Angels manager Joe Maddon about weather.

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After all, the daily average temperature in June in Phoenix ranges from 101 to 106 degrees, and the record is 122 degrees. Another plan, adding Florida, falls flat, too. Ask minor leaguers about Florida summer games, day or night. The Gulf Coast League is colloquially known as the Gulf Roast League.

Give Major League Baseball this much credit: The underlying idea, based on the availability of professional level stadiums reasonably close together makes eminent sense. Leaving aside the tremendous health and logistical questions for the experts, there are multiple reasons why this area would be suitable.

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It’s important to take a broad, regional view, starting with the stadiums. Of course, we have Camden Yards and Nationals Park, as well as facilities in Bowie, Frederick, Hagerstown, Salisbury and Aberdeen in Maryland. There is Fredericksburg in Virginia, as well as Northwest Federal Field at Pfitzner Stadium, or “The Pfitz” in Prince William County, a Nats’ affiliate venue through last year. Nearby are teams in Wilmington, Delaware and Harrisburg and Reading, Pennsylvania. That’s 12, all within a three-hour drive of each other.

There are other options: independent ball stadiums in Waldorf and York and Lancaster Pennsylvania, within a three-hour drive of Fredericksburg as well. Richmond and Norfolk, Virginia, aren’t much further, if independent leagues don’t seem appealing. The three-hour driving times between locations are workable in today’s abnormal traffic conditions.

Proximity was an important factor in Arizona, where map programs show it about an hour drive between the two most distant locations. Our area can’t match that, obviously. However, we stack up well against Florida. Dunedin to West Palm Beach, the farthest apart locations are nearly four hours apart so there’s no geographic advantage for Florida. There is even recent talk about games in Texas, where Corpus Christi and Midland, whose minor league stadiums would seem to be part of a plan are, um, 469.8 miles apart.

There is another important positive point. Our region is the best choice from a geographic standpoint. Intuitively, that may not make sense, but take a look elsewhere. No other major metro area has a similar number of professional facilities clustered so close together. Not New York. Not Chicago. Not California.

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There also needs to be buy-in from owners and stadium operators in this area, certainly. Would they welcome games played at their facilities? The answer seems like an obvious yes. So let’s ask them. Another nagging question is the condition of some of the facilities mentioned above. Some clearly are in better shape than others, but the argument here is that the focus should be on the fields themselves, which seem to be (or in The Pfitz’s case — were recently) acceptable.

The flaws previously detected in some locations seem to be more with facility features that don’t matter with no fannies in the seats. Certainly, this area’s facilities are better than, or at worst comparable to those in Florida and Arizona, where some spring training facilities have great reputations, and others, not so much.

Baseball anywhere. of course, would be a tremendous benefit for fans and players alike. In this region, it also would obviously, and greatly, help to divert the focus from the horrific realities and the politics of COVID-19. Those are, of course, far more important discussions and debates to have, but literally giving us a break and a distraction from the daily trench warfare in Washington absolutely is still another positive.

If you want proof of baseball’s attractiveness, ask avid Nats fan and brave expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He’s trying to move us all forward safely, and supports a baseball season with the right precautions. It’s time to play ball. Here, Dr. Fauci, it’s your pitch (if you’re allowed in to throw it). You’ve earned it.

An Orioles season ticket holder, Rip Watson (ripley.watson@gmail.com) is a veteran journalist, who has written for Bloomberg News and multiple transport industry publications and companies, including CSX.

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