This weekend, the Texas Rangers face off against the San Diego Padres, billed as the Big League Weekend at the first-ever Major League Baseball game at the Alamodome. This is only a spring training game and won’t count towards regular season standings, but that won't stop fans from coming to see their favorite players in person. Moreover, the game will call attention to what's missing from the downtown landscape: a professional sports team.
The Spurs didn’t just leave the 'Dome for AT&T Center’s greener pastures, they also left a big gaping hole in the fabric of downtown. I moved to San Antonio after they decided to relocate to the new East Side arena, but I did have the opportunity to attend a couple of Spurs games at the Alamodome.
The atmosphere at the 'Dome was dramatically different than what you experience at the AT&T Arena today. Instead of fans hopping in their cars and immediately driving home, there was more of a lively air as everyone poured out into the Sunset Station area and downtown. That downtown magic simply can't be replicated by a cover band playing the Bud Light Courtyard as fans scurry out to try and beat traffic.
What was gained with a new facility on cheap land was lost for the fan. Unless they work, live or are just a huge fan of downtown, most people only make the obligatory visit to the River Walk when friends or family are in town. This was shocking to me; coming from a small town, I love being in the heart of the city, surrounded by tall buildings and urban life. My lifelong San Antonian friends found it strange that I often went downtown, knowing every twist and turn of the one-way streets even better than they did.
Whether you enjoy sports or think it is a waste of time, the fact is a professional sports team playing downtown is an anchor for a city. The Spurs in the 'Dome brought people together from Stone Oak to Southtown and everywhere in between.
I get aggravated every time a major sporting event, like the Big League Weekend or NCAA Tournament, comes to San Antonio. I see how a simple game can bring together an entire city. I can’t help but wish the Spurs had never abandoned downtown for a stadium surrounded by distribution centers and ticket scalping stands instead of restaurants, bars and the river.
Already there has been a little buzz about moving the Missions to a new stadium downtown. Graham Weston, chairman of Rackspace Hosting, was quoted back in December in the Express News as saying, “It is a missed opportunity to not have sports downtown.” He went on to say that “there's zero chance I will build a stadium. I am a believer of baseball downtown, and there are areas of opportunity. But I'll likely build housing and other things that would go around a stadium.”
I hope that the Big League Weekend can fan this flicker of a flame.
Having an investor, especially one so devoted to San Antonio, willing to develop around a potential stadium should be music to the ears of the Missions ownership. With the rising cost of land and increasing population in the urban core, building a stadium would be an expensive endeavor. However, with the right vision and collaboration between team owners and real estate investors, both the franchise and San Antonio could reap major benefits.
In 2004, I lived near downtown Memphis for a summer internship and got to experience games in a downtown ballpark first hand. Folks from all over Memphis, from Midtown to Germantown, would come in to see the beloved Redbirds play. Just to our West, investors are bringing a AAA affiliate of the Padres to El Paso in new $50 million dollar stadium designed by the same architects of the new Yankee Stadium. I can only hope to see San Antonio on this list in the near future.
There is something about baseball. Sitting in the stands on a perfect summer’s night, eating nachos and watching the hometown team is euphoria. A downtown stadium will not only help to bring our community together, but also get locals exploring downtown on a regular basis.
If a downtown stadium is built, as Terrance Mann the reclusive in Field of Dreams says, “People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”
Yes they will.
Garrett Heath blogs for Rackspace and is the Average Joe that started SAFlavor. He loves San Antonio, especially eating at mom and pop Mexican food restaurants. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Google+.