Friday, April 15, 2016
If city wants a baseball stadium, let's put it to a vote
A few years ago I visited Parque Central, a plaza in Old Havana.
The square is rimmed with scores of booksellers sitting by their folding tables and portable bookcases.
Offerings range widely: fiction, politics, history, art.
It is a cultural marvel, a gem of civilization.
But on one corner was a group of men disturbing the peace.
They stood nose to nose, yelling at each other with a passion that suggested that weapons might emerge any moment.
This is Havana’s Esquina Caliente, where men go to publicly engage in Cuba’s national pastime — arguing baseball.
The name, “Hot Corner,” is a baseball reference.
The hot corner is third base, where right-handed hitters pull their most stinging grounders.
Those hollering Cubans aren’t angry.
Actually, they’re having fun — in a serious sort of way.
It’s in that spirit that I engage an old friend at the San Antonio Express-News.
With city officials proudly announcing that San Antonio is in line to upgrade from a Double-A minor league baseball team to a Triple-A team, sports columnist Roy Bragg argued passionately that we are setting our sights too low.
We should be going for a Major League team.
He used an argument that is at the same time true and wildly misleading.
“We’re in that war with other Texas cities, specifically Dallas,” Roy wrote. “We’re bigger, but they’ve got more pro teams.”
San Antonio is indeed bigger than Dallas.
We are slightly more than 1.4 million.
Dallas is slightly less than 1.3 million.
That would be relevant if we allowed only city residents go to baseball games.
But teams make their money from markets, not cities.
The Dallas-Fort Worth market is at 6.4 million.
That’s almost three times as large as the San Antonio-New Braunfels market, which is at 2.1 million.
What’s more, the average wage for workers in the Dallas-Fort Worth market is a whopping 14 percent higher than the average wage here.
That’s why they aren’t the Dallas Rangers.
They’re the Texas Rangers.
And they don’t play in Dallas. They play in Arlington, between Dallas and Fort Worth.
These numbers are especially important when talking about baseball, as Henry Cisneros explained to me back in 1988.
A myth remains abroad that the then-mayor promised baseball at the Alamodome, but I remember a one-on-one conversation in which he explained to me — whom he knew to be a baseball fan — why baseball wasn’t on the table.
An NFL football team plays 10 games at home in a year, he noted.
And almost all of them are on Sunday afternoons, making it easy for fans to drive in from considerable distances.
Major League baseball teams play 81 home games, about half of them on week nights.
As Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan put it more recently in discouraging talk of a ballpark between San Antonio and Austin:
“People aren’t going to go more than 35 or 40 miles to go to a baseball game. Games start late and people have to get to work the next day. It’s not like football.”
The Express-News says unnamed officials are already talking about a downtown minor league stadium as an economic generator.
I hope those officials will be named so that I can vote against their re-election.
Officials promised the same for the Alamodome and for the Spurs’ East Side arena.
Neither has delivered.
But that’s not why 62 percent of us voted for the Spurs arena.
We did so simply because we like having the Spurs here.
If we’re going to spend public money on a baseball stadium, it also needs a public vote.
And as a fan who would likely vote in favor, I strongly feel it should not be part of next year’s major city bond package.
It might take more important projects — say, streets and drainage — down with it.