Bob Uecker – “Mr. Baseball” – best known now as a broadcaster, movie star and funny guy, wasn’t much of a major league ball player. Uecker was a lifetime .200 hitter, but he’s been living off the jokes he makes at his own expense for years. Still jokes aside, Uecker had a couple of pretty good seasons in a Boise Braves minor league uniform back in the 1950’s.
Uecker hit .332 in Boise in 1958 and smacked 21 home runs in only 92 games. One of the ex-Boise Braves funniest lines strikes me as a perfect entry point into the community conversation about whether Boise should embark on a plan to site and build a new, multi-use stadium that could be a much improved home for the city’s current professional team, the Boise Hawks.
Uecker once said, “I led the league in ‘Go get ’em next time.'” Boise is on the ragged edge of having to say, “We’ll get ’em next time,” because without a serious and doable plan to improve its baseball venue the city will be without professional baseball sooner rather than later.
Memorial Stadium, the team’s home since 1989, is aging, undersized, under concessioned and has first base seating that during a hot August night is close to unbearable. In short, the stadium isn’t the kind of venue successful minor league organizations call home any longer.
Look around the country at what’s happening in communities where a stadium has been the centerpiece of a community effort to revitalize, renew and recreate. Dayton, Ohio has a wildly successful Class A team in a great facility that recently established the all-time record for consecutive sellouts. Oklahoma City used a ballpark to jump start the rehabilitation of an old warehouse district. You can grab a drink and a steak at Mickey Mantle’s steakhouse next door to the stadium after a game. Louisville recently built a fine new arena to house University of Louisville basketball and the project has offered a major boost to the city center.
Closer to home, the Yakima Bears of the same Northwest League as the Hawks, are planning on pulling up stakes and moving to Vancouver, Washington next summer. Milwaukie, Oregon, a Portland suburb, is moving ahead with a ballpark plan in order to lure a Class A team.
Last week, Bill Connors of the Boise Chamber and I, along with a sizable group of civic and business leaders, launched the Better Boise Coalition to help push the new stadium concept through its next phase. The Coalition will underwrite a site evaluation study that should complement the feasibility study the City of Boise recently completed.
I’m sure we’ll hear from the “don’t do anything, ever” crowd of naysayers and that’s fine – everyone gets an opinion. Here’s mine: Boise needs professional baseball and needs to aspire to eventually attract a Triple A franchise. We’ll never get there without displaying a level of community engagement and commitment and without a first rate facility. A multi-purpose facility fills a multitude of needs, not just baseball. High school teams will have another venue for regular season and playoff games. The Hawks ownership, and to their credit they want to stay in Boise but just need a better home port, has said they’re interested in a minor league soccer team.
You can anticipate the usual voices saying government should have no role in any of this, but that just ignores reality. Think of any of the community assets that make Boise special and you’ll find government fingerprints on everyone – Bronco Stadium, Taco Bell Arena, the Morrison Center, the Boise Centre, the city’s new libraries. Sure private money is critical in many such investments, but government has to be a catalyst or such things just don’t happen.
I hope we don’t wake up in a couple of years realizing the opportunity has been lost and pull a Bob Uecker. It’s going to ring pretty hollow to say, “hey, we’ll get ’em next time.” Next time is now.