Baseball stadium plan deserves support

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 25, 2001

It’s often been said that if the Twin Cities area loses Major League Baseball it will become a "cold Omaha" – suggesting it will be a large metropolitan area with little in the way of big league sports and big league anything for that matter.

Sunday, March 25, 2001

It’s often been said that if the Twin Cities area loses Major League Baseball it will become a "cold Omaha" – suggesting it will be a large metropolitan area with little in the way of big league sports and big league anything for that matter.

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The label has been tossed about by Minnesota sportswriters for years as a way to scare the public into demonstrating support for area professional sports teams. While a bit dramatic, at one time the label was quite accurate.

Now I’ve been to Omaha and let’s just say it’s not the Twin Cities. Omaha is probably a fine place to live, but it doesn’t have near what Minneapolis and St. Paul have to offer. And even if the Minnesota Twins were to leave Minnesota, Omaha still couldn’t compare to the Twin Cities.

The point is Minnesotans shouldn’t be worried about the Twin Cities becoming a "cold Omaha" instead they should worry about the Twin Cities becoming yesterday’s Cleveland.

More over we should be concerned about making the Twin Cities tomorrow’s San Francisco, or Denver, or Baltimore. A growing metropolitan area has a positive impact on all of Minnesota.

I’ve suggested many times and will say it yet again, it’s time to stop saying "no" to the Twins and professional sports and to begin to recognize what a new stadium would mean to the Minnesota community.

If you build a new stadium the fans will come, the money will come, the communities around the ball park will grow and the entire state will benefit.

Don’t believe me? Then take a ride to Detroit, or Chicago, or Cleveland and see what I have seen. After your visits if you don’t believe a new stadium is a wonderful community asset, then you wouldn’t know a good investment if hit you between the eyes.

Some time ago I had the opportunity to take a baseball trip to these three Midwest cities and the experience was awesome.

The first stop was the southside of Chicago, word has it not exactly the nicest place in the world.

Yet their the "new" Comiskey Park sits in a well-maintained, thriving inner-city community. Right next to the ballpark is a park where kids were playing soccer, families were having a game of catch and picnicking. A couple of blocks from the ballpark were corner restaurants thriving.

Comiskey Park was the first of the "new" stadiums and lacks the amenities of some of the later arrivals, but it is still a fantastic place to watch baseball in the outdoors. Wide concourses, comfortable seats, a kids playground area, a huge scoreboard and great food make the trip quite an experience.

More than 43,000 people were in the stands that night and the majority were moms, dads and their kids. It was terrific.

The second leg of our three-city trip brought us to Detroit. The ancient Tiger Stadium is in its final year. The famed ballpark sits on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull and oozes history. It’s of course where the Twins captured the American League pennant in 1987.

The area the stadium sits is run down and old. There are no quaint restaurants or neat attractions for kids to take in on the way to the park. Tiger Stadium, and the area it is in, remains only an attraction because of its age.

Just down the street, Detroit’s new ballpark is being constructed. It opened last season. The revitalization of the area is slowly starting.

It may take time, but our final stop on the three-city leg convinced us that Detroit will some day be saved – thanks to the new ballpark – from the urban blight and decay it now suffers from.

Cleveland, Ohio, used to the butt of many jokes. No one wanted to live in Cleveland, let alone play on the Cleveland Indians.

My, how times have changed.

Jacobs Field, home of the Cleveland Indians, has changed this once dying, ugly city into something marvelous.

Jacobs Field is a shrine to baseball. It is home to all of the modern amenities and retains all of the game’s nostalgia.

The day I visited, the crowd was made up almost entirely of families.

People strolled through the downtown plaza and through the huge concourses of the stadium soaking in the atmosphere and enjoying the event. Those kids who didn’t want to watch the whole game could stop at a playground area or even watch a baseball mime.

It was home to more than just a game. It was home to families sharing time together.

That day marked the Indians’ 340th consecutive sellout crowd. More than 44,000 people have visited Jacobs Field for each of Cleveland’s last 340 home games. It’s amazing.

Now players want to play for the Indians and fans are proud to wear Indians T-shirts. Jacobs Field restored pride to Cleveland, just as Camden Yards has helped Baltimore, Coors Field Denver and Turner Field Atlanta.

New ballparks in Seattle, Houston and San Francisco have already helped to improve their respective communities and this season new ballparks in Milwaukee and Pittsburgh will open and certainly do the same.

It’s time to get with the program and take advantage of the opportunity we have in Minnesota. The Twins won us two World Championships. The Twins gave us Kirby Puckett, Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva. The Twins gave us family outings that will last a life time.

The Twins can do more for us in the future if we step up and share in the investment. It’s a no-risk investment. All it takes is for us to stop hiding in the dark ages and to start thinking like a progressive community.

Go see for yourself. We’re falling behind.

Neal Ronquist’s column appears Sundays.