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Playing Baseball 30's Style
The Hagerstown Suns
Playing Baseball 30's Style
The Hagerstown Suns are a minor league baseball team based in Hagerstown, Maryland.
This league has been moving steadily northward, gathering teams along the way. They are the Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals major-league club.
Newer ballparks are being built almost yearly to maximize team profits while older stadiums are becoming relics of the past. The Municipal Stadium is just that...a relic. The Hagerstown Suns truly have it made playing 21st century baseball in the 1930s baseball atmosphere.
The Municipal Stadium, home to the Hagerstown Suns, which seats 4,600 fans, was built in 1931, and has been a part of many different leagues throughout the years, including: The Eastern League, Carolina League, Piedmont League, and the Interstate League.
Throughout the 40s and the 50s there were a few different teams that played at the stadium. The minor leagues were more so during the 40s and 50s - that being the Hagerstown Owls and the Hagerstown Packets. Throughout the 60s and 70s there really wasn't baseball at the stadium, "it was mostly used for town use and high school games and different types of tournaments, but not any kind of professional baseball," said Will Smith, general manager at the Municipal Stadium.
The Suns came to town in 1981. The first year they were a co-op team, not really an affiliate of any one particular team, but actually affiliated with five! "Each organization fed to about five players and that's how they made up their team," Smith said. Grady Little, who managed the Red Sox and currently manages the Dodgers, was the manager at that time. When he managed, "they won their first championship the first year and they haven't done it since. We came close a few years ago, we had a good team, but we lost in the championship," said Smith.
They started out as a Carolina league affiliate in 1981, which is what the Frederick Keys are playing in now. The Hagerstown Suns were with the Frederick Keys Franchise. They were owned by a group called Maryland Baseball at the time and were picked up and moved to Frederick, because they got a new stadium built for them.
Without skipping a beat, "the Hagerstown team sort of got lucky and pulled a AA team in here, which is kind of amazing because usually the bigger better markets get the bigger better team," said Smith. "AA is a step up from Class A Advanced, which is what Frederick Keys were.
"The Hagerstown team was in the Eastern league for a few years until they left and went to Bowie when Bowie built the new stadium for the Bowie Baysocks. That franchise picked up and left around 1993. There are 16 teams in a league. The team moved here from Mytrle Beach. When that team came here, the Blankstones owned that team for a long time until it was sold -- actually the day that I was offered my job here in December of 2002 is the day that the team was sold from the Blankstones to a group called Big Game Capital. They only owned the team for about a year and then they sold it to the Los Angeles based Mandalay Sports Properties, which is the current owner."
Eventually the team went from the AA franchise in '93 to a single A franchise, which is the South Atlantic League Hagerstown Suns. "They were the Myrtle Beach Hurricanes at the time. They were a Toronto affiliate down there, and that just moved with them up here. So then we just began a run of 6 years as the Toronto Blue Jays affiliates."
Then in 2000 the team switched to the San Francisco Giants for 5 years - 2000 to 2004. Then were a New York Mets affiliate from 2005 to 2006. And now in 2007 are an affiliate of the Washington Nationals franchise. "We've kind of come full circle. Even with the three different franchises it has always been the Hagerstown Suns here," Smith explained.
To explain how an affiliate works, Smith described it to playing musical chairs except you never take away a chair. "There's a Class A, which is what we are - there are 30 Class A teams, there are 16 in the South Atlantic team and there's 14 in the Mid-West league. Essentially what happens is you have the 30 franchises, then you have the 30 major league baseball teams, so every year a few people get up, move around, and they sit in different chairs."
The Suns' home stadium is a grand old ballpark with its wooden plank bleachers and 30's style grandstand. There just aren't many of these old ballparks left. The Municipal Stadium is the 4th or 5th oldest [stadium] in minor league baseball.
Visiting the Municipal Stadium and watching the Hagerstown Suns play is like watching a game from an era long past. The Hagerstown Suns mascot is The Wooly B (previously known as Wooly Bear Caterpillar).
Hagerstown Municipal Stadium is the site of one of the greatest historical moments in baseball history. Willie Mays, one of baseball's greatest legends ever, made his professional baseball debut right on this field. He was a member of the visiting Trenton (NY Giants) team in 1950 at the time.
To contact the Municipal Stadium, call 301-791-6266 or visit www.hagerstownsuns.com.
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