It will come as no surprise to anyone that there is no pennant fever in Hagerstown for the first-place Hagerstown Suns of the South Atlantic League.
A widely scattered gathering of maybe 210 quiet customers trickled into Municipal Stadium on a Monday night when the hometown Suns were in a flat-footed tie at the top of the standings with the team they were playing, the Lakewood BlueClaws, an affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.
After finishing in second place in the seven-team divisional standings when the first half of the league’s split season ended, the Suns were on top of the same heap after 26 games of the second half.
But where were the people? The same people that will supposedly flock to a new stadium near downtown if the City Fathers see fit to cast millions of taxpayer dollars at some builder’s feet?
They were some place else. Maybe they didn’t want to pay $9 for an adult ticket. Maybe they didn’t want to pay $3 for a 20-ounce plastic bottle of Mountain Dew.
It is much more likely they didn’t give a fig about a low Class A pennant race with teams filled with rosters full of players they didn’t know and won’t ever see in the major leagues.
The people stayed away from Municipal Stadium when Washington Nationals outfielder Rick Ankiel made a publicized rehab appearance in a Suns uniform. Those same thousands were elsewhere when Nationals outfielder Michael Morse came for a rehab assignment. Pitcher Chen-Ming Wang of the Nationals didn’t bring them out when he was in town getting in rehabilitation innings.
If a costly new stadium is built at the juncture of Baltimore St. and Summit Ave. isn’t the team the people that are predicted to come watch by Mayor Bob Bruchey and several City Council members going to also be in the low Class A South Atlantic League?
The Suns won by a 5-4 count in 10 innings that sultry Monday night. They stayed in first place as surely as the few patrons stayed seated on their hands.
There was little excitement. Even the faux excitement the PA announcer attempted to generate was met by silence.
After the national anthem had been sung with enthusiasm and talent, the rest of the night was anti-climactic.
Suns’ mascot Woolie B. was in sight and available for some pre-game doings . . . but after making a second-inning showing when he threw two tee-shirts into the stands he was gone for the night. Woolie might have changed his orange outfit decorated by the one tooth dangling from his mouth into an outfit that resembled a mustard-ladened hot dog snuggled into a bun. The bun made a quick trip along the first row of the stands handing out about 10 free hot dogs.
A pizza was given to a family from Ohio and the hole-in-one contest couldn’t find a winner so two contestants were given consolation prizes. The “Coolest Fan in Municipal Stadium” contest had two teens unraveling tee-shirts. And two unluckly teens were selected to see which one could eat five jalapeno peppers the fastest. Neither could eat all five peppers.
By the time four innings had been played, Woolie B. was somewhere else, all the contests were over, and it began to get dark at Municipal Stadium, a place where the lights on six poles are as ineffective as might be expected for a place built in 1930.
Lakewood’s centerfielder, Aaron Altherr, made two stellar defensive plays to stymie rallies attempted by the hometown Suns. Hagerstown third baseman Matt Skole stroked his 22nd home run in his 86 games this season in Hagerstown. Missed opportunities became a trademark of the suns, who would strand 14 runners before the end came in the 10th.
When it was over, Hagerstown had 13 hits . . . the team was still safely in first place in the second-half standings . . . Woolie B. was safely in bed . . . and the few hundred patrons walked quietly to their vehicles . . . and were gone into the night in three minutes.