February 9, 2005 – Daily News Record
By MIKE BARBER Daily News-Record The dollar might be almighty, but it’s not infinite. The arrival of a minor-league baseball team in Harrisonburg would financially hurt the Valley League, the NCAA-sanctioned circuit’s president said this week, but he does not think it would destroy the Harrisonburg Turks. "The entertainment dollars are a bucket and the bucket only has so many entertainment dollars in it," Dave Biery said. "If we have another option for those dollars, it will have some negative effect in that respect. It won’t kill the Valley Baseball League and it won’t wipe out the Harrisonburg Turks, but it will have some negative effect." Turks owner and manager Bob Wease agreed and questioned whether a development group’s proposal to lure a minor-league team to a 3,000- to 5,000-seat ballpark on the corner of Port Republic Road and Neff Avenue is viable. A city-commissioned study last year indicated that a farm club would draw up to 3,000 fans a game. "I’m not against a minor-league team coming here, but I don’t think the people in Harrisonburg will support it," Wease said. "There’s no way they’re going to average drawing 2,500 to 3,000 people. That’s not going to happen. It’s crazy. I don’t think the locality is right for minor-league baseball." A spokesman for the development group did not return telephone calls seeking comment Monday or Tuesday, but said last week he believes the market can sustain a team if one moves here. Wease said he would consider several options to compete for fans with a minor-league team, including no admission charges on nights when both teams were playing home games. "If they had a game and we had a game, I’d probably have free nights every night we played," Wease said. "I’m sure they wouldn’t like that. There is going to be competition going on between the Turks and this minor-league ballclub." The Turks, who play a 44-game schedule from early June to late July and attract college players from throughout the country, average about 700 fans a game, Wease said. Both Wease and Biery said Valley League baseball can more than hold its own against low-level minor-league ball. Wease noted the numerous VBL graduates in the major leagues, a list that includes Juan Pierre, David Eckstein and Jon Rauch. Former Texas A&M pitcher Logan Kensing found himself in the majors just a year after serving as the Turks’ closer. "I’ve been around minor-league baseball and the Valley League forever," Wease said. "The caliber of baseball, and the people of Harrisonburg will find this out, is not going to be any better than it is in the Valley League." Wease expects an initial surge of interest if a new team arrives in town, but he doesn’t expect it to last. "Everybody will want to go out and look at the stadium and see a game," Wease said. "But the novelty is going to wear off and they’re not going to draw like they think they are." Presumably, however, a new franchise would be in an attractive ballpark – a factor that has proven nationwide to be a significant draw for fans. The Turks play in aged Memorial Stadium. A minor-league stadium could provide the James Madison baseball team with a new home park, as well – and one with lights. JMU coach Spanky McFarland, a proponent of the plan – said a new stadium could help boost the Dukes’ attendance and help in recruiting. "Right now, it’s ridiculous trying to get anyone to come out and see us play at 2 p.m. on a weekday," McFarland said. "You put it at night, it’s a different ballgame." Wease, who owns a city car dealership, has been a fixture in area baseball for years. In 2002, he began managing the Turks, who he has owned since 1989. He graduated from Broadway High School in 1962, then played for JMU (1972) and the Turks. He later played and coached in the Rockingham County Baseball League for the Linville Patriots and the Harrisonburg Chics. Wease doesn’t understand the desire to attract a minor-league team. "The Turks have been here since 1915. The County League’s been here since 1924," Wease said. "Why would the people of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County want to do anything to hurt this local tradition?" Wease, for obvious reasons, would rather see the city spend its money to upgrade Memorial Stadium, adding a press box and a new 8-foot outfield fence to the Turks’ home park at the soon-to-be former Harrisonburg High School. The RCBL, an 81-year-old recreational league with a rural fan base, doesn’t appear to be worried about competition from the minor-league team. Second-year commissioner Gene Clatterbuck said his league’s fan base will remain loyal to the local players and $3 admission prices. "We’ve discussed it at a league meeting," Clatterbuck said. "I don’t personally think it will hurt the County League at all." Class A Salem charges $5-$7 for its tickets. Potomac charges $6 to $11.