- Listen by clicking the above arrow or the SoundCloud post below.
RANT OF THE DAY: What time is it? Cryin’ time.
They’re called The K Club, a ragtag bunch of longtime buddies who double as the mayors of Section 206. Anchored by Ernie “The K-man” Studard, Randy Van Horn, Bill Pelfrey, their brides and an assortment of friends and relatives from the Duckman to others, The K Club is as much about minor league baseball to us as are the Rome Braves.
Night after night, amid trays filled with nachos or pizza or other concoctions from one of the snack bars, The K Club holds court at State Mutual Stadium. They witnessed Rocket’s red glare (Rocket Wheeler, the two-time team manager), Chuck James’ historic strikeouts (we think they ran out of Ks for that one), torrid summer nights when the bats were cold and subfreezing opening weekends when they hoped the scheduled fireworks would bring some added warmth.
They represent “all that’s good” about minor league baseball in America: Fans just having fun at the local ballpark in an environment Norman Rockwell would love.
But not this year. The K Club and the rest of us watched the calendar creep by — spring training stopped in its tracks, no opening day, no hosting the South Atlantic League All-Star game, no grand unveiling of a host of improvements at the 18-year-old ballpark. All victims of COVID-19.
They join the Chattanooga Lookouts and even the still-to-premiere Huntsville Trash Pandas as having to sit this one out. The closest thing they’ll get to one of those Rome Braves’ hot dogs is in the meat aisle at Publix. Seriously, the closest thing to what the Rome Braves’ serve each season that we’ve ever found.
Recently, our Natalie Simms wrote a great article looking at the loss of the All-Star game here — and the early months of the season — on Rome/Floyd County. Even then, it was obvious baseball would struggle to get the minor leaguers on the diamond. Now its official.
And it is the community’s loss, not just the diehard fans. While we’ve never seen an actual economic impact report on a Rome Braves’ season for whatever reason, County Manager Jamie McCord summed it up rather nicely in our recent All-Star game update:
“From a quality of life standpoint, it is a great loss for the community not to have minor league baseball up to this point. Financially the loss of the part-time jobs is a big hit to the community. They produce approximately 2,500 hotel stays and employ 175 part-time employees during the season. Security provided by local law enforcement as second job opportunities also lost. Multiple charitable groups such as school band boosters and other non-profits work concessions and those fundraising opportunities have been lost to this point.”
And what’s worse for the Minor League Baseball organization — this was to be the last year of how things operated. At least 40 teams could be gone by year’s end thanks to a contraction push by the MLB. Chattanooga was on the initial cut list; the Rome Braves were not. But other teams — no, other communities — have to wait for another blow to the gut later this year and that’s the likely loss of their franchise.
Even before the pandemic, it was about costs and operating so many leagues and levels of baseball. It didn’t seem that expensive, especially with the low salaries paid most of these kids who didn’t sign the big contracts. Now there are even more concerns about dollars and cents. That budget ax will swing deep, especially if the planned 60-game MLB season doesn’t happen.
As dreadful as Tuesday’s cancellation notice was, what’s ahead in the off-season will be harsh as well. Minor League Baseball, which has been drawing more than 40 million fans each summer, is going to take two pitches to the head.
With luck, we’ll see baseball back at State Mutual Stadium next April. Others won’t be so fortunate and will know they were deprived of their last dance with the boys of summer by a virus that isn’t going away.
That’s a thought we don’t even want to think about — and won’t need to based on projections we’ve heard. Still, we mourn with the young and old fans in each of those small towns.
So who exactly said there’s no crying in baseball?
- Newscasts and podcasts: Our weekday newscasts and Druck Report interviews. See HHPodcast at Apple Podcasts, Spotify.
- Subscribe to our free local deal alert: Discounts, BOGOs, other local deals. Text 313131; Hometowndeal in the message field.
- Subscribe to our free newscast/podcast text alerts.Text 313131; in the message field, type HHpodcasts.
- Subscribe to our free major news alerts. Text 313131; in the message field, type HometownRome. Brought to you by Heritage First Bank.