Last Friday—Good Friday, ironically enough—David Stinson, a fellow baseball writer, and I said goodbye to an old friend. Even though this was a place and not a person, friend seems to be the correct term. We were always happy to be around it and we shared many warm memories, two qualities you would want in any friend, which in this case was Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown, Maryland. The former home of the Suns since 1981, it hosted minor league baseball teams on and off since 1930 when it was built, but now, Municipal Stadium is being demolished to make way for an indoor sports complex.
When we arrived, the demolition had not proceeded very far. Oh, the beer garden was completely gone as was the deck on which the Scoreboard Cowboy resided, and the third base bleacher seats had already been salvaged—only the metal framework remained—but the grandstand and the diamond were still there. Truth be told, the place has long been a dump, but a dump containing so many treasures. It was like that friend whose house smells strongly of last night’s dinner, some of which has spotted his only necktie that’s as rumpled as his shirt. You see him ensconced in his old, Mohair chair, ashtray to one side, books and papers scattered about, but the things he has seen and the stories he can tell!
This is the place where our older daughter, Becky, saw her first professional game, although “saw” may be a stretch, as she was about 18 months old and in a baby carriage, but she was there. Seventeen years later, she was working as a promo girl and dancing on top of the dugouts and tipping us off as to who would win the condiment race.
Our younger daughter, Sarah and her friend Jessa were named “Fans of the Game” one night (I kind of forget, but I think Becky had something to do with this!) which meant that they got to sit on a couch on top of the Suns’ dugout. Only they spent the night wandering around the ballpark visiting with friends while my old friend Al and I enjoyed the game in seats that were as close and as comfortable as we would ever have.
My wife, Martha, and I spent many “date nights” in this place.
This is where we would renew friendships suspended in the fall, and analyze the state of the ballclub with Tom and Perry.
Becky and I played catch in the outfield one Father’s Day.
I took part in Bryce Harper’s first press conference in the stadium’s offices when he was assigned to Hagerstown as he began his professional journey up to the Washington Nationals.
We could always count on seeing the Sun’s mascot Woolie B. with his perpetual grin showing off his snaggle tooth. There was Jay Jay before him, and Scuffy Duck before Jay Jay.
And Big Tony whose talent as a concessionaire and whose enthusiasm as a cheerleader was unmatched anywhere in minor league baseball.
It was the place where young men, most of whom you never heard of, dared to pursue a dream; or saw it vanish. I should get out all the old scorecards, but it is too soon for that.
There was the hope of all those Opening Days, and the melancholy of the last day of the season. I tried to make a point to always go to the latter in order to soak up as much summer as possible, keeping score, noting the time of the sunset, even what songs were played between innings. I had to make it last until the following spring.
The old, Mohair chair is still there, but an unsmoked pipe rests in the ashtray. Soon, that will be gone, too. Within a month, according to Adam, the man in charge of taking down Municipal Stadium, there will be nothing left but the stories.
Good Friday was a beautiful day, a perfect day for baseball in Hagerstown, but there was no game; we were attending a funeral.